RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, Feb. 14 (UPI) -- Unrest in an eastern province of Saudi Arabia could escalate into further regional instability if it's not contained, a scholar on the Middle East said.
Clashes between Saudi security forces and Shiite protesters in Eastern province have grown in severity since October. At least seven demonstrators have been killed in clashes since, Bloomberg News.
Paul Sullivan, a Middle East security expert at Georgetown University, told Bloomberg News the unrest in the Saudi kingdom could worsen.
"This is another one of those possible flash points in the region that could become a much bigger fire if it is not contained early on," he said.
The news service notes many of the Shiites in the east of Saudi Arabia have long-standing cultural ties to Shiite communities in nearby Bahrain and Iran. Riyadh had blamed Tehran in the past for causing trouble in the country.
Khalid al-Dakhil, a political science professor at King Saud University in Riyadh, told Bloomberg he thought Iran was interfering in Saudi Arabian affairs.
"To ask if Iran has an interest in destabilizing Saudi Arabia, yes they do," he said.
Shiite opposition groups blamed Saudi forces for attacking demonstrators, an action the country's Interior Ministry said was in self-defense.