Of all the changes brought on by the Arab Spring, it is the ongoing
unrest in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province – home to a large Shiite
minority, and holding 90% of the country’s oil reserves – that could
prove to be the most important in the long run.
When the Prophet Muhammad died in 632, tensions over who should lead
the Islamic community – by that time covering almost the entirety of the
Arabian Peninsula – emerged and persisted. On the one hand were those
who favoured a succession that promoted the most qualified individual on
the basis of wisdom, good conduct, devoutness and competence. This
group came to be known as the Sunnis. The Shiites, for their part,
believed that authority could only be exercised by members of the
Prophet’s family. Unlike the Sunnis, they also saw the blood relatives
of Muhammad as divinely inspired and infallible.
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