A Thematic Analysis of Cicero’s “First Catilinarian”

I wanted to explore the political rhetoric employed in the ancient Roman Republic. The Ancient Romans were known for their intense politicking, political intrigue, and speechmaking. The ability to give a strong, convincing, rhetorically-powerful oration was a very significant skill in the Republic, and propelled many a man, including the born-to-obscurity Marcus Tullius Cicero, to positions of supreme authority. As a student of Roman history and an admirer of the genius of Cicero, I was curious to explore what themes and elements were present in such oration.

As such, for my document to analyze I chose Cicero’s “First Oration Against Lucius Sergius Catilina,” a speech given during Cicero’s Consulship in 63 BCE. The purpose of the speech was to condemn Lucius Sergius Catilina, a Roman aristocrat who, it had been discovered, was plotting a conspiracy to kill members of the Senate and overthrow the Republic. In the speech, Cicero lays out his charges against Catiline and implores him to go into exile. He further describes to his fellow Senators the dangers that Catiline and his conspiracy pose, and tries to portray Catiline as an immoral, disloyal enemy to the Roman state.

I chose this document for a number of reasons. First, I am particularly interested in the “Catilinarian conspiracy” as both an event of political intrigue and a harbinger of the collapse that was soon to befall the Republic. Considering that Cicero was the leader of Rome at the time, I was interested in analyzing his words and thoughts on the particular event. Second, this speech is often cited as one of Cicero’s most impressive rhetorical performances and writings, and he himself would point to his handling of the conspiracy as the highpoint of his career. Knowing this and wanting to analyze Cicero, I figured that using this speech as my document was the most preferable choice. Finally, this particular speech is perhaps the epitome of Roman political rhetoric. All in one speech, Cicero condemns an opponent, boasts about his own talents, implores the Senate to action, decries the Senate for inaction, narrates a conspiracy, and describes its downfall.

Recognizing this, I felt as though this would be the best document to choose if I wanted to achieve validity in my analysis of Roman political rhetoric. As previously mentioned, Cicero presents a number of themes in his speech and use them for multiple political purposes. Being familiar with other political writings of the Republican era, I know that this was the norm for Roman political oration. To achieve success, a Roman orator could not simply present and harp on a single theme or subject. Rather, they had to present a multitude of themes, draw from historical precedents to prove a point, and address fellow Senators directly and indirectly. Such approach can vividly be seen in Cicero’s writing. Furthermore, the particular themes he employs and which I searched for in my analysis were the norm for Roman rhetoric. As Rome was a society highly concerned with morals and Roman ‘values,’ Cicero’s heavy use of the theme of morality was broadly representative of Roman oration and politics. Finally, this particular speech has been regarded by Cicero’s contemporaries and historians alike as one of the best speeches of the Republican period. As such, I would have to believe it would therefore be a very valid document to analyze to study the broader topic of Roman political rhetoric.

Coding

The “unit of coding “which I used for this analysis was, at its smallest level, individual words. Individual words could indicate or convey a theme, especially in a rhetorical piece such as this where individual words are strategically used for rhetorical effect. However, it was often necessary to look at the individual words in the broader context of the sentence in which they were located. As such, my coding was sometimes limited to a single word, but at times encompassed entire sentences. There were also instances in which I found multiple themes present in a single sentence. For my “unit of context,” I assumed that Cicero was fully aware of the situation going on and was fully cognizant of the rhetoric and themes he employed in his speech. As Cicero was the highest elected official in Rome, the prosecutor of Catiline, and the most highly-trained and respected rhetorician of his time, I do not doubt that the themes for which I searched were deliberately placed into his speech for rhetorical and political effect.

I searched for four major themes during my coding of the document: “protection of the state,” “danger to the state,” “pro-Roman values,” and “anti-Roman values.” For “protection of the state,” I searched for statements which were indicative of protecting the state, defending it from harm, or otherwise diverting some form of danger to the Roman people. I further analyzed a sub-theme by searching for whether those statements referred to its subject as being the one conducting that protection, or as being the one who the protection was conducted against. An example of a statement indicating “protection of the state conducted by” is Cicero saying “No single thing you [Catiline] do, nothing you attempt or even contemplate, escapes my [Cicero’s] notice.”[1] An example of a statement indicating “protection conducted against” is “… the financial ruin into which you [Catiline] will be plunged upon the thirteenth of this month.”[2] For “danger to the state,” I searched for statements which were indicative of some sort of danger or threat to the Roman state or people. I further analyzed to whom or what these statements referred. An example of such a statement is “you [Catiline] were illegally carrying arms. You had got together a group determined to strike down the leading men of the state…”[3] For an analysis of “pro-Roman values,” I searched for statements which reflected values of honor, morality, integrity, dignity, and loyalty… values established in Ancient Rome as being virtuous. An example of such a statement is “… here among ourselves, in this most solemn and dignified of all the world’s assemblies.”[4] For “anti-Roman values,” I searched for statements indicating the antithesis of these values. An example of this is “Are there to be no limits to this audacious, uncontrollable swaggering?”[5]

I selected these themes deductively; I knew that Roman orators would frequently talk about morality and values, and I knew that the context of this particular speech was to condemn Catiline. To measure these themes, I counted each individual statement (be it a word or a sentence) which indicated the theme as a single data-point. Doing so allowed me to, upon the completion of my coding, quantitatively compare my data, which then enabled me to conduct a qualitative analysis of the implications of such comparisons.

To conduct the test-retest process, I would code a portion of the document for half an hour, spend two hours doing some other activity, and then return to the portion I had previously coded. I would make necessary changes, corrections, or additions, and then move on to the next portion of the document. I would also return to the portion of the document I had worked after a day had passed, so as to retest the document after a longer period of time had elapsed. I did this process numerous times over a span of 4 days. I found that I generally produced the same coding results, with the most major variations in my coding being how much of a sentence I thought incorporated a theme. As I found myself consistently determining that a sentence had a particular theme in it during my various re-tests, I felt that my coding scheme did not require any significant tweaking. However, I did find during my test-retest process that I could go into further depth with my themes than a simple binary analysis. This is how I came about the idea of determining to whom/what various statements referred, rather than simply searching for the presence of the statement. As I conducted further re-tests, I began incorporating this deeper thematic analysis into my approach, and again found that I was consistent in the process while including them.

2 days after I had completed my coding and the test-retest process, I returned to my document to conduct the post-test coding consistency check. I randomly chose and opened a page of the book in which my document was located and re-coded that page. As was the case during my test-retest process, I found that I was largely consistent in my coding. The most major variation was that I included a few couple extra sentences in my post-test coding than I had during the actual coding itself, which indicated to me that I was perhaps not as rigorous in my coding initially as I could have been. Yet I determined that this was not a significant issue, and as such did not feel a need to repeat my coding. As a final check, I conducted one further post-test coding consistency check the day following the last. I was satisfied with the results of this final check, and concluded that my coding was consistent and therefore complete.

Findings

For the purposes of reporting my findings, I will dedicate a paragraph to analyzing each separate theme and sub-theme. However, to provide the context for these observations, what follows are some broad findings: Cicero utilized significantly rhetoric involving “anti-Roman values” than he did “pro-Roman values.”[6] There were 60 instances of “anti-Roman values” being used, compared to only 28 instances of pro-Roman values. Considering that there are a total of 88 instances of values being discussed, however, it is clear that the discussion of morality and honor was an important part of Roman political rhetoric. When it came to the theme of danger to and protection to the state, Cicero provides a roughly equivalent amount of statements. There are 64 instances of a statement indicating “protection of the state,” compared to 60 instances of a statement indicating “danger to the state.”[7]

For the theme of “pro-Roman values,” Cicero refers exclusively to himself, the Senate, and the Roman people. At no point do these themes refer to Catiline or his co-conspirators. This theme generally manifested itself in single, descriptive words; Cicero would, for example, call his fellow Senators “honorable” or “just,” or describe the actions of past Romans as “brave.”[8] It occasionally manifested itself in sentences which indicated some sort of virtue. For example, at one point Cicero says that his actions are a result of him being “moved by pity.”[9]

There is much significance to the presence of this theme in the context of Cicero’s speech. By presenting himself and his fellow Senators as virtuous and as upholding Roman values, he is drawing a stark contrast between their actions and the actions of Catiline, whom he is condemning. This contrast, in turn, helps develop the Senate’s ill-will toward Catiline. Additionally, recognizing that morality and the upholding of values was a very important part of an individual’s honor and repute in Ancient Rome, Cicero desires to make himself and the Senate be portrayed as “true” Romans while denying Catiline the same. Doing so builds Cicero’s prestige, and in turn helps buoy his political power and ability to enforce punishment against Catiline. Simultaneously it pushes Catiline into disrepute and making him more susceptible to the wrath, and punishment, of the honor-conscious Roman people.

There are 60 instances of Cicero using “anti-Roman” themes in his speech, a significantly larger number than the amount of “pro-Roman” themes. 56 of these statements refer to Catiline or his co-conspirators, while 4 refer to Cicero himself or his fellow Senators.[10] As was the case for “pro-Roman values,” this theme most frequently presented itself in single, descriptive words. Again, there were instances in which it was presented as entire sentence which lamented or described the anti-Roman character of Catiline’s or his co-conspirators actions and character. For example, at one point Cicero says, referring to Catiline, that “you know your own crimes well enough to understand that the universal hatred which men feel for you is justified,” demonstrating the significance of honor and values to the Roman people.[11]

As previously mentioned, the significance of this theme in my chosen topic is that it demonstrates how values were an important part of the Roman mindset. While upholding Roman values won an individual prestige and support, disregarding or going against those values earned an individual disrepute and punishment. Cicero employs statements indicative of anti-Roman values significantly more frequently than those indicative of pro-Roman values because the purpose of this speech was to condemn Catiline, not to boast about his own honor. Cicero needed to portray Catiline in a bad light if he wanted the Senate to punish him, and he does that in the best way he can given the context of his society – by condemning Catiline’s character. Meanwhile, there are a select few instances where he calls his own character into question. These instances were Cicero lamenting the fact that he and the Senate had not acted sooner against Catiline; at one point, he says “I tell you frankly, it is we, the consuls, who are not doing our duty.”[12] Yet rather than trying to disrepute himself, Cicero does this in an attempt to make the Senate move more quickly to action; after all, the consuls not “doing their duty,” and therefore not upholding the Roman value of duty, had allowed the conspiracy to progress to the point it had. This suggests that Roman orators were willing to call their own character into question in their rhetoric if they felt it would serve some political purpose beneficial to their interests.

There were 64 instances of Cicero using statements that indicate some “protection of the state.” Of these, 41 were statements indicating a protection “conducted by” some individual.[13] These statements were often sentences indicating some distinct action taken against Catiline and his conspiracy, or some form of acknowledging and recognizing the conspiracy’s existence. For example, Cicero saying is “well aware” of Catiline’s actions and intentions indicated that he would be able to prepare for and defend against it.[14] There are 23 instances of statements with this theme referring to protection being “conducted against” an individual. In these instances, Cicero is telling Catiline that his hope for the conspiracy’s success should be abandoned.

The implication of this theme is that Roman orators, when describing a danger to and protection of the state, needed to both address their own actions and address the actions taken against the danger. By demonstrating what he was doing to protect the state, Cicero was both earning himself more renown for his competence and reassuring the Senators of the security of their state. This explains why the bulk of the statements conveying this theme were “protection conducted by” statements. However, with Catiline in the Senate during this speech, Cicero was also given the opportunity to convince Catiline that all hope was lost. As such, the various statements indicating “protection inflicted against” were largely referred directly against Catiline.

There are 60 instances of a statement indicating some “danger to the state.” Of these, 40 refer directly to the actions of Catiline, 11 refer to the actions of his co-conspirators, 2 refer to historical actions for the use of analogy, and 7 refer to no individual or action in particular but are used for rhetorical flourish.[15] As is the case with the statements referring to “protection of the state,” these statements were largely presented as sentences describing an individual’s dangerous actions. In the case of the use of this theme for rhetorical effect, Cicero makes statements such as “… Italy is to be ravaged by war, when cities are assaulted and houses gutted by fire.”[16] The use of such rhetoric indicates that Roman orators needed to create a sense of danger or fear in their audience, so as to make their point and calls for action all the more pertinent and important.

By addressing both Catiline and his co-conspirators, Cicero is condemning all participants in the conspiracy, not just the leader of it. Doing so will allow him to direct ire and, in turn, punishment against all involved, not just against Catiline. There is also significance in the 2 statements used as historical analogy. In them, Cicero addresses past dangers to the state, and then follows by demonstrating how those dangers were dealt with. For example, he talks about the killing of “Tiberius Gracchus, although his threat to the national security was only on a limited scale.”[17] The Ancient Romans had great reverence for the traditions and honorable individuals of the past, as they did with their own ancestors. By using historical analogy, then, Cicero is exploiting this reverence for the past for his own political purposes in the present. He is demonstrating to his fellow Senators how the virtuous and honorable Romans of the past, who had kept the state from danger, had acted, and therefore implicitly calls on the Senators of the present to act in the same manner.

[1] Cicero, “Against Lucius Sergius Catilina,” I,ii,8

[2] Cicero, I,v,13

[3] Cicero, I,v,14

[4] Cicero, I,iv,8

[5] I,i,1

[6] See graph 1A in appendix

[7] See graph 2A in appendix

[8] Cicero, I,I,3

[9] I,vi,15.

[10] See graph 1B in appendix

[11] Cicero, vi, 17

[12] Cicero, I,i,3

[13] See graph 2C in appendix

[14] Cicero, I, ix, 22

[15] See Graph 2B appendix

[16] Cicero, I,xi,28

[17] Cicero, I,I,3

Appendix

Image 1Image 1 – Cesare Maccari, Cicero Denounces Catiline. Not only do I think this is a beautiful fresco, I believe it amply demonstrates the nature of Cicero’s speech. Catiline, sitting isolated and dejected, is the clear target of Cicero and the Senate’s suspicion and wrath, and this paper’s thematic analysis reveals as much.

Graph 1AGraph 1A – The number of Cicero’s statements representing “pro-Roman values” compared to the number representing “anti-Roman values.” All 28 “pro-Roman values” statements refer to the actions or characteristics of Cicero, the Senate, or the Roman people, while none refer to the actions or characteristics of Catiline or his co-conspirators. For a comparison of how many “anti-Roman values” statements refer to Cicero, the Senate, and the Roman people against the number that refer to Catiline and his co-conspirators, see graph 1B.

Graph 1BGraph 1B – A comparison of the number of Cicero’s statements that represent “anti-Roman values” and refer to the actions or characteristics of himself, the Senate, or the Roman people against the number that refer to the actions or characteristics of Catiline or his co-conspirators.

Graph 2AGraph 2A – A comparison of the number of Cicero’s statements that refer to some “danger to the (Roman) state” against the number of statements that refer to some act or method of “protecting the (Roman) state.” For a comparison of to whom/what the statements about acts “endangering” the state refer, see graph 2B. For a comparison of the number of statements about “protecting the state” that refer to protection “inflicted against” a subject or protection “conducted by” a subject, see graph 2C.

Graph 2BGraph 2B – A comparison of to whom/what Cicero’s “danger to the state” statements refer. The statements refer either to Catiline’s actions directly, to the actions of his co-conspirators, or to the actions of historical individuals for the use of analogy. They can also refer to no individual in particular, but rather refer to broader or more abstract dangers so as to be used as a rhetorical device.

Graph 2CGraph 2C – A comparison of the number of Cicero’s statements that refer to some act or method of protecting the state conducted by the subject of the statement against the number of statements that refer to an act or method of protection inflicted against the subject of the statement.

Policy Memo: The Rise of China and its Implications for U.S. Foreign Policy

To: John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State
From: Cody Knipfer, Student – McDaniel College
Date: 10/21/14
RE: The Rise of China and its Implications for U.S. Foreign Policy

Secretary Kerry,

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is rapidly rising to become the dominant regional actor in the Asia-Pacific, and as such its relationship with the United States will come to define the international environment of the 21st century. As such, it is vitally important that the United States pursue a strategy that seeks closer, cooperative relations with the PRC. This policy memo outlines background information about the PRC, its foreign policy intentions, its perceptions of the United States, and provides policy suggestions for the coming relationship between our two countries.

Background Context

Geography[i]

Situated between North Korea, Russia, India, and Vietnam and stretching into Central Asia, the People’s Republic of China comprises the bulk of land territory in the East Asian landmass. A number of relevant geographic statistics about the PRC include:

  • A territory encompassing 9,560,960 square kilometers, the 4th largest in the world and the largest in East Asia.
  • 14 borders with other states, the most in the world along with Russia.
  • Access to the East China Sea, Korea Bay, Yellow Sea, and South China Sea.
  • Extremely diverse climate, with biomes ranging from tropical rainforests, subarctic, mountains, and deserts to temperate grasslands, forests, and deltas.

Population and Demographics[ii]

A number of population and demographic statistics about the PRC demonstrate its enormous size and reveal future internal challenges:

  • A population of over 1,355 million people, the most in the world.
  • Population growth rate of .44% annually, the 159th highest in the world.
  • 91% Han Chinese, with a vast diversity of smaller minority groups found largely along the peripheral borders.

By comparison, the United States, as the world’s 3rd most populous country, has 318 million inhabitants – less than 25% that of the PRC.[iii] However, as a result of the PRC’s massive current population and slow growth rate, a result of Beijing’s attempts at controlling population rates, the PRC is one of the world’s most rapidly aging countries. This could present significant economic issues for Beijing in the coming decades, as millions leaving the workforce may not be replaced with new workers.[iv]

Economics[v]

The People’s Republic of China is today a major global economic power. Since the late 1970s, the PRC has transformed from a closed, centrally-planned economic system to a more market-oriented one.[vi] Economic liberalization reforms included the phasing out of collectivized agriculture, the gradual liberalization of prices, fiscal decentralization, increased autonomy for state enterprises, the growth of the private sector, the development of a modern banking system and stock market, and an opening to foreign investment and trade. A number of statistics demonstrate the PRC’s rapidly growing economic power and clout:

  • GDP of $9.33 trillion, as of 2013, the 2nd largest in the world.
  • Annual growth rate of 7.7%, the 13th highest in the world as of 2013.
  • 1st largest global exporter.
  • $3.821 trillion in reserves of foreign exchange and gold, the most in the world.
  • $1.95 trillion in imports.

The PRC’s primary export partner is the United States of America, which purchases 16.7% of Chinese exports. Japan, which purchases 6.8% of Chinese exports, is the PRC’s second largest export partner, followed by South Korea at 4.1%. The PRC’s largest import partner is South Korea, from which it purchases 9.4% of its imports, followed by Japan at 8.3% and Australia at 7.8%.

However, the Chinese government faces numerous economic challenges which it must deal with for sustained economic growth.[vii] These include:

  • Reducing a high domestic savings rate and correspondingly low domestic consumption.
  • Facilitating higher-wage job opportunities.
  • Reducing corruption and economic theft.
  • Containing environmental damage and social strife produced by a rapid economic transformation.

Government[viii]

The People’s Republic of China is a single-party, socialist, authoritarian state, in which the Chinese Communist Party has supreme political authority. This authority is realized through a comprehensive control of the state, military, and media.[ix] Power in China is concentrated in the “Paramount Leader,” current Xi Jinping, who holds the three most important political and state offices: “General Secretary of the Communist Party,” of the “Central Committee,” and “Chairman of the Central Military Commission.”[x]

The primary branches of China’s governmental system include:[xi]

  • Legislative Branch: the National People’s Congress
  • Executive Branch: State Council
  • Judicial Branch: Supreme People’s Court
  • Military Branch: People’s Liberation Army

Military Capabilities

Over the last decade, the People’s Republic of China has embarked in a program of significant military expansion and modernization. The PRC has a capable ground force, the largest in the world, backed by an even larger reserve/militia component. Its navy is developing deep-water capability, its air-force is capable of regional power projection and is rapidly modernizing, and the PRC is focusing on developing a sophisticated offensive and defensive missile capability.[xii]

Under most conceivable circumstances, the PRC’s military would be capable of sustaining the country well against outside attack and would render an indefinite occupation of Chinese territory impossible.[xiii] However, as major military operations outside of peace-time training and maneuvers have yet to be carried out, the true force and logistical capabilities of the PRC’s military remains to be seen or tested. The strengths of the PRC’s military and as of yet unproven contemporary capabilities should be kept in mind in Washington when developing strategies for areas of potential conflict with the PRC. Ultimately, considering the massive size and growing modernity of the PRC’s military, it would likely be most beneficial if the United States avoided a military confrontation at all costs.[xiv]

Chinese Foreign Policy Intentions

Chinese Foreign Policy Objectives

As the People’s Republic of China continues to rise on the world stage, it is pursuant of a number of foreign policy objectives in the Asia-Pacific region. Beijing’s overarching, long-term strategic goals appear to be maintaining regional stability and displacing the United States as the dominant regional hegemon.[xv] Maintaining a peaceful, stable international order in the Asia-Pacific is a primary goal for Chinese policymakers. The Communist Party maintains internal order and legitimacy through its ability to produce economic results; considering the deeply interconnected nature of regional economies, any major disruption of the peace and stability in Asia would have dire consequences for Beijing.[xvi]

Displacing the United States as regional hegemon can be considered China’s long-term strategy. Beijing seems to believe that American hegemony in the region necessitates Chinese subservience.[xvii] While the PRC is not yet in a position economically or militarily to displace the United States through force, its current strategy is to restrain the United States’ exploitation of its own political, military, and economic strength. To achieve this end, Beijing has pursued two courses of action:[xviii]

  • Active diplomacy with regional and extra-regional states aimed at expanding China’s regional political and economic influence, which is seen as the most effective way to counter the United States while avoiding direct confrontation.
  • The modernization of its armed forces, so to exert a more tangible hard-power influence and balance against American power projection.

 

Threats to China’s Regional Interests

The PRC’s strategic dilemma and arguably greatest threat lies in the difficulty of forming a dominant regional role without antagonizing the United States or alienating other regional powers. As the PRC exerts an increasingly hegemonic role in the Asia-Pacific, many neighboring states seek to balance against it by forming security arraignments with the United States. Doing so, they minimize the capacity for Beijing to directly influence the region, which the PRC increasingly wishes to do.[xix]

Other threats to Beijing’s interests of regional peace and stability include transnational, internal, and regional issues such as:

  • Piracy
  • Crime and Smuggling
  • Internal popular dissent, particularly in China’s peripheral regions such as in Xinjiang with minority populations.[xx]

Chinese Allies and Enemies

The Chinese-North Korean relationship is perhaps the most significant of the PRC’s various alliances. The PRC is North Korea’s most important ally, biggest trading power, and main source of food, arms, and energy Beijing has historically opposed harsh international sanctions on North Korea, as it hopes to avoid regime collapse and refugee influx across the border. The close nature of this relationship gives Chinese policymakers significant clout over North Korea, providing it the potential to “resolve” the North Korean issue and thereby increase The People’s Republic’s international standing. Yet Pyongyang’s continual “saber-rattling,” refusal to defer to Chinese wishes, and international isolation appears to be wearing Chinese patience thin. As the PRC develops closer trading relationships with North Korean enemies such as South Korea and Japan, and as the dynamics of the region shift towards greater Chinese hegemony, the Chinese-North Korean relationship is bound to become more complicated.[xxi]

Other Chinese alliances of significance, which entail diplomatic, military, and economic ties, include those with:[xxii]

  • Russia
  • Myanmar
  • Pakistan
  • Venezuela
  • Zimbabwe
  • Iran

Meanwhile, Beijing perceives the United States and its regional allies to be pursuant of a strategy of containment against the PRC’s rise. While nonetheless sharing deep economic ties and other forms of interdependence with these states, they can for the purposes of this policy memo be considered the PRC’s principle “enemies.” These states include:[xxiii]

  • The United States of America
  • Japan
  • Australia
  • South Korea

Chinese Perception of the United States

At present, it would appear as though Beijing acknowledges that it cannot fully dislodge the United States from the Asia-Pacific. Still, the PRC is highly sensitive to and suspicious of America’s power projection, which it views as an attempt to contain the PRC’s economic and political rise. Still, deep economic interdependence between the United States and the PRC deters direct conflict between the two states. Chinese policymakers acknowledge that the need to have the United States as a principle economic partner and the desire to avoid a military confrontation with the United States will encourage coming US-Chinese cooperation.[xxiv]

Nonetheless, Beijing sees the United States’ continued presence and hegemony in the Asia-Pacific as preventing its own rise to dominance. The United States’ projection of power into the region has served to amplify Chinese suspicions and fears. Among China’s main concerns about American involvement in the region are:[xxv]

  • The strengthening of U.S. military alliances
  • The revision of U.S.—Japan defense guidelines
  • The planned deployment of ballistic missile defenses
  • The supply of advanced American arms to Taiwan

The Context of US-Chinese Relations

Potential Threats to American Regional Interests

A rising China poses a number of possible challenges to the United States’ interests in the region and regional goals. As the PRC increasingly asserts its hegemony, it appears as though Beijing seeks to displace the United States as the dominant regional actor. Beijing’s rhetorical disclaiming of interference in the internal sovereignty of other states and pursuit of peaceful dialogue is at odds with its recent belligerent strategic maneuvering, suggesting to Washington that China could disrupt the order the United States has created in the region over the last half-century. China’s potential threats to American regional interests include:[xxvi]

  • Displacing the United States as the dominant regional leader and hegemon.
  • Establishing a hostile international order through Chinese-dominated IGOs.
  • Exacerbating territorial and sovereignty disputes with American allies, particularly Japan.
  • Continuing economic policies at odds with American economic standards.
  • The continued cyber-theft of trade, military, and government secrets from the United States and regional allies.

Potentials for US-China Cooperation

Despite the perceived threat of a rising China, and despite Beijing’s seeming desire to replace the United States’ as regional hegemon, the PRC has much to offer the United States in the way of achieving Washington’s regional goals. A peaceful, stable, cooperative Asia-Pacific is as beneficial, if not more beneficial, for the PRC’s interests as it is for the United States’. Potential areas for cooperation with the PRC that would benefit American interests and regional goals include:[xxvii]

  • Tackling transnational issues such as piracy, smuggling, crime, terrorism, and climate change.
  • Addressing regional issues such as nuclear proliferation and a belligerent North Korea.
  • Continuing regional economic growth and development through bilateral and multilateral economic agreements and arraignments.
  • Strengthening regional institutions and developing peaceful norms of cooperation through multilateral dialogue and engagement.

China’s Influence on America’s Agenda toward Other Regional Actors

Increasingly, states in the Asia-Pacific seek to maximize their range of strategic options by avoiding commitments that could lead them into conflict. They do not feel a need to seek alignment with either the PRC or the United States in order to protect their own interests. Deeply interconnected with the PRC yet threatened by its growing hegemony, states are forming diverse bilateral and multilateral relationships in order to increase their security and support strategic interests. This strategy of “hedging” has positively influenced regional states willingness to engage with the United States, but has also limited the United States’ capacity to pursue a strategy of direct “containment” against the PRC. Still, Beijing’s growing military capability has increasingly motivated neighbors to draw more closely to the United States, allowing Washington to deepen regional security arraignments and broaden military alliances.[xxviii]

Policy Suggestions and Recommendations

As the two states with regional and global primacy, the PRC and the United States have a vital stake in each other’s success. As such, the United States should make a concentrated effort to prevent a ‘Cold War’ environment in the 21st century Asia-Pacific, which would be counter to both states’ interests of regional security and prosperity. Washington must ensure that the U.S.-Chinese relationship is defined not by mutual suspicion and strategic rivalry, but by fair competition, practical cooperation on regional issues, and the constructive management of differences and disagreements. Beijing’s expanded regional role should be seen as complementary to the United States’ sustained strategic engagement in the Asia-Pacific, and offers Washington the possibility of a major partner cooperating on issues of mutual benefit.

Cooperation with the PRC can be found in numerous areas where interests overlap. As such, the United States should prioritize high-level dialogue with Beijing aimed at finding points of mutual interest and agreement, and focus heightened energy on working constructively with China to resolve them. Dialogue can come in the form of new, ad-hoc meetings and conferences, through established international institutions such as the United Nations, or through existing frameworks such as the high-level “US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue.”

The PRC’s economic development should be seen as healthy for the region’s continued growth and prosperity, and as such the United States should pursue policies and agreements aimed at strengthening economic ties with, and the economic environment around, China. These include:

  • Pushing Beijing toward a market-determined exchange rate.
  • Negotiating bilateral investment treaties.
  • Increasing access to Chinese markets for U.S. business.
  • Developing more transparent regulatory regimes.

The United States should also attempt to find diplomatic, dialogue-driven solutions to issues such as forced technology transfer and the theft of intellectual property and trade secrets. Of course, though a deeper and more “fair” economic relationship would benefit both partners, the United States has had past difficulty shaping China’s economic strategies to meet its interests. Dialogue and compromise alone may not convince Beijing to conform to the United States’ economic standards. At present, as a method to incentivize a more responsible Chinese approach to economic issues, the United States should consider bringing the PRC into the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a major, comprehensive free-trade agreement which includes many states in the Asia-Pacific. Doing so would not only further integrate the Chinese-U.S. economies, providing a deterrent to conflict, but would be a signal to the Chinese that the United States wishes to include it constructively and prominently in the regional economic order.

As the PRC develops and modernizes its armed forces, it is crucial that Washington builds a sustained and substantive military-to-military relationship with Beijing. Identifying concrete areas of cooperation is crucial to reducing the risk of military confrontation, while engaging the Chinese military in high-level dialogues and on-the-ground cooperation dispels mutual suspicion and builds shared capacity. Finding and engaging in military partnerships with the PRC aimed at resolving regional issues such as piracy, climate change, and natural disasters further has the potential to develop lasting regional norms of cooperation and peaceful projection of force among major powers. It is through direct engagement, as opposed to counterbalancing or military buildup, that Washington and Beijing can peacefully cooperate despite their strategic disagreements and major armed forces.

Though the United States does not take sides on the sovereignty questions underlying territorial disputes between the PRC and other regional powers, Washington should have an interest in the way these states manage and resolve these claims. The United States should thus push the PRC, along with other territorial claimants, to resolve these issues with fair dialogue and compromise. While maintaining a position of neutrality, the United States should attempt to have these territorial disputes moved into arenas of international dialogue such as the United Nations, and in turn provide diplomatic assistance through mediation or other means when needed. Washington should also make clear that it believes these issues should be decided on the basis of the merits of the PRC’s and other claimants’ legal claims and adherence to international law and norms, rather than the strength of their militaries or the size of their economies. Territorial disputes and issues of sovereignty have the potential to plunge the region into conflict; as such, the United States should continue taking steps to monitor these disputes, engage with the governments involved, and attempt to provide a moderating influence towards all parties should tensions heighten.

Increased dialogue and attempts at cooperation with China fit into the United States’ broader, already-established regional “rebalancing” strategy.[xxix] Prioritizing the Asia-Pacific as the region most crucial to the 21st century, this strategy involves:

  • Modernizing and strengthening U.S. regional alliances
  • Developing economic and bilateral ties with emerging partners
  • Supporting effective regional institutions
  • Increasing trade and investment to expand broad economic growth,
  • Ensuring a continued regional military presence that supports the full range and scope of the United States’ activities overseas.

The rebalancing can further be seen, and should be branded, as a signal to regional powers that the period of the United States’ singular focus on the Middle East, terrorism, and nation-building is over. To dispel Chinese suspicions of the United States’ motives for increased focus on the region, American policymakers have tried to portray the rebalancing as focusing on the region at large[xxx].

While China’s rise can easily be seen as a causal factor in the rebalancing, it is far from the only one, and Washington should make clear this fact. Piracy, international smuggling, illegal drug trades, nuclear proliferation, climate change, and natural disasters are only a few of the many issues in the Asia-Pacific which extend beyond the nature of the U.S.-China relationship. A rhetorical or strategic framing of America’s current and future regional involvement as a means to counter China’s rise risks not only drawing Chinese ire, but limits the possibilities for broad American engagement. Thus, the United States’ rebalancing and future engagement in the Asia-Pacific should be portrayed to regional states, and perceived in Washington, as a means to ensure a lasting stability and order which benefits all, including China.

END MEMO

Works Cited

[i] Statistics taken from: “China,” CIA World Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ch.html (accessed October 23, 2014).

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] “United States of America,” CIA World Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/US.html

[iv] “The Security Risks of China’s Abnormal Demographics,” The Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/04/30/the-security-risks-of-chinas-abnormal-demographics/ (accessed October 23, 2014).

[v] “China,” CIA World Factbook.

[vi] Mitter, 2007.

[vii] “China,” CIA World Factbook.

[viii] “China,” CIA World Factbook.

[ix] Ralph H. Folsom, John H. Minan, Lee Ann Otto, Law and Politics in the People’s Republic of China, 76–77. St. Paul : West Publishing, 1992

[x] Andrew Higgins, “Hu’s Visit Spotlights China’s Two Faces,” The Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/15/AR2011011504013.html (accessed October 23, 2014).

[xi] “China,” CIA World Factbook.

[xii] Dreyer, 2007.

[xiii] Dreyer, 2007.

[xiv] “Pentagon: China Continues Military Modernization,” Defense News, http://www.defensenews.com/article/20140605/DEFREG02/306050042/Pentagon-China-Continues-Military-Modernization (accessed October 23, 2014).

[xv] Dreyer, 2007.

[xvi] Yan Xeutong, “China. Striving for Preventive Cooperation,” Regional Perspectives on the U.S. Rebalance. Asia-Pacific Defense Forum, January 1, 2014

[xvii] Mitter, 2007

[xviii] Mitter 2007.

[xix] Roy, Denny. “More Security for Rising China, Less for Others?” AsiaPacific Analysis, no. 106, January 2013.

[xx] Armin Rosen, “China May Have Commited A Tiananmen Square-Scale Massacre This Year – And Totally Covered It Up,” Business Insider, http://www.businessinsider.com/chinas-other-major-protests-2014-10 (accessed October 24, 2014).

[xxi] Beina Xu and Jayshree Bajorina, “The China-North Korea Relationship,” Council on Foreign Relations, http://www.cfr.org/china/china-north-korea-relationship/p11097 (accessed October 23, 2014).

[xxii] “China,” CIA World Factbook.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Mitter 2007.

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Ibid., Dreyer 2007.

[xxvii] Xeutong, Yan. “China. Striving for Preventive Cooperation.”

[xxviii] Cossa, Ralph A. “Security Dynamics in Asia.” In International Relations of Asia, edited by David Shambaugh and Michael Yahuda, 368. Lanham:Rowman & Littlefield, 2014.

[xxix] Forum Staff. “Regional Perspectives on the U.S. Rebalance.Asia-Pacific Defense Forum, January 1, 2014.

[xxx] Ibid.

Saudi Arabia’s Shia Youth: A Crisis in the Making

Though Saudi Arabia is today the Gulf’s major regional and economic power, its regime is struggling with internal dynamics which have the potential to seriously threaten continued security and stability. One major factor underpinning the government’s domestic challenges is the sectarian nature of Sunni-Shia relations. Saudi Shia are subject to significant government-sponsored policies of discrimination and repression that are buoyed by the monarchy’s support for ultra-conservative Wahhabism and sectarian concerns. Treated and regarded as second-class citizens, Saudi Shia feel an increasing resentment towards the Saudi Monarchy and state. As Saudi Arabia’s Shia live predominantly in the oil-rich areas of the Eastern Province, this resentment, should it continue to grow, could become a considerable economic and security issue for the Saudi regime. Of particular importance are the attitudes of Saudi Arabia’s Shia youth, who are more politically perceptive and active than earlier generations and who constitute the future of Saudi Sunni-Shia sectarianism. This paper details the nature of Sunni-Shia relations in Saudi Arabia, with a particular emphasis on the perceptions and activities of the Shia youth. Through examination of the government’s history of sectarianism and policies of discrimination, a significant security threat to the Saudi Monarchy is identified and described. The paper furthers analyzes the ramifications of future scenarios of government engagement versus non-engagement in reforms aimed at redressing Shia grievances.

Around 15 percent of Saudi Arabia’s 27 million inhabitants is Shia, making them a distinct minority in the otherwise overwhelmingly Sunni state. They live predominantly in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province, with the largest concentrations in the area around Qatif and Al-Hasa.[i] There is also a small Shia community in Medina, and about half a million Ismaili Shia and several thousand Zaydi Shia reside in the province of Najran along the border with Yemen.[ii] Saudi Shia are mostly adherents to the Twelver Branch of Shi’ism, drawing concern from the Saudi regime about their loyalty to Iran, which also follows the Twelver school.[iii]

In terms of population and political activity, Saudi Arabia has a considerable youth problem; more than half of the country’s population is under 21 years old. Frustrated with their political and economic marginalization and highly internet-savvy, the youth have found ways to mobilize and protest against the government in ways that undermine the regime’s political suppression.[iv] The Shia youth are no different and, with the added grievances of discrimination and sectarianism, present an even greater challenge to the Saudi state.

Shia dissent is the product of unequal distribution of political capital and economic resources. Though these inequalities affect many of Saudi Arabia’s provinces and a great number of Saudi Sunni, they are particularly felt in the Eastern Province, where most Shia reside. The eastern areas of Saudi Arabia have remained a lesser priority to the regime than the center and west in political power, economic development, and importance in the narratives and character of the state.[v] It is there that the regime’s policies of exclusion and discrimination are most deeply rooted and most heavily pronounced. Widespread unemployment and exclusion from the state’s patronage system is growing, and acutely affects the Shia youth. Infrastructure and services are being strained and the public sector is growing increasingly bloated.[vi] It would be an oversimplification to frame Saudi Shia dissent as purely a sectarian matter: economic hardship and political marginalization are largely the motivating factors behind Shia protests against the regime. However, discrimination and repression based on sectarian lines abets and amplifies the resentment Saudi Shia feel and further exacerbates their feelings of marginalization.[vii]

Easterners lack the ability to provide input into municipal budgets and to influence the administration of the province, creating significant political frustration. While this also affects eastern Sunni, other policies of discrimination are further imposed on the Shia. They are barred from senior positions in the government and central government agencies, such as the Ministry of Interior, the diplomatic corps, the National Guard, and the Ministry of Defense.[viii] At present there is no single Shia cabinet member or deputy minister.[ix] While at the local level Shia are better represented in the municipal councils, real power in the province lies instead at the governorate level, which is firmly controlled by the royal family.[x]

Shia grievances extend beyond the political sphere and into daily-life confrontations. Police forces in the Eastern Province are usually staffed by Sunnis from other parts of country, creating tension between local Shia communities and law enforcement officers. Shia are often subject to arbitrary arrests, searches, and seizures.[xi] Saudi education is framed in an anti-Shia manner, with school textbooks frequently containing derogatory allusions to the Shia and occasionally arguments for socially excluding or even killing them.[xii] Shia also face obstacles towards working in the education system; currently there is no Shia head of a university or girls school professor.[xiii] Shia treatment under the Saudi judicial system, which is governed by the Sunni Hanbali school of jurisprudence, has been source of dissent. Only in limited, Shia-majority areas such as Qatif and al-Hasa has the government allowed Shia courts, and even there the Ministry of Justice often appoints judges without consultation with the local communities.[xiv] The power of these Shia courts is also restricted by Sunni courts, which have veto power over the Shia courts’ rulings.[xv] Meanwhile, Shia in other parts of the country, including areas of the Eastern Province and Shia areas of Medina, have access to only Sunni courts.

Saudi Shia are also subject to religious discrimination, a reflection of the sectarian nature of Shia-Sunni relations in the country. Government-sponsored Salafi clerics are generally united in the view that Shia deviate from Salafi orthodoxy, consequently branding them ‘rejectionists.’ Senior Sunni clerics who have made statements that Shia are heretics and infidels have not been silenced by the regime, indicating at the least an official toleration of such views.[xvi] Though the regime permits them private religious gatherings, Saudi Shia face bureaucratic and legal obstacles when licensing mosques and mourning houses. Shia are not allowed to build mosques or run places of worship in cities with mixed Sunni-Shia populations.[xvii] There are no Shia representatives in the Senior Ulema Council, the country’s highest religious body that issues religious edicts affecting nearly every aspect of political and social life in Saudi Arabia.[xviii]

Underlying this discrimination is the alliance between the ruling family and the Wahhabi/Salafi religious establishment, an alliance that has existed since the beginnings of the Saudi state. The religious establishment is given a prominent place in Saudi Arabia’s political and social discourse, and in return legitimizes and buttresses the royal family’s rule.[xix] For many clerics, their continued access to political power is ensured by promoting sectarianism. Any recognition or support of the Shia identity would effectively undermine Salafi primacy in the country’s religious and social affairs.[xx] In order to manage demands for reforms and prevent any cross-sectarian cooperation among activists, the regime has tried to portray Eastern Province protests as exclusively Shia in character. Sectarianism has proven to be an effective tactic for the regime to dispel popular dissent. The regime has allowed the proliferation of anti-Shia sermons and rhetoric, which serve as a way to placate potential critics in the Salafi establishment and further deflect popular dissent.[xxi]

Sectarianism is also borne out of Saudi geopolitical concerns. Saudi Arabia has been suspicious of potential transnational ties between its Shia and Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria. A particular source of suspicions arises from the Shia institution of the ‘marj taqlid,’ the practice of senior Shia clerics giving transnational spiritual, social, and juridical edicts. There is concern about the extent to which the edicts are directive versus consultative and whether they extend into political matters.[xxii] Ties between Saudi Shia and Iran have been a particular source of inflated regime suspicion. Saudi Arabia and Iran have had tense relations since the 1979 Revolution, and events such as the 1982 and 1987 clashes between Saudi security forces and Iranian pilgrims have further strained their relationship. Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s condemnations of Saudi Arabia resulted in a Saudi regime wary of Iranian meddling in its domestic affairs. Iranian subversion, the regime reasons, would come about through Saudi Arabia’s Shia population.[xxiii] Saudi Shia acknowledge their longstanding ties with Shia clerics in Iraq and Iran; concurrently, they assert that their religious alliance does not amount to loyalty to foreign governments.[xxiv] Furthermore, while there is historical precedent of Saudi Shia supporting subversive groups with Iranian connections, they now overwhelmingly eschew political ties with Iran and reject its theocratic governance.[xxv]

The Saudi regime has found political capital out of its policies that politically marginalize Shia and Sunni citizens alike. By stifling political freedoms and participation, the regime is able to suppress reform movements that would undermine the status quo. The royal family has supported this political environment through its narrative that the country’s citizens are prone to Islamist and tribal passions and are therefore not ready for democracy or civil society. The monarchy legitimizes itself by arguing that it fulfills the role of a mediator that binds the fractious citizenry together.[xxvi] Of course, activists point out that it is the lack of civil society and participatory government that support the existence of sectarianism and tribalism in Saudi society.[xxvii]

The historical development of sectarianism accounts for the growing involvement of aggressive, activist Shia youth in contemporary protest movements. The prevalent sectarianism that has been a pervasive element in the country’s internal dynamics can be traced to the early time of the Kingdom’s formation. The Emirate of Diriyah, an early Saudi state formed through an alliance between Muhammad Ibn Saud and the ultra-conservative imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, had clashed with the Shia of the Arabian peninsula. In 1913, King Abdulaziz Al Saud, founder of modern Saudi Arabia, seized al-Hasa. Wahhabi clerics ordered the demolition of several Shia mosques and took over preaching duties of remaining mosques in order to convert the population. Al Saud’s radical ‘Ikhwan’ army conducted a vicious anti-Shia rampage, calling on the king to either convert or permit the killing of Shia. Despite the King’s refusal, the army acted unilaterally, and in 1926 massacred large numbers of Shia.[xxviii] In the decades which followed, Saudi Shia continued to be treated as second class citizens, having religious freedoms and civil liberties strongly curtailed through regime policies.

The late 1970s saw increasing dissatisfaction among the Shia at the government’s failure to deliver on promises to improve living conditions in the Eastern Province.[xxix] The Iranian Revolution of 1979 further spurred heightened activism among Shia in the Eastern Province and signaled a shift of power from quietist Shia leaders to revolutionary-minded, younger activists. In November 1979, Shia protesters defied a government ban on Muharram rituals and staged demonstrations, calling on the government to end discrimination. The regime responded with repressive measures, arresting hundreds of activists and killing at least two dozen Shia protesters.[xxx] Meanwhile, leaders of the uprising founded a protest group known as the ‘Organization for the Islamic Revolution,’ who developed close ties with the revolutionary Iranian government. Saudi clerical and lay activists soon became instrumental in supporting this group.[xxxi]

Eventually, Iran became dissatisfied with its inability to control the Organization for the Islamic Revolution, leading it to form a more militant group in Saudi Arabia known as the ‘Hezbollah al-Hejaz.’[xxxii] This group launched a series of terrorist attacks within Saudi, including a 1987 attack at a gas plant and a 1988 bombing of petrochemical installations in the Eastern Province. In response, the Saudi government accused the Shia of sabotage, executing several and placing further restrictions on their civil and economic freedoms.[xxxiii] By the end of the 1980s, a growing number of Saudi Shia activists recognized the limits of revolution. They viewed accommodation with the government as a more realistic approach for achieving reforms. As such, in 1993 a number of Shia leaders of the Organization for the Islamic Revolution made a deal with the Saudi government, promising to abandon violence in exchange for assurances regarding political reform and the redress of grievances.[xxxiv] This marked the beginning of a period of peaceful activism by clerics and activists known now as the ‘Reformists,’ or ‘Islahiyyin.’ Following this reconciliation, Saudi Shia political activity consisted largely of grassroots civil society work, participation in local council elections, dialogue with like-minded reformists, and petitions to the royal family.[xxxv]

King Abdullah’s accession to the throne in 2005 brought Eastern Province Shia the hope that reform could be actualized through the political process. Abdullah sponsored a number of initiatives aimed at reducing sectarian divisions and increasing public involvement in political life and dialogue. Yet these reforms, more cosmetic than tangible, ultimately failed to live up their promises, as power over local budgets, personnel appointments, and administration remained in the hands of the Ministry of Interior instead of local communities. Meanwhile, cross-sectarian dialogue became undone due to rising sectarian tensions in Saudi society and government obstacles to such efforts.[xxxvi]

Conflict broke out in 2009, when clashes erupted between Shia pilgrims visiting the cemetery of Shia imams in Medina and members of the regime’s morality police. Security forces moved into Medina’s Shia neighborhoods, arresting and injuring numbers of residents. The regime’s response to the riots indicated to the Shia in the Eastern Province that the royal family’s outreach efforts had ended. Soon after, the most intense of demonstration of Shia dissent since 1979 occurred as protests erupted in Qatif, al-Safwa, and al-Awamiya.[xxxvii] On March 13th, as the protests in al-Awamiya continued around him, an outspoken Shia cleric named Nimr al-Nimr gave a sermon lambasting the regime and suggesting the East secede. Nimr al-Nimr’s brazen statements and outright rejection of the Islahiyyin’s participatory approach quickly won him support and fame among frustrated young Shia men. The Saudi regime soon arrested al-Nimr and a number of his supporters.[xxxviii] However, far from stifling dissent, al-Nimr’s arrest bolstered his support and further galvanized the Shia youth’s resentment of the regime.

The 2009 protests and al-Nimr’s arrest marked a turning point in Saudi Shia dissent, with a younger, more activist, and more aggressive cohort of Shia activists coming to play prominent roles. Disagreements about protest strategies and methods for reform began to fall along generational lines, with the younger Shia seeing the Islahiyyin as having been co-opted by the regime.[xxxix] For many, outright opposition seemed like the only means to achieve reform.[xl]

This current came to a head in the wake of the 2011 Arab Uprisings. Youthful Sunni and Shia activists, inspired by the crowds of Tahrir Square and Benghazi, planned nationwide demonstrations scheduled for March 11th. In early March youth groups across the country formed a cross-sectarian movement called the ‘Free Youth Coalition,’ which issued a lengthy list of political and economic demands. Yet this effort was thwarted by fundamental disagreements and distrust among coalition members. The Shia wanted to focus more on reforms specific to discrimination in the Eastern Province rather than overarching, national reforms.[xli] The Shia preempted the planned March 11th protest with protests of their own, the first of which occurred on March 3rd and 4th. The regime responded with the arrest of dozens of protesters in Qatif.[xlii] In the face of increased security presence around Riyadh and Jeddah, the March 11th cross-sectarian protest, dubbed the ‘Day of Rage,’ came and went without mass protest.[xliii]

The Saudi regime’s counteroffensive against took several forms – the King announced a package of twenty economic gifts to the people worth an estimated $93 billion.[xliv] A media campaign was launched to discredit the protests, emphasizing their destructive nature and portraying them as serving subversive Shia interests.[xlv] Anti-Shia sentiment was mobilized through Salafi religious scholars who issued fatwas against the protests and warned of an Iranian-Shia conspiracy.

The regime also relied on local supporters among the Shia clergy to dampen the protests. This served to bring the clerics into direct conflict with the frustrated, activist youth and did very little to lessen their protest fervor. [xlvi] Throughout the year, demonstrations continued and were met with security crackdowns. On August 3rd, eight months after the first protests, the popular cleric Tawfiq al-Amir was arrested, sparking further activity. On October 3rd, security forces clashed with armed protests in al-Awamiya, resulting in numbers of wounded police officers and civilians. In November, a 19-year-old was shot and killed at a checkpoint near Qatif, galvanizing the youth to take to the streets en mass. By the end of the protests, five people had been killed and others wounded. In response to the protests, the regime tried to link the opposition and violence to Iranian subversion. Instances of armed assaults by Shia youth on police vehicles, drive-by shootings, street marches, and police raids soon became near-nightly occurrences.[xlvii]

Nimr al-Nimr issued a sermon demanding the end of the monarchy on February 10th, 2012. Protesters made their way through al-Awamiya, shouting demands for the release of prisoners and reforms. In the ensuing chaos, a 21-year-old protester was killed.[xlviii] In late June, Nimr al-Nimr delivered a tirade against the rousing family, praising the death of Saudi crown prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz. Saudi security forces soon after arrested him following a car chase and shootout. His arrest was met with intense and popular anger.[xlix] The summer and fall of 2012 were accordingly marked with sustained protests in the east.[l]

There were encouraging signs that the government was ready to take steps to redress grievances in early 2013. Some television networks that spouted anti-Shia rhetoric were shut down, an additional Shia member was appointed to the Majlis al-Shura, and the longtime governor of the Eastern Province was removed from his post. Many activists remained pessimistic about real change, and by mid-year government policy was again portraying Shia activism as Iranian subversion.[li] It was during this time that the country’s state prosecutor called for the crucifixion of Nimr al-Nimr.[lii] In August of 2014, protests broke out across the Eastern Province calling for the release of Nimr al-Nimr and other political prisoners.[liii] In turn, the government announced in mid-September that Nimr al-Nimr’s sentencing would be postponed, likely recognizing that a harsh verdict could spark another round of intense unrest and renewed protests.[liv]

On October 15th, Nimr al-Nimr was sentenced to death, having been found guilty of “not obeying King Abdullah, not pledging allegiance to him or the state, incitement of vandalism and sectarian strife, demonizing Saudi rulers, calling for the collapse of the state and insulting relatives and companions of the Prophet Muhammad.”[lv] The verdict has raised fears of renewed protests and dissent.[lvi] If anything, the sentencing will further alienate Shia youth from the government and will inhibit any peaceful movement toward both addressing dissent and reconciling the surmounting issues that feed frustration and discontent. In fact, as recently as October 18th, small-scale protests against the sentence have begun to break out in the east.[lvii]

The history of marginalization provides ample context of Shia dissent in Saudi Arabia. Discrimination, limited reforms, and repression have frustrated Saudi Shia, pushing them to release their resentment through violent protests. The younger generation has grown progressively more impatient and dissatisfied with the older generation’s inability to end discriminatory policies and bring about tangible improvements in living conditions and jobs. The failure of the Islahiyyin’s moderate, pro-dialogue approach for addressing grievances has suggested to the youth that a more aggressive, violent style of dissent is necessary.[lviii] The youth further view many of the Shia clergy and members of the Islahiyyin as being co-opted by the Saudi government, further contributing to a generational divide.[lix]

Youth protest networks across the Eastern Province have grown significantly in recent years, with cellular groups such as the ‘Free Youth Coalition,’ ‘Free Men of Sayhat,’ ‘Supporters of al-Qatif,’ and ‘Eastern Region Revolution’ gaining popular support. Several of these networks merged during the 2012 protests to form the ‘Freedom and Justice Coalition,’ which now plays a leading role in organizing demonstrations across the region.[lx] While these organizations are similar to older networks in their demands for equality and constitutional monarchy, they are more active and aggressive in their protests. As the prominent Islahiyyin leader Hassan al-Saffar noted in a 2012 sermon, “Previous generations tolerated and adapted to problems, the current generation is different.”[lxi] A marked difference and generational divide exists in how Shia resentment is being expressed, readily demonstrated by the violence which has broken out over the last few years, and which is the worst seen since the late 1970s.

These youth networks make skillful use of social media to coordinate street protests and to disseminate criticism of the regime. Through the many different platform of social media, they have launched a renewed effort at dialogue with Sunnis across the country. This represents a departure from dialogue efforts that historically took place in the regime’s officially sanctioned forums, which activists see as a means to circumscribe any true coordination on reform.[lxii] Social media has also contributed to the growing split between Shia youth activists and the older generation; the Shia clergy, who have largely attempted to moderate and minimize protest violence, appear increasingly out of touch.[lxiii] Social media, not the sermon, has become the primary channel of political communication in the east, passing the initiative in planning protests and protest strategies from older activists to the internet-savvy youth. The Saudi government attempts to limit online dissent and protest coordination by blocking websites, monitoring facebook posts, and shutting down blogs which criticize the regime.[lxiv] Yet the nature of the internet is such that the government cannot fully succeed in quelling the online activity. As the 2011 ‘Arab Spring’ and 2014 Hong Kong protests amply demonstrate, internet-savvy protest organizers can find new technologies or websites to use for their purposes, always staying one step ahead of the regime.[lxv]

Significantly, many of these youth organizations have shown a clear deference to and support for the teachings of clerics such as Nimr al-Nimr and Tawfiq al-Amir. Although their rhetoric is unapologetically inflammatory against the Saudi monarchy, they profoundly advocate for Shia dignity and justice. The themes of their sermons and speeches, which call for redressing grievances, strongly resonate among the endemically underemployed and underprivileged youth. Nimr al-Nimr and others have been instrumental in mobilizing activity the streets.[lxvi] It is this connection, between those in need and those who advocate, that presents a distinct challenge for the government. Allowing individuals such as Nimr al-Nimr to deliver scathing critiques of the Saudi government could make the regime appear weak, which in turn could invigorate and energize opposition movements and lead to more demands. However, as history has shown, arresting and silencing these clerics has pushed protests into the streets, with demands for releasing the clerics catapulting into full-fledged demonstrations.[lxvii]

The undertow of sectarianism throughout Saudi Arabia’s Shia population, pulling on its youth, provides the fodder for a crisis in the making for the regime. The government faces a hotbed of simmering dissent in its Eastern Province, dissent that has been brought about by inequitable and discriminatory policies that diminish economic, social, and educational opportunities. The reluctance to address Shia grievances and a fear-driven approach towards ending demonstrations have not only perpetuated Shia dissatisfaction, but have convinced the youth that more aggressive forms of opposition are a viable option. The root causes of protest – numerous long-standing government policies and historic circumstances that have left the Shia feeling oppressed – are systemic and entrenched.

If the Saudi government wishes to effectively deal with its Shia opposition, it should actually address and resolve these issues. Its other approaches to handling the problem have proven ineffective, if not counter-productive. However, ‘cosmetic’ or palliative attempts at reform would be ineffective, exemplified by King Abdullah’s early attempts at dialogue and reform, which were followed years later by the “Day of Rage” and further protests. One set of tangible solutions has been provided by a 125-page document commissioned by the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in 2012 that investigated the protests in the Eastern Province. It objectively identified the roots of eastern dissent as entrenched political, social, and economic problems rather than criminal or Iranian subversion.[lxviii] It suggested a series of reforms which include, among others, ending sectarianism in the media, releasing all political prisoners, reforming the local police station in al-Awamiya, and boosting the development of the east through housing projects, youth sports facilities, and better schools. It further suggested that a commission be established to investigate the Ministry of Interior’s actions in al-Awamiya.[lxix]

Ending sectarian tensions would necessitate shifts in social and media attitudes, education, and local judicial processes. Reforms which would be key steps in these changes include implementing Shia representation in the Senior Ulema Council and Supreme Judicial Council, permitting Shia wider freedoms to worship, and formally recognizing the Shia Ja’fari school of jurisprudence. Resolving underlying economic issues such as unemployment and discrimination for Shia will be a long-term challenge. Changes in Saudi business practices and bureaucratic reforms, such as integrating Shia into local police forces and the Ministry of Interior, would be first steps in that process.[lxx] Empowering local municipal councils and giving broader oversight to community organizations will enable Shia leaders in the east to bolster local infrastructure, diversify the local economy, and improve educational and sports facilities. Doing so is vital to staving off youth-driven opposition and dissent.

To ease and eventually end protest movements and oppositional tensions, the Saudi government should end sweeping laws against “sedition,” censorship, and arbitrary arrests. These standing policies have aggravated youth dissent in the east and have been the cause of other protests across the country. The government should recognize internal dissent as a step towards building a stronger, unified country, rather than portray dissent as evidence of foreign subversion. Not doing so will perpetuate the communication barriers that limit open political dialogue and contribute to further alienation of the younger generation. While much of the youth has little sympathy for Iran, an increasingly gloomy future could push them towards radicalization. With traces of the Iranian-backed militant group ‘Hezbollah al-Hejaz’ still found in the east, the government’s denouncing of activists as foreign agents could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.[lxxi] In reality, reform in the east could be seen as supportive of the regime’s strategic aim of blunting Iranian influence; Saudi Shia would have little desire for a pro-Iranian orientation if they were treated fairly by their government.

 Implementing comprehensive reforms to conciliate its Shia minority is easier said than done. Policies of discrimination are in place because of historical circumstances and political arraignments hat have brought the royal family into power and sustain its power. Cultural and religious biases and prejudices, ubiquitous throughout the world, are most difficult to alter. Letting go of the status-quo and becoming vulnerable to the financial, political, and social risk that comes with change is anathema to most leaders. The regime has evidently calculated that it is easier or more beneficial to stave off calls for reform, crush dissent, and continue its current policies than to deal with the social and political ramifications of sweeping reform. Yet while Shia protests and dissent are not currently an imminent threat to the Saudi government, their persistence and increasingly violent nature show that the status quo cannot continue. Ignoring long-standing grievances is only aggravating the very situation the regime would like to diffuse.

Shia youth represent the future of anti-government opposition in Saudi Arabia and should therefore be of enormous concern for the Saudi government. Frustrated and disillusioned with the failed moderate approach of past reformers, the younger generation has proven to be increasingly willing to take to the streets in aggressive, violent protests. The government’s attempts to deal with the opposition through security crackdowns, censorship, and arrests have only intensified resentment and galvanized people to protest. For the endemically underemployed and underprivileged youth, facing police lines and arrest may be preferable to living under present circumstances. Unless they see tangible improvements in their living conditions, this unrest is likely to continue indefinitely. As protests over Nimr al-Nimr’s sentencing continue to break out and deepen the tensions between the Shia and the government, the perceptions, attitudes, and grievances of Saudi Arabia’s Shia youth are a serious crisis in the making. The only long-term solution is substantial and comprehensive reform that counterbalances the inequities of inherent discrimination.

Works Cited and Notes

[i] Estimates of Saudi Arabia’s Shia population range between 10 and 25 percent of the population. Michael Izady, “Persian Gulf Region: Religious Composition,” Columbia University, gulf2000.columbia.edu/images/maps/GulfReligionGeneral_lg.png (accessed October 4, 2014). For the lower-range estimate, see also: Toby Matthiesen, “Saudi Arabia’s Shiite Problem,” Foreign Policy, http://mideastafrica.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/03/07/saudi_arabia_s_shiite_problem?wp_login_redirect=0 (accessed October 4, 2014).

[ii] Ahmad K. Majidyar, “Saudi Arabia’s forgotten Shiite Spring,” American Enterprise Institute, http://www.aei.org/outlook/foreign-and-defense-policy/regional/middle-east-and-north-africa/saudi-arabias-forgotten-shiite-spring/ (accessed October 3, 2014).

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] For age demographics, see: Caryle Murphey, “Saudi Arabia’s Youth and the Kingdom’s Future,” Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Middle East Program (2011): 3. http://issuu.com/ecspwwc/docs/saudi_arabia_s_youth_and_the_kingdom_s_future_fina/1?e=0 (accessed October 3, 2014). A deeper analysis of internet use by Saudi youths can be found in: Nadav Samin, “Dynamics of Internet Use: Saudi Youth, Religious Minorities and Tribal Communities,” Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 1 (2008): 197-215.

[v] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, http://carnegieendowment.org/2013/06/14/forgotten-uprising-in-eastern-saudi-arabia# (accessed October 4,, 2014).

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid. See also: Ahmad K. Majidyar, “Saudi Arabia’s forgotten Shiite Spring.”

[ix] Ahmad K. Majidyar, “Saudi Arabia’s forgotten Shiite Spring.”

[x] U.S. Department of State, 2012 Report on International Religious Freedom – Saudi Arabia.

[xi] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.”

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Ahmad K. Majidyar, “Saudi Arabia’s forgotten Shiite Spring.”

[xiv] U.S. Department of State, 2012 Report on International Religious Freedom – Saudi Arabia.

[xv] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.”

[xvi] Simon Henderson, “Prospects for Saudi democratization,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, https://jime.ieej.or.jp/htm/english/2007/0330.htm (accessed October 5, 2014).

[xvii] Ahmad K. Majidyar, “Saudi Arabia’s forgotten Shiite Spring”

[xviii] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.”

[xix] David Commins, The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia (I.B. Tauris: 2009)

[xx] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.”

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] Ahmad K. Majidyar, “Saudi Arabia’s forgotten Shiite Spring.”

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.”

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] Ibid.

[xxviii] David Commins, The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia, 170-211.

[xxix] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.”

[xxx] Ibid. For background context analyzing Iranian involvement in the protests, see also: Ahmad K. Majidyar, “Saudi Arabia’s forgotten Shiite Spring.”

[xxxi] Ibid.

[xxxii] Ahamd K. Majidyar, “Saudi Arabia’s forgotten Shiite Spring.”

[xxxiii] Vali Nasr, The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future (W. W. Norton & Company, 2007): 236.

[xxxiv] Fouad Ibrahim, The Shi’is of Saudi Arabia (London: Saqi Books, 2006), 140-177.

[xxxv] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.” For a broader analysis of the Islahiyyin period, see also: Frederic Wehrey, Sectarian Politics in the Gulf: From the Iraq War to the Arab Uprisings (Columbia University Press, 2013).

[xxxvi] Ibid.

[xxxvii] Christopher Wilcke, Denied Dignity: Systematic Discrimination and Hostility Toward Saudi Shia Citizens (Human Rights Watch, 2009): 1-2. See also: Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.”

[xxxviii] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.”

[xxxix] Ibid.

[xl] Ahamad K. Majidyar, “Saudi Arabia’s forgotten Shiite Spring.”

[xli] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.”

[xlii] Ibid.

[xliii] Madawi Al-Rasheed, “No Saudi Spring,” Boston Review, http://www.bostonreview.net/madawi-al-rasheed-arab-spring-saudi-arabia (accessed October 6, 2014).

[xliv] Ibid.

[xlv] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.”

[xlvi] Ibid.

[xlvii] Ibid.

[xlviii] Ibid.

[xlix] Madawi Al-Rasheed, “No Saudi Spring.”

[l] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.”

[li] Ibid.

[lii] “Saudi: Sheikh Nimr’s Crucified Fate,” Al-Akhbar English, http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/15395 (accessed October 7, 2014).

[liii] “Saudis demand release of Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr,” PressTV, http://www.presstv.com/detail/2014/08/24/376410/saudis-call-for-shia-clerics-release/ (accessed October 7, 2014).

[liv] Aya Batrawy, “Verdict postponed on Saudi Shiite cleric,” Associated Press, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/verdict-postponed-saudi-shiite-cleric (accessed October 7, 2014).

[lv] Aya Batrawy, “Saudi Arabia Just Sentenced A Prominent Shia Scholar to Death,” Business Insider, http://www.businessinsider.com/saudi-arabia-al-nimr-death-sentence-2014-10 (accessed October 16, 2014).

[lvi] “Saudi Arabia sentences Sheikh Nimr to death,” Al-Akhbar English, http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/saudi-arabia-sentences-sheikh-nimr-death (accessed October 17, 2014).

[lvii] Leila Fadel, “Saudi Cleric’s Death Sentence Focuses Shia Anger on Ruling Family,” NPR, http://www.npr.org/2014/10/18/357108117/saudi-clerics-death-sentence-focuses-shia-anger-on-ruling-family (accessed October 18, 2014).

[lviii] Frederic Wehrey, “Shia Days of Rage,” Foreign Affairs, http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/138498/frederic-wehrey/shia-days-of-rage (accessed October 17, 2014).

[lix] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.”

[lx] Ibid.

[lxi] Ibid.

[lxii] Ibid.

[lxiii] Frederic Wehrey, “Shia Days of Rage.”

[lxiv] “Saudi Arabia,” Freedom House, http://www.freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2013/saudi-arabia#.VELiqxavEXU (accessed October 16, 2014).

[lxv] For an analysis of the use of ‘Twitter’ in the 2011 ‘Arab Spring,’ see: Catherine O’Donnell, “New study quantifies use of social media in Arab Spring,” University of Washington, http://www.washington.edu/news/2011/09/12/new-study-quantifies-use-of-social-media-in-arab-spring/ (accessed October 17, 2014). For an analysis of the use of social media in the 2014 Hong Kong protests, which demonstrates how activists can circumvent online censorship, see also: Emily Parker, “Social Media and the Hong Kong Protests,” The New Yorker, http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/social-media-hong-kong-protests (accessed October 17, 2014).

[lxvi] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forgotten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.”

[lxvii] “The Arrest Of A Shiite Cleric Could Be The Spark That Ignites Saudi Arabia,” Business Insider, http://www.businessinsider.com/saudi-arabia-arrest-turmoil-cleric-2011-3 (accessed October 17, 2014).

[lxviii] Frederic Wehrey, “The Forogtten Uprising in Eastern Saudi Arabia.” The full report, “ʿAbd al-Rahman Muhammad ʿAmr al-ʿAqil, “Ahdath al-ʿAwamiya wa al-Qatif,” (The Events of al-Awamiya and al-Qatif), can be found at http://t.co/wltovJtn

[lxix] Ibid.

[lxx] Ibid.

[lxxi] Ibid.