Dubai/Riyadh: Iran is purposely sowing instability in the Gulf to send a message to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states of Tehran's influence in the region amid the deteriorating situation of its sole Arab ally Syria, political analysts told Gulf News.
Reacting to Monday night's riots in Saudi Arabia's Shiite-dominated eastern province, Abdul Aziz Al Saqr, chairman of the Gulf Research Centre, said he expects an escalation of such incidents in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
Saudi authorities blamed the riots on "foreign forces" and vowed to use "an iron fist" after rioters attacked the police with molotov cocktails and machine gun fire.
"Those who try to hurt the country which hosts the two holy mosques are virtually waging a battle against the Muslim ummah as a whole. All Muslim countries would stand by Saudi Arabia in confronting such a challenge," Dr Sultan Al Saihani, a prominent political analyst, told Gulf News.
GCC states have repeatedly accused Iran of interfering in their internal affairs and instigating violence and unrest, especially in Bahrain. Iran has denied the charges, and accused the two countries of discrimination against their Shiite citizens — an accusation rejected by both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
The riots that erupted in Awamiya city in the eastern region of Qatif injured 14 people including 11 security personnel and three civilians.
According to statements by human rights activists in the western media, the violence started when police opened fire in the air to disperse protesters who had surrounded a local police station demanding the release of two men arrested earlier.
Rioting followed with assailants, some on motorcycles, firing from machine guns and hurling molotov cocktails at the police.
"There is group receiving clear instructions from abroad," Al Saqr said.
However, other Saudi analysts, including Turki Al Sudairy, editor of the Arabic-language newspaper Al Riyadh, stressed that "we can't say the incident carries a sectarian characteristic".
Many Shiite judges, businessmen and religious figures have already rejected what happened and called for "social cohesion".
Shaikh Mohammad Al Jeerani, a judge in the eastern region, said: "I denounce the criminal acts perpetrated by some ignorant people against our beloved nation. They represent no school of thought, religion or humanity. On the other hand, they represent only ignorance and darkness. We vow loyalty to our wise leadership."
Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Mansour Al Turki was quoted by Bloomberg as saying, "I don't expect this to be repeated, it was an isolated incident."
"Those who instigated the riots have been taken into custody," a security source who requested anonymity told Gulf News, adding that most of the injured were discharged from hospital after treatment.