Big protests erupted in Qatif in early 2011, inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings sweeping the region and feelings of solidarity with Shias in neighboring Bahrain. These drew Qatif into a region-wide contest for influence between Shia Muslim Iran and Sunni Arab states such as Saudi Arabia.
Most Saudis adhere to the rigid Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam that deems Shi'ism as heretical, and some members of the majority fear the Qatif Shias' first loyalty is to Iran rather than their own kingdom.
By contrast, the Shias proclaim their loyalty to Riyadh and say they want an end to what they regard as neglect amidst the oil wealth of Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province where they live.
Awamiyah became known across the country as Saudi media reported on what it simply called "rioting" in the village and the surrounding Qatif district.
After several months of relative calm, some residents fear more unrest resulting in a police crackdown. This follows the arrest of 16 Shias accused of spying for Iran and the first hearing in the trial of an Awamiyah cleric who may face execution.
"The government is dealing with this as a security threat, not as a political issue. Shia demands are not big. They are achievable and for not much cost," said Jafar al-Shayeb, a Shia community leader and former elected head of Qatif municipality. Read Full Story