In fact, much of the conflict can be explained by a fascinating map created by M.R. Izady, a cartographer and adjunct master professor at the U.S. Air Force Special Operations School/Joint Special Operations University in Florida.
Map shows religious populations in the Middle East and proven developed oil and gas reserves. Click to view the full map of the wider region. The dark green areas are predominantly Shiite; light green predominantly Sunni; and purple predominantly Wahhabi/Salafi, a branch of Sunnis. The black and red areas represent oil and gas deposits, respectively. Source: Dr. Michael Izady at Columbia University, Gulf2000, New York
What the map shows is that, due to a peculiar correlation of religious history and anaerobic decomposition of plankton, almost all the Persian Gulf’s fossil fuels are located underneath Shiites. This is true even in Sunni Saudi Arabia, where the major oil fields are in the Eastern Province, which has a majority Shiite population.
As a result, one of the Saudi royal family’s deepest fears is that one day Saudi Shiites will secede, with their oil, and ally with Shiite Iran.
This fear has only grown since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq overturned Saddam Hussein’s minority Sunni regime, and empowered the pro-Iranian Shiite majority. Nimr himself said in 2009 that Saudi Shiites would call for secession if the Saudi government didn’t improve its treatment of them.