Saudi Arabia executes Ayatollah Nimr al-Nimr, Shiite world is alight.
Recently Saudi Arabia has been going on an execution spree of sorts. In 2014 it is estimated that Saudi Arabia executed at least 90 people, either through firing squad or beheading. This number is consistent with the annual average of 83 executions for the period 2007-2014. However, in 2015 the number of executions significantly increased to 157 people, which is the most people executed in Saudi Arabia since 1995, when 192 were executed. According to Saudi diplomats the reason for the increase was due to a clearing of backlogged cases.
It seems that this backlog has remained into 2016. While others were resting and enjoying themselves after celebrating the New Year, Saudi officials were doing their best to clear this backlog. In numerous locations throughout the country, a total of 47 people were executed. The majority of those dispatched were Sunni jihadists associated with al-Qaeda. But there were also 4 condemned Shiites, one of them being a rather important individual, the Ayatollah Nimr al-Nimr, whose death may have grevious consequences for the Middle East and even the world.
In the view of the Saudis and many other Sunni muslims, al-Nimr was a criminal deserving of his fate as he was convicted of “sedition, disobedience and bearing arms.” Journalist Faisal Abbas described him as a “hate preacher” and likened him to Faris al-Shuwail, a prominent al-Qaeda leader who was also executed by the Saudis on January 2. Such sentiments were also expressed by another Arab columnist Abdulrahman al-Rashed, who argued that “It makes no sense to ask Saudis to execute Sunni religious leaders, and let other implicated preachers be [i.e. Shiites like al-Nimr].”
Now maybe the Saudis were justified in their actions. Maybe al-Nimr was an extremist “hate preacher” rousing Saudi Shiites to acts of violence. Maybe he was as an agent of Iran fomenting discord and sedition within Saudi Arabia. Or maybe he wasn’t. Maybe al-Nimr was accurately pointing out the injustices of the Saudi regime towards its Shiite population and acting as a voice for that community.
Quite frankly I am not knowledgable enough on al-Nimr to argue one way or another. Furthermore, I am distrustful of both Iran and Saudi Arabia. I fully believe that Iran is capable of attempting to destabilize Saudi Arabia through the use of a religious figure and I fully believe that Saudi Arabia would execute an Ayatollah for nothing more than sectarian reasons and hatred. While the fog of the Middle East makes its difficult to clearly see and know what is occuring, this does not mean that Saudi Arabia, even if justified in its actions, behaved imprudently in their execution of al-Nimr.
To put things into perspective, according to Walid Shoebat, there are only 47 Ayatollahs in the world, 17 of which are operating outside of Iran. Does it make sense to execute one of these Ayatollahs and not to expect an intense response from the Shiite world? Even if al-Nimr was spreading sedition throughout Saudi Arabia and was an Iranian agent, would it not have been more sensible to have him expelled from the country? This would have effectively countered Iranian machinations within Saudi Arabia and would not have provoked the Shiite world as much as executing an Ayatollah. However, Saudi Arabia did not take this path.
As expected, following the announcement of al-Nimr’s execution, the Shiite world has reacted strongly. Numerous Shiite political and religious leaders have expressed their condemnation. Iranian Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami had “no doubt that this pure blood will stain the collar of the House of Saud and wipe them from the pages of history.” The Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei responded by saying, “The unjustly spilled blood of this oppressed martyr will no doubt soon show its effect and divine vengeance will befall Saudi politicians.” Whereas Jaberi Ansari, spokeman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry said, “It is clear that the consequences of this abortive and irresponsible policy will befall those behind it and the Saudi government will pay a heavy price for following such policies.”
In Iraq the country’s top Shiite religious official, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani condemned Saudi Arabia’s actions saying, “We have received with much sorrow and regret the news of the martyrdom of a number of our brother believers in the region whose pure blood was shed in an unjust aggression.” An Iraqi Shiite member of parliament Salim Shawqi accused the Saudis of trying to provoke sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shiites.
While in Lebannon, the head of Hezbollah Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah accused the Saudis of losing their minds and predicted dire consequences for them, “The killing of our brothers, the spilling of our blood will not go just like that and they must be afraid, they must hide.” He also mocked them saying “He, who speaks out is executed. This is Saudi Arabia, which wants to spread democracy in the region.” In addition Shiite organizations in Pakistan and Yemen have also stated their criticisms.
Not only are Shiite leaders angry with Saudi Arabia’s behavior, the Shiite populace is also up in arms, with numerous protests occuring throughout the Shiite world including in Bahrain, Iran, Iraq and even Saudi Arabia. In Tehran the Saudi embassy was attacked by angry protestors. Three Sunni mosques in Iraq were also bombed possibly by Shiite groups in response to al-Nimr’s execution, although no one knows who the perpetrators are and what there motivation was.
With tensions running high and anger boiling over among the Shiites the Saudis appear unwilling to back down. The highest Saudi religious body, the Council of Senior Scholars, has argued that the actions of the Saudi government were prefectly legal. Others have scoffed at Iranian criticism, such as TV host Muhammad Al-Rashed who pointed out that “terrorist Iran is the last that should talk about human rights.”
More importantly than what some clerics and TV personalities think, are the views snd actions of the Saudi government. A Saudi official said, “The Iranian regime is the last regime in the world that could accuse others of supporting terrorism, considering that (Iran) is a state that sponsors terror, and is condemned by the United Nations and many countries.” Furthermore, in response to Iranian protests and the ransacking of the Saudi embassy in Tehran Saudi Arabia has just announced that it will halt or restrict air traffic and commerce with Iran and will not allow its citizens to travel to Iran.
Saudi Arabia is not alone in their response to Iran as other Sunni nations have backed them. Bahrain has announced it will close its Iranian embassy and has asked Iranian diplomats to leave the country. Sudan has said it will also cut diplomatic relations with Iran. As well the UAE has downgraded its relations with Iran, recalling its ambassador to Iran. While the Shiites are enraged, the
What is interesting about this common Sunni front against Iran was that a few weeks ago Saudi Arabia announced that it was forming and leading an alliance of 34 Sunni nations with the stated aim of fighting terrorism. While most may have assumed that the terrorism in question was that pertaining to ISIL, but as we have seen the Saudi definition of terrorism is a bit more expansive and also includes Iran and its proxies. So the question arises as to whether Saudi Arabia anticipated trouble with Iran and formed this Sunni alliance with the intention of confronting and thwarting Iran? I
Under normal condition the Middle East is a volatile region, but it currently appears to be in a state of extreme tension that could easily breakout into a widespread regional conflagration. We already have ISIL running amok attempting to solidify and expand their caliphate. There is Russia’s military intervention in the Syrian Civil War and Turkey’s downing of a Russian Su-24 which has the potential to bring Russia into conflict with NATO. Involving Israel there is the ongoing hostilities in the Palestinian territories and now following the assassination of Samir Quntar by Israel, Hezbollah has responded by bombing an IDF patrol at the Shebaa farms, so we now have the real possibility of a conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. Not to forget there is also the civil war in Yemen, in which Saudi Arabia is playing an active military role against a proxy of Iran.
To this already turbulent maelstrom, we can now add the possibility of direct confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran brought about by the execution of Nimr al-Nimr. It is clear that the emotions and hatreds of both Shiites and Sunnis have been roused by the events in question, which further increases the probability of future direct sectarian conflict between the two Iran and Saudi Arabia. If this confrontation does in fact materialize it will mark an escalation in the current Sunni Shiite civil war. This conflict which has heretofore involved the proxies of the Sunni and Shiite powers, may soon witness direct confrontation between these powers, namely Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The direness of this situation is also amplified if we consider Walid Shoebat’s contention, based on his interpretation of Christian end time prophecies, that Iran will nuke and consequently destroy Saudi Arabia. To some such a claim may seem outlandish, but based on what is currently happening in the Middle East the prospects of war between Iran and Saudi Arabia are high, and it is also plausible that Iran, within a few years, may have access to nuclear weapons and the necessary technology needed to deliver them.
Ultimately, as observers, all we can do is sit back and watch what is happening and what will soon happen. With this in mind all I can say is you shouldn’t be shocked if at some time in the future, quite possible the near future, that all hell breaks loose in the Middle East.