It’s now been nearly a week since Saudi Arabia set the Muslim world on fire (both figuratively and literally) by executing prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.
The Sheikh was a leading figure in the 2011 anti-government protests staged in the kingdom’s Eastern Province and when the House of Saud moved to silence a dissident voice once in for all last Saturday, demonstrators poured into the streets from Bahrain to Pakistan to decry the execution.
For the Saudis, Nimr is a “terrorist,” but for the Shiite community he has now become a symbol of the oppression embodied by the Sunni Gulf monarchies. For those interested in a bit of background, here are some excerpts from The Atlantic:
The State Department cable added Nimr was gaining popularity among young people. His stature grew in spring 2009, after Shia pilgrims clashed with security forces in Medina over access to holy sites; Nimr denounced the security forces, but then was forced to go into hiding to avoid arrest. By January 2010, the State Department reported in another cable that Nimr had returned home and was living under something like house arrest. The diplomat, who wrote that cable, judged that Nimr had overestimated his sway, gone too big, and as a result had lost his influence. A neighbor said that the government “chose not to pursue him further out of concern they would elevate his status.”
The government changed its ignore-them-and-they’ll-go-away stance on Shia rabble-rousers once the Arab Spring began. In Bahrain, Shia protests threatened the stability of the regime, and the Sunni regimes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates sent troops to help quell uprisings. But protests also spread from Bahrain into the kingdom. Nimr preached forcefully against the regime, and was rare in speaking up both in favor of the domestic protests and those in Bahrain.
In another 2011 speech, Nimr said, “From the day I was born and to this day, I’ve never felt safe or secure in this country. We are not loyal to other countries or authorities, nor are we loyal to this country. What is this country? The regime that oppresses me? The regime that steals my money, sheds my blood, and violates my honor?”
That was all too much for the regime, and in 2012 it moved to arrest him. But during his apprehension, police claimed they came under fire. Nimr was shot in the leg. He was charged with sedition and various terrorism-related crimes.
In the six days since his death, Saudi Arabia and its allies have been busy cutting all ties (both diplomatic and commercial) with Iran. “Enough is enough”, was the message from Riyadh after protesters firebombed the Saudi embassy in Tehran last Saturday.
Now, with tensions running higher than ever, the feud threatens to derail a fragile peace “process” in Syria on the way to plunging the region into an all-out sectarian shooting war.
Each side accuses the other of being a state sponsor of terror and each side blames the other for fomenting sectarian discord. Needless to say, it’s difficult to look past the fact that Saudi Arabia’s promotion of Wahhabism is almost unquestionably to blame for the rise of extremist elements throughout the Islamic World. At the very least, Riyadh’s contention that Iran promotes sectarian strife is an egregious case of the pot calling the kettle black.
In any event, Iranians are in no mood to forgive and forget. "Iranians held mass protests on Friday across the Islamic Republic, angered by Saudi Arabia's execution of a Shiite cleric that has enflamed regional tensions between the Mideast rivals," AP reports, adding that "after Friday prayers in Tehran, thousands of worshippers joined the rally, carrying pictures of al-Nimr and chanting "Death to Al Saud," referencing the kingdom's royal family." They also chanted "down with the US" and "death to Israel."
Below, find the visuals which underscore the fact that the sense of outrage is palpable - to say the least.