Did Saudis Get Duped Into Executing Cleric Nimr, or Do They Want Intifada?
By: Sputnik News
Pondering Riyadh's decision to execute prominent Shia cleric Nimr
al-Nimr, which resulted in a political and diplomatic firestorm
threatening to burn out of control, Syrian journalist Abbas Juma
wonders whether the Saudis could have been duped into such a
reckless move, whose consequences could include the collapse of the
On January 2, Saudi Arabia executed prominent Shiite cleric and
political activist Nimr al-Nimr, sparking outrage among Shiites
around the world, including in Iran, where Shia Islam predominates.
The execution resulted in protesters in Tehran storming the Saudi
Embassy, Riyadh and its allies breaking off diplomatic relations
with Iran, and Saudi warplanes bombing the Iranian Embassy in Yemen.
Commenting on Riyadh's possible rationale in an op-ed for
independent Russian newspaper Svobodnaya Pressa, Syrian journalist
Abbas Juma suggested that, first things first, analysts from all
sides knew that Nimr's death would result in a crisis. "Therefore,
few could believe that Riyadh would take such a step."
"However, what's done is done. Saudi Arabia has been hit with an
avalanche of criticism – and not just from Shiite authorities like
[Iranian Supreme leader] Ali Khamenei, [Hezbollah leader] Hassan
Nasrallah and [influential Iraqi Shiite Ayatollah] Ali al-Sistani.
Some Sunnis too have said that Nimr's killing was a mistake. This
includes Syrian Grand Mufti Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun, who said that
Nimr was a true Muslim, whose weapon was the truth, and that for
this he was executed by Saudi authorities whose regime is based on
lies, backstabbing and depravity."
Nimr's death, Juma suggests, is not even "about the conflict between
the Shiites and the Sunnis (it's worth nothing that several of those
killed in the mass execution alongside Nimr were Sunnis). It's about
Riyadh's attitude toward people who openly speak about the
oppression of religious minorities in Saudi Arabia, and about their
sponsorship of terrorism around the world. If someone from the
opposition cannot be bought, he must be killed –that is the logic of
"The reaction to the murder of the Shiite theologian did not take
long in coming. King Salman, expecting mass unrest in the country's
Eastern Province, dispatched additional special forces to the area.
It is terrible to imagine what they would have done to Shiite
teenagers had they expressed their anger just a bit more strongly."
"As for what happened on the political and diplomatic level
regionally," the analyst noted, "it clearly demonstrates the
financial capabilities of Saudi Arabia and the dependence on Saudi
money of some, seemingly secure and independent countries. Following
the Saudis' lead, Bahrain, Sudan, Kuwait and Qatar began withdrawing
their ambassadors from Tehran. The UAE and Oman, as always, were
more restrained, but also ended up supporting Riyadh."
"Thus," Juma suggests, "the masks have been removed. The conflict
between Shiites and Sunnis is now out in the open. Whoever wanted a
new scandal got what they wanted."
"And still, it's not entirely clear why it was necessary to kill the
elderly cleric. Of course, it's possible that the theologian's
execution was intended to provoke Tehran into committing rash acts
against Riyadh in response. It was the same logic which guided the
al-Qaeda terrorists who attacked the United States on September 11,
2001. The terrorist attack was meant to provoke Washington into a
bloody response, serving as a pretext to call all Muslims to jihad."
But with Iran vowing to punish the embassy attackers, and refusing
to give in to Saudi taunts on other fronts, it seems that the plan
to provoke Tehran has failed.
"It is an open question," Juma suggests, "on who created this plan
in the first place. We can only judge by the results, and they are
not in favor of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia."
"It's obvious that Nimr did not represent a real threat to Riyadh,
neither while he was free, nor, more so, in prison. Now, after his
death, the Shiite theologian has on the contrary become a symbol of
the struggle against the Saudi regime."
In the wider sense, Juma laments, Nimr's execution will only serve
to broaden the Shia-Sunni conflict. "Thus, all hopes for the
unification of the Muslim world have collapsed. Chaos, disunity,
strife and endless war –this is what awaits Muslims in the Middle
East in the foreseeable future."
"Who benefits? Not Saudi Arabia, I don't think. The risk is too
strong for them of a Shiite intifada breaking out in the country
(especially taking account of the situation with the Houthis in
neighboring Yemen). If this happens, the House of Saud won't know
what hit it. Unfortunately (and for some, fortunately), not all the
fans of the 'game of thrones' taking place in Riyadh understand
this. And those who do, don't always act in Riyadh's interest," Juma
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