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Sunni vs. Shiite
Saudis Sentence Leading Shiite Cleric to Death

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sentenced its leading Shiite cleric to death last week, in a move that provoked riots. VOA reports:

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was convicted of “disobeying the ruler” and “inciting sectarian strike.” Analysts fear the sentence could exacerbate the already high sectarian tensions in the country.

Shi’ites living in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province have long complained that they are marginalized under the Sunni monarchy. The death sentence handed to Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr will ratchet up tensions further, according to Jane Kinninmont of the Middle East program at policy group Chatham House.

As NPR notes, Saudi Arabia has its own internal problems with its Shia minority. However, the regional backdrop is important here. The Kingdom, which sees itself as the leading Sunni state, is locked into a cold war with wanna-be Shia hegemon Iran. In that context, deciding to execute—in fact, according to The Washington Post, the prosecutors asked to behead and then crucify—an important Shiite leader within your borders is decidedly not a peace overture.

Executions are significantly up in general in Saudi Arabia this year, and it seems like the Kingdom is very spooked at the moment over internal security. We’ll see if Saudi Arabia goes through with it, however—the case is under appeal, and Riyadh may just be thinking that a leading Shiite under threat of death makes a useful negotiating chip, either internally or externally. Potentially, however, this could be a very foolish move slowly in the making.

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  • rheddles

    Or they may wisely want to engineer the rioting and subsequent suppression at the time and place of their choosing.

  • John Tyler

    The entire mideast is an excellent example of “diversity” in action; in this instance religious and tribal diversity.
    Despite the liberal progressive canard of the automatic benefits of diversity, history STILL shows that it often results in a witches brew of hate, repression and mass murder.
    Recall what happened in Yugoslavia, several African nations, and the very unique, peaceful breakup of Czechoslovakia. Also many Scots, Catalonians and Flemish are not all that excited about their “diverse” nations either.
    The N. American Indian tribes also were not big fans of diversity.; they preferred to hang out with their own too.

  • gabrielsyme

    The Saudis share 99% of the ideology of ISIS, and have exported that ideology for generations, creating Salafist terrorists around the world. If we really had wanted to do some good, we ought to have deposed the Saudis before bothering with the ridiculous Saddam.

  • FriendlyGoat

    If the Saudi Royals don’t want something like ISIL beheading the King and the rest of the relatives, they might want to be setting a better example.

  • Curious Mayhem

    The Saudis have now gotten religion on the threats to the state system in the Middle East, which is … interesting … since they helped to create these threats, at least on the Sunni side of the street. Better late than never, I suppose.

    Executing the leader of the Shi’a in Saudi-land is a very bad idea. The goal is to isolate Iran’s regional ambitions, but not continue sectarian tit-for-tat, or worse, ever escalating tit > tat, or tit = tat + delta, iterate, rinse, iterate again, and so on.

    There has to be space for that kind of religious difference, as well as peaceful political dissent, without throwing the monarchy into crisis every time someone says something critical. Otherwise, the Saudi monarchy will be overthrown, without a doubt.

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