Simon Tisdall writes: The consequences of Saudi Arabia’s mass execution of 47 people will be felt far beyond its Eastern Province, which was home to Nimr al-Nimr, the leading Shia Muslim cleric who was the most prominent figure among those to die.
Unlike many of the Sunni Muslims executed for alleged complicity in al-Qaida terrorism, Nimr was an advocate of non-violent resistance to the unelected Saudi regime. He was arrested in 2012 for criticising the royal family.
His plight reflected the trials and tribulations of Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority, which accounts for 15% of the country’s 29 million people and has suffered, historically, from institutionalised discrimination and periodic security crackdowns.
The al-Qatif governorate of Eastern Province, bordering the Gulf, has been the setting for anti-regime agitation since at least 1979, when Saudi Shias demonstrated in support of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, whose Islamic revolution in Iran that year toppled the shah. Trouble erupted again in 2011-13, triggered by the Arab Spring uprising of the Shia majority in nearby Bahrain and its subsequent brutal, Saudi-assisted suppression. [Continue reading…]
Mark Townsend adds: In October 2014, Saudi Arabia’s specialised criminal court sentenced Nimr to death for seeking ‘foreign meddling’ in the kingdom along with ‘disobeying’ its rulers and taking up arms against the security forces”. His brother, Mohammad al-Nimr, tweeted information about the death sentence and was promptly arrested on the same day.
As news of the sentence travelled, the head of Iran’s armed forces warned Saudi Arabia that it would “pay dearly” if it dared execute the cleric. Powerful and prominent in life, it is the nature of Nimr’s death that could shape his legacy. [Continue reading…]