Martin Chulov reports: Shia Islamic leaders on Sunday stepped up their condemnation of the Saudi execution of the prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, urging a robust response from Riyadh’s western backers, who are yet to fully address the issue.
David Gauke, financial secretary to the Treasury, became the most senior UK figure to react to the execution, which has led to clashes in Tehran, and prompted widespread denunciation elsewhere. He said al-Nimr’s death was a “worrying development”. The US State Department had said earlier that the move risked “exacerbating sectarian tensions at a time when they urgently need to be reduced”.
Anger remained palpable on the streets of the Lebanese capital, and in Bahrain and Baghdad, hours after the Saudi embassy in Tehran was torched by protesters angered by the execution of a senior cleric who had been championed by Iranian leaders.
However, in what appeared to be a move to calm tensions, the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, said the attack on the embassy was unjustifiable, and urged that the perpetrators be dealt with.
“I have no doubt that the Saudi government has damaged its image, more than before, among the countries in the world – in particular (among) Islamic countries – by this un-Islamic act,” Rouhani said.
Taking a cautionary tone, he added: “We will not allow rogue elements” to use the incident and “carry out illegal actions that damage the dignity of the Islamic republic establishment”.
“I call on the interior minister to identify the perpetrators of this attack with firm determination and introduce them to the judiciary … so that there will be an end to such appalling actions once and for all.”
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called on Saudi Arabia’s western backers to directly condemn the execution, which came three years after al-Nimr was arrested following his vocal support for anti-government protests in Bahrain and Riyadh.
“This oppressed cleric did not encourage people to join an armed movement, nor did he engage in secret plotting, and he only voiced public criticism … based on religious fervour,” said Khamenei, who criticised “the silence of the supposed backers of freedom, democracy and human rights” over the execution. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Sheikh Nimr, said to be in his mid-50s, was from Awamiyah, a poor town surrounded by palm groves in eastern Saudi Arabia and known for opposition to the monarchy.
He studied in Iran and Syria, but rose to prominence for fiery sermons after his return in which he criticized the ruling family and called for Shiite empowerment, even suggesting that Shiites could secede from the kingdom.
This gained him a following mostly among young Shiites who felt discriminated against by Persian Gulf governments. When these young people joined Arab Spring protests in Bahrain and eastern Saudi Arabia in 2011, Sheikh Nimr became a leading figure.
During a sermon in 2012, Sheikh Nimr mocked Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz, who had been the Saudi interior minister and had recently died.
“He will be eaten by worms and suffer the torments of hell in the grave,” Sheikh Nimr said. “The man who made us live in fear and terror; shouldn’t we rejoice at his death?”