Saudi mass execution driven by fear of Sunni militancy

Angus McDowall writes: The Al Saud ruling family regard the expansion of Shi’ite Iran’s influence in the Middle East as a threat to their security and to their ambition of playing the leading role among Arab states.

Inside the kingdom, however, it is the threat of a rebellion by the majority Sunnis that most alarms a dynasty whose rule is based on conservative support at home and an alliance with the West.

All past threats to the Al Saud, from a 1920s tribal rebellion to riots in the 1960s, a siege at Mecca’s Grand Mosque in 1979 and protests in the 1990s, were caused by conservative Sunni anger at modernisation or ties with the West.

That was why the al Qaeda uprising that began in 2003, and attacked the Al Saud by turning its own conservative Salafi brand of Sunni Islam against it, was such a danger. It is why the jihadist movement’s latest iteration, Islamic State, is also a problem.

While Islamic State seems to lack real support among Saudis, some may sympathise with its broader goals, approving of its rhetoric against Shi’ites and the West and its criticism of corruption among the Al Saud.

By executing al Qaeda ideologues and attackers, Riyadh was showing its determination to crush support for the militant cause. By also killing four Shi’ites, angering Iran in the process, it was telling conservative Sunnis it was still on their side. [Continue reading…]

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