The two mighty Middle Eastern Muslim powers are now officially and publicly at each other’s throats, and their minor minions are lining up alongside the major powers, as the sunni Muslim Kingdom of Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with the Shiite Islamic Republic of Iran on Sunday, Jan. 3.
The final straw, at least for the Saudis, was the storming of the KSA’s Embassy in Tehran and its Consulate in Mashhad by Iranian protesters on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Those protests, in turn, were at least ostensibly motivated by the execution of a popular Shiite Muslim Cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, by Saudi Arabia on Saturday.
The cleric had led protests against unequal treatment of Shias in an eastern part of the KSA, where the majority of Saudi Shiites are concentrated.
The Kingdom recalled its diplomats on Sunday, all of whom arrived in Dubai later that day, according to the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir. The Saudi Foreign Minister gave Iranian diplomats 48 hours to leave Saudi Arabia.
Protesters began rioting outside the Saudi Embassy on Saturday, then hurled Molotov cocktails, and eventually stormed the building, smashing furniture and setting fires. The protesters burned pictures of the Saudi king. A slightly less violent riot broke out the following day at the Saudi Consulate in Mashhad, in the Khorasan province of Iran.
The governments of both countries verbally attacked the other for supporting terrorism and being oppressive regimes. Each government has executed hundreds of prisoners over the past several years.
The Egyptian, Jordanian and Kuwaiti governments condemned the breaches of the Saudi diplomatic compounds, and the United Arab Emirates summoned the Iranian Ambassador to protest Iran’s “interference in Saudi internal matters,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
And Iranian supporters such as Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah, criticized Saudi Arabia for executing Nimr, which he said “shows the real oppressive, terrorist and criminal face of the Saudi regime.”
Iraq’s top Shia cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, described Nimr’s execution as an “unjust aggression,” and the former prime minister of Iraq Nuri al-Maliki, said that Nimr’s will be the downfall of the Gulf kingdom’s government.
Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei called Nimr a “martyr” who acted peacefully.
The United Nation’s top human rights official, Zeid Raad al-Hussein, also criticized Saudi Arabia for the 47 executions which took place on Saturday, including Nimr’s.
There have been more than 750 executions in Iran since the so-called moderate Hassan Rouhani became president in 2013.
Nimr had been sentenced to death by a Saudi court in October of last year. He was arrested in 2012 for his role in anti-government protests, including at the start of the Arab Spring protests. His trial began in the spring of 2014.
In response to the executions in Saudi Arabia and the storming of the Saudi Embassy in Iran, the U.S. called for restraint.
The State Department Spokesperson John Kirby said the U.S. government “reaffirm our calls on the Government of Saudi Arabia to respect and protect human rights, and to ensure fair and transparent judicial proceedings in all cases.” He expressed concern that the execution of a prominent Shiite cleric would “exacerbate sectarian tensions” at a time when they “urgently need to be reduced.”
The statement ended with a predictable exhortation to all “leaders throughout the region to redouble efforts aimed at de-escalating regional tensions.” No doubt that will do the trick.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus