As noted a number of times on this blog, Saudi Arabia - America's supposed ally - has one of the worse records on human rights abuses in the world. In keeping with this ugly reality, 47 people were put to death in Saudi Arabia for allegedly opposing the corrupt regime of the Saudi royal family. Among those executed was Nimr Baqr al-Nimr, a renown Shiite cleric - Saudi Arabia is predominantly Sunni Muslim. At a time when it is crucial to lessen religious violence and hatred in the Middle East, the Saudi royal house has chosen to further inflame matters. The reaction from Iran - a Shiite majority nation - has been intense and the Saudi embassy was stormed by protesters and set on fire. The Washington Post reports on the situation, which once again in my view underscores the fact that religion is one of the greatest evils in the world today. Here are excerpts:
Iran’s Supreme Leader warned on Sunday that there would be divine retribution for Saudi Arabia’s rulers after the execution of a renowned Shiite cleric, sustaining the soaring regional tensions that erupted in the wake of the killing.
The warning came hours after crowds of protesters stormed and torched the Saudi embassy in Tehran to vent their anger at the execution of Nimr Baqr al-Nimr, who was among 47 people put to death in the kingdom on Saturday.
In a posting on his website, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that the execution “will cause serious troubles for the politicians of this [Saudi] regime in a very short time….The hands of divine vengeance will surely snatch — by their necks — those cruel individuals who took his life.”
The execution of Nimr, an outspoken critic of the Saudi royal family, has ignited sectarian tensions across the already inflamed region and jeopardized U.S. diplomacy aimed at tamping down conflicts in the Middle East.
Most of the 47 executed on Saturday were Sunnis accused of participating in Al Qaeda attacks. According to Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry, some were beheaded and others were shot by firing squad in 12 different locations around the kingdom.
A photo montage also posted on Khamenei’s website showed a split image of an Islamic State fighter preparing to carry out a beheading and a Saudi executioner. The caption asks the question “Any difference?” The photograph echoed numerous Iranian accusations that Saudi Arabia supports the Islamic State.
In response, Saudi Arabia issued an angry statement pointing out that Iran is often accused by many countries of supporting terrorism.
Iran carried out 694 executions in the first half of last year, according to an Amnesty International statement in July. Saudi Arabia, with a population nearly a third smaller than Iran’s, carried out 157 in 2015, according to Amnesty and media reports.
There was no immediate indication however that either Tehran or Riyadh planned to take their spat beyond trading barbs, at least for now.
The Saudi consulate in the Iranian city of Mashad was also set on fire during the protests that erupted after Nimr’s execution was announced.
The death sentence was carried out despite international appeals for clemency and repeated warnings from the kingdom’s archenemy in the region, Iran, that there would be consequences if the popular cleric were killed.
Nimr had long served as the voice of Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority, the target of discrimination, but he rocketed to prominence in 2011, articulating the sentiments not only of Shiites but also of many others in the region demanding change after decades of authoritarian rule.