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frank_psaila
Frank Psaila

The execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr

Al-Nimr’s execution was no miscalculation but it proved to be a very short-sighted decision which might come back to haunt Saudi Arabia. If the unrest spreads, and that is quite probable, it will weaken, further, the war on terror in the Middle East – especially in Syria and Yemen. 

frank_psaila
Frank Psaila
13 January 2016, 7:36am
A day before Nimr al-Nimr's execution, Saudi Arabia reopened its embassy in Tehran after 25 years. That was no coincidence
A day before Nimr al-Nimr's execution, Saudi Arabia reopened its embassy in Tehran after 25 years. That was no coincidence
Saudi Arabia’s execution last week of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shia cleric, deepens the rift between Shia and Sunni Muslims and complicates the situation of the Middle East deeply divided in the war on terror. 

The Guardian Weekly quoted William Patey, a former British Ambassador in Riyadh, who in a BBC interview described the execution of the Shia cleric as a ‘miscalculation’.

It was anything but. A day before Nimr’s execution, Saudi Arabia reopened its embassy in Tehran after 25 years. That was no coincidence. Riyadh’s decision has been interpreted by international relations analysts as a move, by the Saudi regime, to support the Sunnis in Iraq whilst countering Tehran’s influence on Baghdad. 

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was executed along with 47 other people, described by the Saudi regime as ‘terrorists’. According to media reports, following the 2011 Arab Spring, which saw uprisings in the Middle East including in Saudi Arabia, Sheikh al-Nimr was a vocal critic of the Saudi regime and its distribution of wealth in the country. 

Iran warned that the execution of the Shia cleric “would cost Saudi Arabia dearly’, although the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani tried to defuse the tension, urging for calm and deploring the attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran.

Iran’s Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called on the Western backers, notably the US, to condemn Nimr’s execution. The US government, unsurprisingly, failed to condemn the execution. An estimated 157 people were executed in Saudi Arabia last year.

Nimr’s execution puts the US in an uncomfortable position, following the nuclear agreement reached with Tehran in 2015. Nimr’s execution is also being viewed as an attempt by the Saudi regime to stir tension between Tehran and Washington and pit the Iranian government against the Obama administration. The agreement between both countries promised to be a fresh start to relations between Iran and the West. The execution of the Shia cleric risks jeopardising the whole process. 

Saudi Arabia and Iran have considerable influence in the Middle East. Whilst Saudi Arabia sees itself as the worldwide leader of Sunni Islam, Iran is Shia. Saudi Arabia lends its support to the Western coalition against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whilst Iran, together with Russia, supports the Assad regime. 

Protests have mushroomed across the Middle East, mostly in Shia areas following the execution of al-Nimr. In Saudi Arabia too, the Shia minority protested against his execution. If the protests in Saudi Arabia grow, and the Saudi regime, as it has often done, reacts with brute force and executions, the situation could easily slip out of hand. Al-Nimr’s execution was no miscalculation but it proved to be a very short-sighted decision which might come back to haunt Saudi Arabia. If the unrest spreads, and that is quite probable, it will weaken, further, the war on terror in the Middle East – especially in Syria and Yemen. 

Business as usual

Despite coalition efforts to undermine ISIS in Syria and Libya, and notwithstanding the major losses that the Islamic terrorist group experienced in the dying days of 2015 – especially in Iraq, it’s business as usual for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his empire of fear. 

ISIS welcomed the New Year with another slick propaganda video depicting a British accented masked man who lashed out at UK Prime Minister David Cameron. It reminded the world of another radicalised Briton who, for months, acted as the Western face of ISIS – Mohammed Emwazi, known by the nome de guerre of Jihadi John. Emwazi was reportedly killed two months ago. 

The latest ISIS video also featured a young boy who, British authorities claim, is the son of a radicalised Muslim woman born in the UK. The radicalisation of young Westerners who travel to Syria or Libya and return back to their countries is of a grave concern to Europe and the Western world. ISIS in Libya and Syria exports radicalised Westerners to their home countries in an attempt to widen al-Baghdadi’s empire of fear. The ISIS video was a message to David Cameron, and world leaders, that Jihadi Johns are easily replaced and that 2016 shall be no different from the year before it, which saw the murder of innocent civilians in Paris and beyond.

A fortnight ago, I wrote about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his empire of fear. I referred to comments made by US Presidential candidate, Donald Trump – to ban Muslim travel to the US – as a recipe for disaster on the war of terror and that his comments serve only the prupose of pushing to the brink radicalised young Westerners. One commentator, in the comments section of the MaltaToday online, argued that far right groups, such as Le Pen’s far right in France, too, serve as an incentive for suppressed young Muslims to become radicalised. He’s absolutely right.

Frank Psaila, a lawyer by profession, anchors Iswed fuq l-Abjad on Net TV

frank_psaila
Frank Psaila, a lawyer by profession, anchors Iswed fuq l-Abjad on Net TV. He was formerly...
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