Execution of Nimr al-Nimr, Saudi Arabia and Iran: religious or political conflicts? – I
by Salah Lamrani on 13 Jan 2016 0 Comment
“Since our birth, we are subjected to oppression, intimidation, persecution and terror, so that even the walls frightened us. Even the walls! Is there anybody who has not suffered injustice and oppression in this country? I am over 50 years old, that’s half a century. Since I was born, I never felt safe in this country, in no part of it, since my childhood. We are continually accused, threatened and attacked from all sides… Our chests will stay bare against your bullets and our hands will remain empty (unarmed), but our hearts will remain full of faith… We have only one alternative: to live on this earth as free and dignified men, or be buried with honours (after martyrdom)… We will never cease to denounce your oppression and claim our rights.” – Nimr al-Nimr, 7 October 2011


The Western media and the Arab world have widely reported the execution by beheading of Shi’a cleric Nimr Baqer al-Nimr and 46 other Saudi – mostly Sunnis – accused of terrorism and/or sedition. They also emphasized the virulent reactions of the Shiite world, from Sayed Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, to Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary General of Hezbollah (who went as far as talking of a death certificate for the dynastic rule of the Saud), via that of Sayed Ali Sistani, the highest religious authority of Iraq. Even if it was hardly mentioned, other bodies, movements and personalities have condemned the execution, in Iraq, in Pakistan, in India, in Yemen, in Bahrain and in Lebanon, including the Iraqi Council of Fatwas (Sunni), the Palestinian PFLP and human rights organisations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.


The emphasis was focused on the sectarian nature of the event, often seen in the context of a “growing gap” between Sunnis and Shiites, especially between Saudi Arabia, birthplace of Islam and the “heart” of Sunnism, and Iran, the spiritual heart of Shiism, in an apparent power struggle for domination of the Middle East. The age old conflict between “Sunnis” or “loyalists” of the “School of the Caliphs” (Companions who led the Muslim world after the death of the Prophet) on the one hand, and the “Shiites” or “supporters” of the “School of the Household” (Imams of the lineage of the Prophet, figures of the “opposition”) on the other hand, is very often presented as the key for understanding the ruthless struggles and wars that have torn the region.


And this until the US-Saudi coalition which has been devastating for 9 months Zaydi Yemen – a minority branch of Shiism –, and the fight against Daesh which a “traditional” alliance would be opposed to (North America and Europe combined with Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Gulf oil monarchies) and an “orthodox” alliance (Shiite Iran, Iraq and Hezbollah, Alawite Syria – another minority branch of Shiism – and Russia).


But these analyses, overly simplistic, reflect a misunderstanding of the history of the Arab-Muslim world and the geopolitics of the Middle East, and are based on fallacious assumptions that do not withstand scrutiny. And, tellingly, they do not even pose the necessary questions, namely, as we are talking about the execution of an important religious figure, those of the alleged, suspected and/or probable motivations of that act, moreover in such a context, as Nimr al-Nimr had been imprisoned since July 2012 and sentenced to death for over a year.


So who was Nimr al-Nimr? He was indeed a Shiite religious figure (a “Sheikh”), who had followed a theological curriculum in Iran and Syria before returning to preach in his home province of Qatif, in Saudi Arabia. But first of all, it must be emphasized that the sole qualifier of “religious” is insufficient to describe Nimr al-Nimr, as secularism does not reign in the Muslim World, with many major political figures being clerics (Hassan al-Banna, Sayed Qutb, Ruhullah Khomeini, Hassan Nasrallah, etc.), especially after (successful) Western efforts to marginalise and/or destroy secular leaders and States (Nasser’s Egypt, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq , Gaddafi’s Libya, Bashar al-Assad’s Syria), with the results we are familiar with. Nimr al-Nimr must certainly be regarded as a religious preacher, but also, undeniably, as a major political figure of the opposition, very popular among the youth, and having an influence way beyond his sect and his country, thanks to his charisma and his courage against the flagrant injustices of Saudi society.


Nimr al-Nimr denounced with great virulence the Saudi Dynasty and called for reforms and a democratisation of the country, faced with a medieval monarchy which, as everyone knows, considers human rights, freedoms in general and freedom of speech in particular, as heresies, and, let it be emphasised, punishes heresy with the edge of the sword and crucifixion. Nimr al-Nimr was often imprisoned, and certainly tortured, for his vehement declarations and his participation in peaceful demonstrations despite the violence which citizens were subject to, repression using live ammunition, abusive arrests, torture, etc. In 2012, the British newspaper The Guardian described this situation as “the least reported conflict in the Middle East”, explaining that the Western media omertà on the Saudi “Arab Spring” is due to energy contracts and huge arms deals made with this oil monarchy by Washington and London – and Paris –, of which it is a strategic ally.


The human rights situation in Saudi Arabia is described in these terms by Amnesty International in its 2014-2015 report:

“In the Gulf, authorities in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were unrelenting in their efforts to stifle dissent and stamp out any sign of opposition to those holding power, confident that their main allies among the western democracies were unlikely to demur. … [In Saudi Arabia,] the government severely restricted freedoms of expression, association and assembly, and cracked down on dissent, arresting and imprisoning critics, including human rights defenders. Many received unfair trials before courts that failed to respect due process, including a special anti-terrorism court that handed down death sentences. New legislation effectively equated criticism of the government and other peaceful activities with terrorism.


“The authorities clamped down on online activism and intimidated activists and family members who reported human rights violations. Discrimination against the Shi’a minority remained entrenched; some Shi’a activists were sentenced to death and scores received lengthy prison terms. Torture of detainees was reportedly common; courts convicted defendants on the basis of torture-tainted “confessions” and sentenced others to flogging… The government did not permit the existence of political parties, trade unions and independent human rights groups, and it arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned those who set up or participated in unlicenced organizations… All public gatherings, including demonstrations, remained prohibited under an order issued by the Interior Ministry in 2011. Those who sought to defy the ban faced arrest, prosecution and imprisonment on charges such as “inciting people against the authorities”.”


As we see, it is at the peril of his life – and that of his family – that anyone engages in politics in Saudi Arabia.


Nimr al-Nimr was a major figure in this popular protest movement that called for the respect of human rights and more freedoms, and despite the provocations and abuses to which the demonstrators were subject, including his nephew of 17 years who was also arrested, tortured and sentenced to death – he is still awaiting execution –, he remained a staunch supporter of non-violence.


It should be noted that the same applies to the protest movement in Bahrain that has continued since 2011 and whose leaders have maintained a peaceful nature despite the bloody repression and intervention of the Saudi armed forces – against which many protests were organized even in Saudi Arabia, with the active participation of Nimr al-Nimr. In Bahrain as in Saudi Arabia, the demonstrators demanded primarily a democratization of the country, like other spontaneous popular uprisings of the “Arab Spring”, in particular Tunisia and Egypt.


But while these movements were widely relayed by Arab and Western media, which was generally sympathetic to these legitimate demands, the popular movements in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have been ignored and/or denounced as sectarian demands, solely on the pretext of the large proportion of Shiites who participate. Recall that 15% of the Saudi population is Shiite, concentrated in strategic oil areas in the east of the country where it is the majority, and 60% of the population of Bahrain, and they face Wahhabi monarchies – an extremist and marginal branch of Sunni Islam that considers Shi’ism (and many schools of Sunnism) as heresies worse than democracy, freedom, etc.


Popular movements in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are not sectarian, and do not demand more rights only for Shiites – although these populations are particularly marginalized and oppressed – but for the entire population, bullied as a whole by the tyrannical ruling dynasties, the Saud and Al-Khalifa. This is what Nimr al-Nimr declared on October 7, 2011:

“We have three key demands: political reforms in the direction of more freedom and dignity for the people, the release of political prisoners arrested for their mere participation in demonstrations, some of whom have been imprisoned for over 16 years, and the end of repression in Bahrain.”


Are these sectarian claims, chapel quarrels? Certainly not: it is indeed a genuine movement for freedom and respect for human rights. And it could not be otherwise: since Shias are a minority in the Islamic world, and are still the main targets and victims of sectarian discourse, Shiite leaders are very vigilant on these issues, avoiding all sectarian notions and advocating Islamic and civic unity, denouncing any seditious speeches and any idea of division, secession or armed struggle, accusations traditionally made ??against them to discredit them with the rest of the population and justify their bloody repression.


(To be concluded…)

Translated from French by Jenny Bright

Source: http://sayed7asan.blogspot.fr/2016/01/execution-dun-clerc-chiite-en-arabie.html

Courtesy The Saker


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