News Release

Is Saudi Gunning to Scuttle Mideast Peace?

Yahoo News reports: “The brother of a prominent Shiite cleric whose execution has roiled the Mideast and set off worldwide protests is blaming President Obama for failing to use his influence with the Saudi government to prevent his death.”

See from The Intercept: “After Executing Regime Critic, Saudi Arabia Fires Up American PR Machine.”

JENNIFER LOEWENSTEIN, amadea311 at earthlink.net
Loewenstein is a human rights activist and faculty associate in Middle East Studies at Penn State University. She said today: “The initial U.S. reaction to the execution of Nimr was to call for restraint — a typical, obsequious reaction to its allies’ behavior — but it also warned that the execution of Nimr could fuel regional tensions and deepen the sectarian divisions that have plagued the region since, above all, the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Unsurprisingly, while no mention was made of its role in sparking these tensions, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby called upon Saudi Arabia to respect human rights, permit the peaceful expressions of social and political criticism, and assure ‘fair and transparent judicial proceedings.’

“These hypocritical, mostly toothless and belated calls for its ally to honor at home the most fundamental human rights, while irksome — considering our decades of utter indifference to Saudi brutality — have nevertheless to be taken seriously by U.S. foreign policy makers. The international stage, especially the Middle Eastern region, cannot afford an intensification of hostilities between Iran and Saudi Arabia as the fires of war, terror, and hatred blaze from Damascus to Baghdad and Sana’a.” Loewenstein’s writings can be found at CounterPunch.org, including: “Heading Toward a Collision: Syria, Saudi Arabia and Regional Proxy Wars.”

HASAN HAFIDH, mlhh at leeds.ac.uk, @hashafidh
Hafidh is working on his Ph.D. at the University of Leeds in comparative politics of the Middle East focusing on civil society networks and sectarianism in Gulf States. He said today: “At a time when Muslims collectively around the world would be going into the new year with renewed optimism and hope following the birthday of the Prophet Mohammad, Saudi Arabia took it upon themselves to throw a spanner in the works and execute one of the most prominent clerics in Shia Islam, one of the most outspoken activists in the Kingdom, Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr was executed along with 46 other people, suspected of being Al-Qaeda members.

“Rather than a miscalculation on the Saudi’s part as some analysts would like to believe, the timing of the execution itself alongside Al-Qaeda suspects were telling signs that this was a premeditated move and to send out a clear message to both regional and international actors alike.

“That message being that dissent (of any kind) shall not be tolerated within the Kingdom. However, their decision to execute Sheikh Nimr in such a timely fashion would be in order to present the image that Nimr was an extremist himself — to muddy the waters if you will. Despite the fact that Nimr on several occasions would advocate passive resistance, as noted from one of his iconic lines, ‘the weapon of the word is stronger than bullets, because authorities will profit from a battle of weapons.’ Nimr had already realized that were he and other activists to exercise violence this would be used to undermine the protest movement and tarnish his image, which is precisely what Saudi authorities have tried to do in their flawed attempts to try justify such a heinous act.

“The second point to emerge from the execution, and contrary to the conventional wisdom of Western policymakers, is that it is Saudi Arabia that is looking to provoke and seek confrontation with Iran rather than vice-versa. The Saudi monarchy will have been well aware that the execution of such a prominent figure would have sent shock waves around the region and would almost certainly entail some form of reprisal. They found their ideal pretext to cut off diplomatic relations as Iranian protesters vandalized the Saudi embassy in Tehran.”