Saudi executions put ball of regional tension in Iran's court
Deaths of cleric Nimr al-Nimr and 46 others will be seen as direct challenge to Tehran, which may feel obliged to pick up gauntletSimon Tisdall, The Guardian
Last modified on Sunday 3 January 2016 18.01 EST
The consequences of Saudi Arabia’s mass execution of 47 people will be felt far beyond its Eastern Province, which was home to Nimr al-Nimr, the leading Shia Muslim cleric who was the most prominent figure among those to die.
Unlike many of the Sunni Muslims executed for alleged complicity in al-Qaida terrorism, Nimr was an advocate of non-violent resistance to the unelected Saudi regime. He was arrested in 2012 for criticising the royal family.
His plight reflected the trials and tribulations of Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority, which accounts for 15% of the country’s 29 million people and has suffered, historically, from institutionalised discrimination and periodic security crackdowns.
The al-Qatif governorate of Eastern Province, bordering the Gulf, has been the setting for anti-regime agitation since at least 1979, when Saudi Shias demonstrated in support of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, whose Islamic revolution in Iran that year toppled the shah. Trouble erupted again in 2011-13, triggered by the Arab Spring uprising of the Shia majority in nearby Bahrain and its subsequent brutal, Saudi-assisted suppression.