FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Execution of Nimr Al-Nimr: One More Reason to Re-evaluate the Toxic U.S.-Saudi Alliance

by

Nimr-pic

The brutal Saudi execution of Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr has led to protests around the globe, as well as the burning of the Saudi Embassy in Tehran, followed by the Saudi severing of relations with Iran. This exacerbation of Sunni-Shia tensions is the result of the reckless Saudi action against a popular, nonviolent Shia leader. Also reckless is the US government’s response, which has failed to condemn the Saudi government and distance itself from the abusive regime.

On January 2, the Saudi government executed 47 people, most of them by beheading. Those executed included Sunnis convicted of Al Qaeda-affiliated attacks, as well as Shia opponents—Sheik Nimr Al-Nimr and three others arrested when they were still juveniles. The killing of Al-Nimr has sparked a massive reaction because he was a prominent religious leader who defended the Shia minority and criticized the abuses—both domestic and foreign—of the Saudi regime. He supported the 2011 anti-government protests in the Eastern Province, protests that erupted in the wake of the Arab Spring. The oil-rich Eastern Province is home to some 2 million Shiites, who have long complained of discrimination by the Sunni government.

In response to increasingly vocal demands for reforms from Shiites, who constitute about 15 percent of the total population, Saudi authorities waged a harsh crackdown. Al-Nimr was arrested and imprisoned in 2012, then convicted of sedition, disobedience and bearing arms. He did not deny the political charges against him, but insisted he never carried weapons or called for violence.

He also distanced himself from sectarian divisions. He called for people to stand up to tyrants regardless of their sect, from the Sunni rulers in Bahrain to Syria’s Assad, who is from the Alawite sect of Shia Islam. “Sheikh al-Nimr preached that we should support the oppressed against the oppressor, regardless of religion,” said Gulf scholar Ali al-Ahmed. To add insult to injury, Sheik al-Nimr’s nephew, Ali al-Nimr, was targeted and arrested at the age of 17 for protesting government corruption, and his since been sentenced to beheading and public crucifixion.

The Saudi government was well aware that killing Sheikh al-Nimr would enrage Shia both inside and outside the country. Their actions abroad have already raised sectarian tensions, such as the 2011 Saudi military intervention in Bahrain to crush a democratic revolt dominated by the country’s majority Shiites. The Saudi military intervention in Yemen against the Houthis (a Shiite sect), an ongoing intervention that has killed thousands of innocents and caused a humanitarian crisis, has also angered the Shia community. And Saudi efforts to topple the Iranian-backed Assad regime in Syria also fuel tension between Saudi Arabia’s Sunni leadership and its Shiite citizens.

An additional factor fanning ethnic hatred has been ISIL attacks on Shiite mosques in the kingdom. Many Shiites hold the kingdom’s religious establishment responsible for the attacks and maintain that Saudi officials turn a blind eye to ISIL’s sectarian agenda in the kingdom.

The cleric’s execution will also complicate Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the Shiite-led government in Iraq, where the Saudi embassy was justreopened for the first time in nearly 25 years.

The US government has expressed concern that al-Nimr’s execution risked “exacerbating sectarian tensions at a time when they urgently need to be reduced.” The government understands that the explosive reaction to the al-Nimr execution has the potential to bring even more bloodshed to the Middle East, from derailing Syria peace talks to prolonging the war in Yemen to rekindling uprisings in Bahrain.

But instead of insisting on al-Nimr’s release during his years in prison and echoing Amnesty International’s condemnation of his “deeply flawed” trial, the US government was silent. Even after the execution, the US refused to issue a strong denunciation.

For decades US governments, both Democratic and Republican, have backed the kingdom. The US-Saudi alliance dates back to World War II, when US officials started to see Saudi’s oil as a strategic advantage. Since then, the US has blindly supported the Kingdom in almost every political and economic effort, despite the fact that Saudi Arabia is an ultraconservative monarchy rife with human rights abuses.

Saudi Arabia has consistently been ranked by Freedom House as one of the worst humans rights violators in the world. Earning the lowest possible score in all three categories of freedom, civil liberties and political rights, it is one of only ten nations considered “not free.”

The killing of Sheikh Al-Nimr should serve as a prime moment for the U.S. to reconsider its alliance with the Saudi regime, a regime that not only denies human rights to its own people but exports death and destruction abroad. An upcoming activist-based Saudi Summit, which will be held in Washington DC on March 5-6, is an effort to build a campaign to support challenge this toxic relationship.

 

Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK and the human right organization Global Exchange. Follow her on twitter at @MedeaBenjamin.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

April 24, 2017
Mike Whitney
Is Mad Dog Planning to Invade East Syria?    
John Steppling
Puritan Jackals
Robert Hunziker
America’s Tale of Two Cities, Redux
David Jaffe
The Republican Party and the ‘Lunatic Right’
John Davis
No Tomorrow or Fashion-Forward
Patrick Cockburn
Treating Mental Health Patients as Criminals
Jack Dresser
An Accelerating Palestine Rights Movement Faces Uncertain Direction
George Wuerthner
Diet for a Warming Planet
Lawrence Wittner
Why Is There So Little Popular Protest Against Today’s Threats of Nuclear War?
Colin Todhunter
From Earth Day to the Monsanto Tribunal, Capitalism on Trial
Paul Bentley
Teacher’s Out in Front
Franklin Lamb
A Post-Christian Middle East With or Without ISIS?
Kevin Martin
We Just Paid our Taxes — are They Making the U.S. and the World Safer?
Erik Mears
Education Reformers Lowered Teachers’ Salaries, While Promising to Raise Them
Binoy Kampmark
Fleeing the Ratpac: James Packer, Gambling and Hollywood
Weekend Edition
April 21, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Diana Johnstone
The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty
Paul Street
Donald Trump: Ruling Class President
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Dude, Where’s My War?
Andrew Levine
If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em
Paul Atwood
Why Does North Korea Want Nukes?
Robert Hunziker
Trump and Global Warming Destroy Rivers
Vijay Prashad
Turkey, After the Referendum
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, the DOJ and Julian Assange
CJ Hopkins
The President Formerly Known as Hitler
Steve Reyna
Replacing Lady Liberty: Trump and the American Way
Lucy Steigerwald
Stop Suggesting Mandatory National Service as a Fix for America’s Problems
Robert Fisk
It is Not Just Assad Who is “Responsible” for the Rise of ISIS
John Laforge
“Strike Two” Against Canadian Radioactive Waste Dumpsite Proposal
Norman Solomon
The Democratic Party’s Anti-Bernie Elites Have a Huge Stake in Blaming Russia
Andrew Stewart
Can We Finally Get Over Bernie Sanders?
Susan Babbitt
Don’t Raise Liberalism From the Dead (If It is Dead, Which It’s Not)
Uri Avnery
Palestine’s Nelson Mandela
Fred Nagel
It’s “Deep State” Time Again
John Feffer
The Hunger President
Stephen Cooper
Nothing is Fair About Alabama’s “Fair Justice Act”
Jack Swallow
Why Science Should Be Political
Chuck Collins
Congrats, Graduates! Here’s Your Diploma and Debt
Aidan O'Brien
While God Blesses America, Prometheus Protects Syria, Russia and North Korea 
Patrick Hiller
Get Real About Preventing War
David Rosen
Fiction, Fake News and Trump’s Sexual Politics
Evan Jones
Macron of France: Chauncey Gardiner for President!
David Macaray
Adventures in Labor Contract Language
Ron Jacobs
The Music Never Stopped
Kim Scipes
Black Subjugation in America
Sean Stinson
MOAB: More Obama and Bush
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail