This weekend, Saudi Arabia announced it had executed 47 convicted terrorists including prominent Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr and several al-Qaida detainees. This is sure to incite protests and worsen the unrest already present within the country’s Shiite minority.
Trouble may also break out in nearby Bahrain, a country that has seen ongoing violence since the Shiite protests in 2011 demanding more rights from the Sunni monarchy. Al-Nimr was famous for his criticism of the Bahrain monarchy.
The executions – some carried out with swords, others by firing squad – have drawn worldwide criticism.
“Regardless of the crimes allegedly committed, executing prisoners in mass only further stains Saudi Arabia’s troubling human rights record,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director of the US-based Human Rights Watch. “Saudi Arabia’s path to stability in the Eastern Province lies in ending systematic discrimination against Shia citizens, not in executions.”
The beheading of al-Qaida members, including prominent ideologue Faris al-Shuwail, has raised concern regarding revenge attacks. The terrorist group’s Yemen branch warned Saudi Arabia last month to expect violence if the executions were carried out.
Indeed, just hours after the execution announcement, protestors attacked a Saudi consulate in Mashad and set fire to the Saudi Arabian embassy. Police used tear gas to disperse protestors.
The execution was a “grave mistake that could have been avoided with a royal amnesty that would have helped reduce sectarian tensions in the region,” said Lebanese Shiite cleric Sheikh Abdul-Amir Kabalan. “We have warned the concerned sides that any such reckless act means a catastrophe for the nation.”
Former Prime Minister of Iraq Nuri al-Maliki predicts that the execution of Al-Nimr will lead to the downfall of the Saudi Arabian government.