(Re-published from Legal Insurrection, Jan. 5, 2016) The fallout from the execution of prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia on Saturday will roil the Middle East region for some time to come. Below, I review the recent developments since our last posts (see here and here) and discuss some of the lessons to be learned from this latest episode in the unraveling of the Muslim Middle East …
… 1. The International Community Rewards the Region’s Abusive Regimes
Over the last 24 hours, considerable disagreement over Nimr’s status as a dissident has emerged:
So basically, from the standpoint of the Iranians (and many Western governments and human rights groups), Sheikh Nimr was a political dissident, convicted on “trumped up terrorism charges” merely for encouraging largely non-violent protests in Saudi Arabia’s long repressed Eastern Province.
But for the Saudis, according to an analyst writing for the Foreign Policy Research Institute, “Nimr [was] the Shi’ite equivalent of Sunni members of ISIS and al-Qaeda whom they believe to have blood on their hands.” To them, he was an unrepentant insurgent who continued to openly advocate for the use of force to topple the Saudi regime.
To be sure, who Nimr was and what he did will continue to be debated for some time although, given all the evidence, it’s a stretch to view him as a “peaceful preacher of reform.” But the controversy over Nimr sidesteps the larger issue: Saudi Arabia’s ongoing authoritarian repression, its marginalization of a disaffected Shiite citizenry, and the international community’s shameful tolerance of it.
Even if Nimr’s execution is considered within the context of the Kingdom’s legitimate effort to combat terrorism by groups like al-Qaeda and Iran and its proxies, Saturday’s mass execution was the largest in Saudi Arabia since 1980 and follows last year’s “two-decade high in capital punishment.” It’s a miserably poor record. Still, it hasn’t stopped the Saudis from serving on human rights committees at the UN.
Writing on Sunday for Commentary, Michael Rubin puts the point well:
2. The Region’s Human Rights Abusers Always Point Fingers at Others, Never at Themselves
Over the last few days one notorious human rights violator in the Middle East has attacked another for being a repressive regime. It proves that in this region of the planet the pots are always calling the kettles black. Iran condemned Saudi Arabia for being just like ISIS on Twitter and official websites; meanwhile, “Iran executes three Iranians every day”, imprisons whoever disagrees with the regime, severely represses religious minorities, and hangs gays from cranes.
According to Amnesty International, Iran is the most prolific executioner in the world after China. It also tops the global list statistically for executions of juvenile offenders. Since the election of so-called “moderate” President Hassan Rouhani in 2013, the number of executions has gone markedly up. According to Amnesty, Iranian authorities executed nearly 700 people in the first half of last year alone.
3. The US Needs to Stop Apologizing for the Region’s Challenges
As noted this weekend by Aaron David Miller, Vice President of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, “it would be irrational to conclude that US actions and inactions hadn’t contributed to the messes in the Middle East.” Put simply, the disastrous Iran Deal has deepened the rift between Sunnis and Shi’ites in the region. As Josh Rogin and Eli Lake wrote yesterday in a thoughtful op-ed:
Basically, the Saudis are now convinced that they can no longer rely on the US security umbrella and must “compensate” for the perceived US disengagement from the region with a new assertive foreign policy to counter Teheran. It puts Nimr’s execution in a whole different light.
Writing for Reuters, Angus McDowall remarks that the execution …
Still, Nimr’s execution and the region’s stormy reactions to it can’t all be pinned on to the Obama administration’s lack of leadership. The rivalry between the Al Saud ruling family and Iran’s mullahs has been ongoing for decades, while the Sunni-Shi’ite schism is ancient. Miller rightly points out that:
4. The Middle East’s Muslims Will Remain Silent Over the Genocide of its Christians
In numerous recent posts (see, for example, here and here) we’ve highlighted the world’s shocking indifference to the plight of Christians in the Middle East, and President Obama’s inaction on the issue. Tragically, the fierce responses to Nimr’s execution suggest that the region’s beleaguered Christians shouldn’t expect too much in the way of support and assistance from their Muslim neighbors—even those not directly responsible for the killing and persecution. Christopher D. Burton’s withering critique in yesterday’s Breitbart rams home this heartbreakingly sad truth:
5. No Matter What Goes Wrong in the Middle East, Israel is Blamed
Ever since Nimr was sentenced to death, pro-Iranian Shiite groups in Bahrain and Iraq have blamed America for his imprisonment and threatened attacks if his death sentence was carried out. Yesterday, for good measure, an Iranian commander threw the British and the “Zionists” into the mix of guilty parties. Speaking at a conference in Iran, Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi, commander of the Basij militia of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, reportedly declared that:
Read the full article at http://legalinsurrection.com/2016/01/five-lessons-from-the-iran-saudi-blowup/
INSCT Faculty Member Miriam F. Elman is an associate professor of political science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She is the editor of five books and the author of over 60 journal articles, book chapters, and government reports on topics related to international and national security, religion and politics in the Middle East, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.