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Executed Saudi preacher was the voice of Shi’ite minority

The arrest of prominent Shia member of the clergy Sheikh Nimr al Nirmr in 2012 by the Saudi Arabian authorities and his subsequent execution has drawn condemnation from every country in the world and it also started protests in Iran and in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia where the Shias are in a majority. Nimr had been the most vociferous critic of the authoritarian Saudi regime and campaigned against them even before the famous 2011 Arab uprising. He had frequently called for public demonstrations against the House of Al Saud because he wanted greater autonomy for the eastern province where all the oil wells of Saudi Arabia are located.

Nimr, sinewy and with a flowing gray beard had long complained about the entrenched discrimination which has been denied by the Saudi regime. The Saudis rule according to the conservative and very strict Wahabi Sunni school of thought that considers the Shias to be heretics to Islam. Nimr emerged as the most prominent opponent of Saudi policies from his village of Awamiya which is in the impoverished part of Qatif in which he demanded some measures for the protection of the Shia minority in Saudi Arabia. Although Nimr never called for any form of violent protest against the rulers, they still depicted him as a traitor to the kingdom.

The majority of Saudi Arabia’s Shia clerics and Shia community leaders had made a deal with the House of Al Saud in 1993 to address their claims of discrimination against them in the province that provides all the oil wealth of the kingdom. The lack of progress made many of the younger Shia turn to violence which the Saudi authorities attributed to the influence of Sheikh Nimr Al Nimr although he was against any form of violent activities or agitation for realizing their demands. However, the local police and the court that condemned him to death in 2014, the 56-year-old cleric advocated shooting and bombing attacks against the rulers on behalf of Iran.

Iran is a Shia majority country, and Saudi Arabia and Iran have both been at loggerheads for dominating the Muslim world. Of all the Muslims in the world, 84% are Sunnis and therefore Saudi Arabia considers itself as the leader of the Muslim world. However, Iran and Iraq which are both Shia majority countries do not acknowledge Saudi Arabia as the head of the Muslim world which has given rise to tensions between the two countries. Nimr’s supposed association with Iran was a threat to Saudi Arabia’s rulers and hence they eliminated the threat.