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Monday, November 28, 2016

NO STRINGS ATTACHED An execution's dangerous ripple effect 100% trusted

Aasha Mehreen Amin

The execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia, along with 46 other men accused of being involved in terror attacks and Al Qaida, has taken most observers by surprise. It may be interpreted as a deliberate show of Sunni power in the intensifying sectarian crisis in the Middle East. The resulting violence that led to protesters setting fire to the Saudi Embassy and the ultimate severance of diplomatic ties between the Sunni dominated Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, is likely to escalate the volatility of the region and will be a major cause of worry for the world in general. With the two countries already involved in proxy wars from Syria to Yemen this execution may well be the catalyst for making the war on terror an even more complicated affair than it already is.
Human Rights Watch and other organisations have condemned the execution saying that the country's justice system was 'flawed with the absence of an appeal code' and that the terrorism law in Saudi Arabia is too broad and vague allowing for anyone to be accused of being a terrorist. In Nimr's case, he was accused of "inciting protest and … discord". His arrest in 2012 was hardly surprising in a country where dissent can be punished with death. He was a Shiite leader who led many anti-government demonstrations and had openly criticised the royal family for what he termed as discrimination against the Shiite community in Saudi Arabia. He was sentenced to death in 2014. HRW has alleged that there was no lawyer present during Nimr's interrogation and trial which no doubt, makes his execution even more unacceptable to the European Union and also embarrassing for long time ally, the US, which has already lost some of its charm after a nuclear deal with Iran.
But what has enraged Shiites around the world especially Iranians is that Nimr was lumped with AL Qaida operatives who had been found guilty of carrying out terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia. In the Shiite world therefore, Nimr is a martyred hero who had to give his life for protesting the violation of rights of his religious community. Saudi Arabia's stance is that Nimr was trying to instigate secession and he had been punished according to the law of the land (Sharia Law) and due process was maintained, the carrying out of the sentence along with 46 others being merely coincidental. The timing however, raises questions regarding what exactly Saudi Arabia's role will be in the complex crises brewing in the region. In December, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman declared the formation of a 34 nation coalition to fight terrorism militarily, with Bangladesh joining on a false impression, Pakistan not even knowing it had been included and Indonesia – a Sunni Muslim dominated country rejecting it. Although the Saudi coalition against terrorism seems to have faded away from public discourse, Bangladesh must unequivocally, disengage from it. It must also stay clear of the sectarian conflict as it reaches a new dimension provoked by the execution.
The presumptuous declaration and the fact that none of the Shia dominated countries such as Iran and Iraq were invited to join, indicated an attempt to create a purely Sunni fraternity that would be ready to use military power in the region according to the briefing by the Saudi Deputy Prince. Whether this was just a reaction to Iran and Iraq's growing involvement in the war against ISIL or for other reasons is not clear. Now with the execution of Nimr and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declaring that Saudi rulers will face “the divine hand of revenge” for their actions, the Shia- Sunni divide is bound to grow wider and more belligerent from both sides.

It is clear that the Muslim world especially, has to remain united in trying to combat terror groups like Al Qaida and ISIL. And individually most Muslim dominated countries, including Bangladesh, are quite aware of the crucial need to step up their efforts in terms of counterterrorism. Saudi Arabia, in the wake of innumerable terrorist attacks since 2003, has had a programme for the 'rehabilitation for convicted fighters' – young, radicalised Saudis who have been found guilty of terrorist activities who are 're-educated' to shun their extremist views and come back to normal. The programme is claimed by officials to be 100 percent successful. But its decision to execute a Shiite religious leader, who apparently only used the war of words not weapons, and its official severance of ties with Iran has created the danger of further tensions between Shias and Sunnis within Saudi Arabia and in other countries like Syria, Iraq and Pakistan, already afflicted with the disease. It will thus mean more sectarian violence and a perfect environment for ISIS and Al Qaida to radicalise young people, recruit them and carry out more attacks. Either way it spells disaster for both the western and eastern hemispheres.

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