Daily Current Affairs – 7th January, 2016Devendra Vishwakarma
West Asia: Saudi Arabia’s deadly gamble
- The execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, an influential Shia cleric, by Saudi Arabia has expectedly led to a flare-up of sectarian passions in West Asia.
What is the issue?
- Saudi Arabia recently executed 47 people for terrorism offences in one day, including the prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.
- Sheikh Nimr was the most prominent religious leader of the Kingdom’s Shia minority, which has long been subjected to institutionalised segregation by the Sunni monarchy of the al-Saud family which is ruling Saudi Arabia.
- He was the driving force behind the 2011 protests in the country’s east, inspired by Arab Spring protests elsewhere. Moreover, Sheikh Nimr was a respected cleric among the Shia community in general.
- Iran had repeatedly asked Saudi Arabia to pardon him.
A provocative move by Saudi Arabia:
- Saudi Arabia’s execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, perhaps the most influential leader among the Kingdom’s Shia minority, was clearly a provocative move.
- Riyadh knew that its action would deteriorate relations with Iran and inflame sectarian tensions in West Asia at a time when the Islamic State is systematically persecuting Shias and other minorities within Islam.
- Iran, a Shia-majority country and a regional rival of Saudi Arabia, had repeatedly requested the Sunni monarchy to pardon Nimr, who was the driving force behind the Arab Spring model protests in the kingdom’s east in 2011.
- By executing him, along with 46 others on Saturday, Riyadh has plunged the region, already reeling under terrorism, insurgency and sectarianism, into more chaos.
Why did Suadi Arabia do this?
Why did Riyadh do this if they knew the consequences would be deadly?
A logical explanation is that it’s part of a well-thought-out strategy to whip up tensions so that the Al-Saud ruling family could tighten its grip on power at home and its position in the region by amassing the support of the Sunni regimes.
- Whether the royals agree or not, Saudi Arabia is facing a major crisis.
- Oil prices are decreasing and endangering the kingdom’s economy.
- In 2015, it ran a deficit of $97.9 billion, and has announced plans to shrink its budget for the current year by $86 billion.
- This is likely to impact the government’s public spending, and could trigger resentment.
- The entire kingdom relies heavily on the government’s welfare policies, besides its religious appeal, to drum up public support.
- The late King Abdullah’s response to Arab Spring protests is an example of this.
- When people elsewhere rose up against dictatorships, he announced a special economic package of $70 billion (much of this money was allocated to build 5,00,000 houses to address housing shortage) to check discontent at home. Additionally, the state injected $4 billion into healthcare.
- King Salman does not enjoy the luxury of using oil revenues to save his crown due to the economic crisis.
- Another option the royals have to buttress their position is to resort to extreme majoritarianism.
At least four, including Sheikh Nimr, among the 47 executed on January 2 were political prisoners.
By putting them to death, the royal family has sent a clear message to political dissidents at home.
- This is a tactic dictators have often used in history.
- They go back to extremism or sectarianism to bolster their hard-line constituency to tide over the economic and social difficulties.
- The real aim of the monarchy is to close down every window of dissidence; if that can’t be done through economic development and welfarism, do it by other means.
Courtesy (image)- http://www.payvand.com/news/14/feb/Saudi-Arabia-and-Pakistan-nuclear-link-HR.jpg
Sectarian conflicts in West Asia:
West Asia is already witnessing sectarian conflicts
- Iraq, which is torn apart on sectarian lines, is taking baby steps under the new Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, to rebuild national unity.
- The country witnessed a bloody phase of sectarian strife in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion.
- Parts of the country, including the second largest city, Mosul, are still under the control of Islamic State, which is carrying out a systematic campaign against non-Sunni religious groups.
- In Yemen, the Shia Houthi rebels are fighting forces loyal to a Saudi-protected government led by Sunnis.
- In Bahrain, the wounds of a Shia rebellion which was crushed by a Sunni monarch with the help of the Saudis are still not healed.
By executing Sheikh Nimr, Riyadh has poured oil into this sectarian fire, for which the region will have to pay a huge price.