Saudi Arabia: Muted Western response to beheading of dissident


Police violently crack down on protests in Bahrain against al-Nimr's execution.

The West's response to public beheadings carried out by the Saudi state is extremely muted, especially in comparison with the way public beheadings by ISIS are highlighted in Western propaganda.

In 2015, the number of beheadings in the Saudi kingdom was at least 157 and 2016 began with the January 2 beheading and gibbeting of 47 prisoners on security and terrorism-related charges, including prominent dissident Nimr al-Nimr.

TeleSUR English reported on January 2 that political and religious leaders in the Middle East condemned the Saudi kingdom for executing al-Nimr, a leading Shiite cleric.

Reports suggested that hundreds of people were protesting Nimr's execution in Qatif and other cities in Saudi Arabia. Photos posted on social media showed Saudi special forces headed to Qatif.

Saudi Arabia's rulers were increasingly agitated by Nimr in recent years, as he was an outspoken supporter of “Arab Spring”-inspired protests against the government in 2011. He gave speeches that called for the end of the al-Saud monarchy and mobilised young people.

Sheikh Nimr was arrested in July 2012 and was sentenced to death by a Saudi special court in October 2014 for “seeking 'foreign meddling' in [Saudi Arabia], 'disobeying' its rulers and taking up arms against the security forces”.

Also executed were Sunnis convicted of involvement in al-Qaeda attacks that killed Saudis and foreigners in the kingdom in 2003 and 2004. One of those executed was Fares al-Shuwail, described by Saudi media as al-Qaeda's top religious leader in the kingdom.

Hundreds of Shiite Muslims in Indian-controlled Kashmir took to the streets to protest the execution. Iran condemned the execution of the well-known Shiite figure and protesters in Iran attacked the Saudi embassy. There were also large protests in Bahrain, Lebanon and Iraq, and smaller protests worldwide.

Saudi executions have been at an all time high since the session of King Salman last year.

Under the strict Islamic legal system in Saudi Arabia, the death sentence applies to cases of murder, drug offences and rape and at times in cases of adultery, apostasy and witchcraft.

US anti-war activist Medea Benjamin wrote on TeleSUR English on January 11: “Al-Nimr was arrested and imprisoned in 2012, then convicted of sedition, disobedience and bearing arms. He did not deny the political charges against him, but insisted he never carried weapons or called for violence.

“He also distanced himself from sectarian divisions. He called for people to stand up to tyrants regardless of their sect, from the Sunni rulers in Bahrain to Syria's Bashar al-Assad, who is from the Alawite sect of Shia Islam … To add insult to injury, Sheikh al-Nimr's nephew, Ali al-Nimr, was targeted and arrested at the age of 17 for protesting government corruption, and has since been sentenced to beheading and public crucifixion.

“The US government has expressed concern that al-Nimr's execution risked 'exacerbating sectarian tensions at a time when they urgently need to be reduced' … But instead of insisting on al-Nimr's release during his years in prison … the US government was silent. Even after the execution, the US refused to issue a strong denunciation.

“For decades, US administrations, both Democratic and Republican, have backed the kingdom … The US-Saudi alliance has been good for one sector of the US economy: the weapons manufacturers. Between 2007 and 2014, Saudi Arabia purchased $86 billion in US arms — eight times Israel's US arms acquisitions ($10.3 billion), almost five times Egypt's $17.8 billion, two-and-a-half times Iraq's $27.3 billion and more than twice India's second place $38.1 billion.

“Between 2005 and 2014, Saudi arms purchases more than doubled. In the year from 2013 to 2014, it increased seventeen percent — the largest jump among all the top military spenders. Riyadh's defence budget has risen 19% a year since the Arab uprisings of 2011. In 2014, Saudi Arabia's per capita spending on its military at $2,747 was the highest in the world…

“But the United States and other Western powers that build up the Saudi's arsenal are having a harder and harder time justifying these sales. Saudi Arabia has been ranked by Freedom House as one of the worst human rights violators in the world. Earning the lowest possible score in all three categories of freedom, civil liberties and political rights, it is one of only 10 nations considered 'not free'.

“The killing of al-Nimr should serve as a prime moment for the US to reconsider its alliance with the Saudi regime.”

[Compiled from TeleSUR English.]

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