“A well-known Shiite cleric was sentenced to death Wednesday by a court in Saudi Arabia, sparking fears of renewed unrest from his supporters in the kingdom and neighboring Bahrain……….. Al-Nimr had faced charges that include disobeying the ruler, firing on security forces, sowing discord, undermining national unity and interfering in the affairs of a sisterly nation. A statement by the cleric’s family described the verdict as discretionary, saying the judge had the option of ordering a lighter sentence. The family said the verdict sets a “dangerous precedent for decades to come. Prosecutors asked for execution followed by crucifixion…………”
Mr. Obama famously claimed last month that he was “proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with allies in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, etc, etc……….” That is what we can politely call doublespeak: I doubt that privately he is really proud of it: no American can or should be.
So, maybe he will get an invitation to attend this execution of Al Nimr, this beheading and crucifixion, in a public square. It is, after all, a moderate Arab execution, carried on by a tolerant freedom-loving, democracy-seeking family oligarchy that is trying hard to liberate Syria (and probably Iraq) for the joys of Wahhabism. And, more important in this case, it is tinged with the aroma of petroleum and lucrative weapons deals and not an insubstantial dose of the odor of corruption.
Al-Nimr was arrested under suspicious and almost certainly phony pretexts, a common practice of Saudi internal security services. His will be only the latest of many executions by beheading and crucifixion in the Kingdom Without Magic. Yet his case sets a terrible precedent: he is an activist cleric who avoided violence and is very popular with the native Shi’as of the Eastern Province. I have heard and watched him in action: he may be the best and most-stirring Arab orator of recent times. Perhaps that dangerous charisma, so different from the distinctly un-charismatic and uninspiring Al Saud, is what made him such a target of their malevolence. No doubt his harsh sentence also somehow fits into the power struggle raging between Saudi princelings over who will inherit the throne and the peoples of the Arabian Peninsula from the current elderly rulers.
Al Nimr‘s name means Tiger in Arabic. It could be an omen: the princes could be riding a wilder tiger than they think.
(FYI: Death by beheading is the method used in the Wahhabi kingdom. This year so far more than 50 people have been reported beheaded by the sword. Sometimes the convict is also crucified, depending on the crime. So the regime must be truly angry with cleric Al-Nimr. The biggest one-day ‘batch’ of Saudi executions by beheading that I know of occurred in September of 1989. That was when 16 young Kuwaiti Shi’as were executed by beheading in the kingdom. Probably all in one day. It was done North Korean style: there was no prior media report of a trial or an appeal. They were accused of plotting bombings in Mecca, a strange and blasphemous thing for any Muslim to plot. Nobody knows what happened to them after that. To this day the Saudis insist on keeping their remains. They refuse to send the bodies, the remains, back home to their families. The dead remain in forced exile among their executioners).