Saudi Arabia’s move to execute a prominent Shia cleric known for his involvement in the Arab Spring has resulted in major backlash from Iran, as well as sharp rebuke from the U.S. State Department, which normally overlooks untoward activities by its ally.
A State Department spokesman confirmed that the agency is keeping a close eye on the situation and hopes Saudi Arabia will come to its senses, CNN reports.
“We are particularly concerned that the execution of (Nimr al-Nimr) risks exacerbating sectarian tensions at a time when they urgently need to be reduced,” John Kirby said.
An Obama administration official told The Washington Post on Sunday said that the Sunni royal family was playing a “dangerous game,” adding that this upset may damage “counter-ISIL initiatives as well as the Syrian peace process.”
But aside from concern, the State Department did not announce any further response.
Saudi Arabia also executed 46 others besides al-Nirm, the cleric, who criticized the Saudi royal family. Four Shiites in total were executed.
Al-Nirm was arrested in 2012 for his involvement in anti-government, Arab Spring protests, in which he called for free elections. Back when the Arab Spring kicked off, government-backed organizations were pushing hard for a sweep of democracy across the Middle East to displace regimes viewed as despotic. Some of these organizations include the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House. Executives from these organizations have maintained that they did not start the revolutions. Rather, the organizations provided skills and networking, which “play[ed] a role in what ultimately happened.”
Following the execution, Iran said via a state-run news outlet that Saudi Arabia would suffer for its actions.
“The execution of a personality such as Sheikh Nimr who had no means other than speech to pursue his political and religious objectives only shows the depth of imprudence and irresponsibility,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossein Jaberi said, according to CNN.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei said that Saudi Arabia will face divine revenge for its actions. Almost immediately after the execution took place, Iranian protesters broke into the Saudi Arabian embassy in Tehran, the capital of Iran, and set fire to the building.
In response, Saudi Arabia warned outside powers against interfering with internal affairs and has since severed diplomatic ties with Iran.
Iranian diplomats in Saudi Arabia have just 48 hours to leave, as of Sunday.
Bahrain and Sudan have also severed ties with Iran. The United Arab Emirates also said that it will decrease diplomatic relations with Iran.
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