Saudi’s Nimr Al Nimr: A Martyr or Terrorist?

The world has given much coverage to the execution of Shiite Saudi cleric Nimr Al Nimr but has it been a one-sided reportage? REUTERS/Essam Al-Sudani

BY Hussein Shobokshi

Saudi Arabia’s recent execution of 47 terrorists—45 of whom were Saudi nationals—sent a loud and clear message: that there will be absolutely zero tolerance for terrorism, extremism or sectarianism in the Kingdom.

Many Saudis reaction to the news was one of relief as it brought a sense of closure to an ugly chapter of “terror” which was spread by terrorists in different incidents, all of which caused equal harm nevertheless.

The reaction of the global media was, at the very least, puzzling and odd at best.

Among the executed terrorists there were two notorious names Faris Al Shuwail and Nimr Al Nimr.

To Saudis these two names have, for a very long time, been symbols of hatred, sectarianism and deadly violence. The international media—which jumped to cover the news—was mainly interested in covering the fact that Saudi Arabia executed a Shiite cleric, completely ignoring how it had also executed both Sunnis and Shiites.

Highlighting the sectarian aspect in such an aggressive manner cannot be seen as benign at all.

An important fact needs to be established here: Al Nimr was not a pacifist. Trying to portray him as one is misleading.

While it is no secret that the Saudi government has been conducting a vicious war against “Sunni” terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda and Daesh, it has also been dealing with “Shiite” organizations such as Hezbollah Al Hijaz which is listed on the Arab Gulf states’ list of terror organizations, and is allegedly responsible for the tragic Khobar bombing in 1996 which resulted in a large number of American and Saudi casualties.

Al Nimr was a senior leader in Hezbollah Al Hijaz from the 1980s, a pro-Iranian militarized band launched in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province and functioning in Kuwait and Bahrain as well. In religious sermons and several public speeches, Al Nimir called the ruling dynasties in the aforementioned three Arab Gulf ruling states “illegitimate”. He also called for taking up arms against their governments.

In 2009, tense confrontation took place between the organization and Saudi authorities, a predictably asymmetric clash which resulted in the loss of lives on both sides. Several perpetrators along with Al Nimr escaped to Iran following the clashes.

He resurfaced again in 2011 in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province during the time of the so-called Arab Spring demonstrations.

He was allegedly seen in public with the youth who threw Molotov cocktails and opened fire at Saudi police forces.

To the public’s memory, the last incident which mentioned Nimr said he had been injured in a car with followers who were engaged in armed clashes with Saudi security officers.

To some extent, Al Nimir is simply the Shiite equivalent of Sunni members of Al Qaeda: Both have blood on their hands. It is worth noting that some Al Qaeda members, like leader Faris Al Shuwail, were also executed alongside Al Nimr.

Most Saudis saw Al Nimr as a terrorist who called for taking up arms against the government. He advocated violence and called for the toppling of the regime exactly like Al Shuwail did.

Saudi Arabia has been putting up a very long and brave fight against various terrorist cells. Protecting the country from terror is the government’s top priority and one thing needs to be remembered here: Terrorisms knows no religion and surely knows no sect.

The writer is a Saudi analyst and columnist. This piece was written especially for Newsweek Middle East.

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