Shi’ite Cleric Execution: War Of Words As Saudi Arabia, Bahrain Sever Ties With Iran

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Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr

Following the execution of a prominent Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia, Saudi and Iranian officials continue to trade barbs as relations between the two Middle Eastern powerhouses deteriorate. New York Times reports.

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Bahraini women carried pictures of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, the Saudi Shiite cleric executed by Saudi Arabia, during a protest near the capital, Manama, on Sunday. Credit Mohammed Al-Shaikh/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was among 47 people put to death in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, January 2, after being convicted of terrorism offences.

On Sunday evening, Saudi Arabia announced it was severing diplomatic relations with Iran after demonstrators stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Saudi, who recalled its diplomats from Tehran, also gave Iranian diplomats 48 hours to leave, marking a swift escalation in a strategic and sectarian rivalry that underpins conflicts across the Middle East.

READ ALSO: Terrorism Charges: Saudi Arabia Executes Top Shia Cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, 46 Others

The surprise move, announced in a news conference by Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, followed harsh criticism by Iranian leaders of the Saudis’ execution of an outspoken Shiite cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, and the storming of the Saudi Embassy in Tehran by protesters in response.

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A cleric outside the Saudi embassy in Tehran denounces Sheikh Nimr’s execution AP

The cutting of diplomatic ties came at a time when the United States and others had hoped that even limited cooperation between the two powers could help end the crushing civil wars in Syria and Yemen while easing tensions in Iraq, Bahrain, Lebanon and elsewhere.

CNN reported that on Monday, January 4, Bahrain also announced it is severing diplomatic ties with Iran, citing Iran’s “blatant and dangerous interference” in Bahrain and other Arab countries.

The United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, announced it was “downgrading” its diplomatic relations with Iran.

The UAE recalled its ambassador in Tehran and said it would also reduce the number of diplomats stationed in Iran, according to state news agency WAM.

The UAE “has taken this exceptional step in light of Iran’s ongoing interference in internal GCC and Arab affairs that has recently reached unprecedented levels,” a government statement said.

Saudi Arabia and Iran have long been at odds, but the comments come after Saudi Arabia kicked out Iran’s diplomats, saying the attack was the last straw.

It’s not uncommon for countries to boot officials when they’re at odds, but analysts say Saudi Arabia’s decision to sever diplomatic ties with Iran on the heels of Tehran’s execution Saturday of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr could be an ominous sign that something much more serious is in the offing.

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