In 2010, I paid a visit to the city of Al-Qatif, in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, where the largest concentration of the country’s Shiite minority lives. An SMS message addressed to me arrived on the mobile phone of my friend Habib, who accompanied me on the trip. Habib is a Shiite cleric, donning the trademark symbols of piety of his sect, a turban and a robe. The text message was from another Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, with whom I had visited a year earlier at his home. We had tea together and ate Iranian cashews. The meeting was poignant—a roller coaster of emotions. Between his strident expressions of angst and pungent sense of humor, I found myself crying with him and for him, and crying as well from laughter.
Nimr’s flight from public view, and even from his closest relatives, stimulated the imagination of scores of Shiite youth—marginalized, neglected, unemployed, and influenced by Iranian government propaganda for years.Mansour Alnogaidan
In 2009, Al-Baqi’ cemetery—which is next to the Prophet’s Holy Mosque and final resting place in the sacred city of Medina—witnessed clashes among Shiite and Sunni pilgrims, arising from differences between the two sects concerning graveside rituals. Shiite Muslims frequent al-Baqi’, home to the graves of members of the Prophet’s family whom they revere. The clashes widened—and in their wake, Sheikh Nimr delivered a series of sermons in which he called for Shiite-majority areas to secede from the kingdom and establish a government based on the Iranian revolutionary model of “Wilayat al-Faqih” (“The Rule of the Jurist”). The sermons placed Nimr on a list of men “wanted” by Saudi police, and he went into hiding. In the SMS message that my friend received from Nimr, he requested a meeting to solicit my suggestions as to the best ways to solve his problem with the authorities. I considered the request, but declined to meet him: The government requires Saudi citizens to report any encounter with a wanted man, and I judged the value of any advice I could offer him to be less than the risks which our encounter would place upon him.
The legacy of centuries of hate between Sunnis and Shiites cannot be erased in a short time. History moves slowly, and slower still amid civil strife. No one can overtake the flow of history.Mansour Alnogaidan
As is the norm in the history of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, from the time of Nimr’s arrest in 2009 to the day of his execution, authorities took pains to tend to the needs of his family. His wife received extended treatment for her medical needs in one of America’s finest hospitals. His sons received full scholarships to American universities.