Why exclude Nimr al-Nimr from punishment?

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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A New York Times reporter in Tehran deleted his tweet that all the convicts executed by Saudi Arabia on Saturday were Shiite, and clarified that this was untrue. However, he did not say only four of those executed were Shiite, while the 43 others were Sunni.

The BBC summarized news of the executions by just referring to that of Nimr al-Nimr. It reported the execution of a man convicted in the murder of a BBC cameraman in a separate piece of news. We understand why Iran is leading the media campaign against the executions. It is targeting Saudi Arabia, against which it has been fighting a political and propaganda war since it decided to engage in sectarian wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

But why would others follow Iranian propaganda without at least examining the allegations of both parties? Was Nimr a peaceful opposition figure? Of course not. Was he a leader of Shiites? Absolutely not. He was like other extremist preachers. Did his speeches criticize the Saudi government? Yes, but so do those of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Saudi Arabia cannot execute Sunni religious preachers who are guilty of incitement that lead to murder, and overlook the cases of Shiite convicts. There are 5,000 extremists in Saudi jails, hundreds of whom have been convicted. Most of them are Sunni Saudis, while only dozens of them are Shiite Saudis.

It makes no sense to ask Saudis to execute Sunni religious leaders, and let other implicated preachers be.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Nimr was an extremist Shiite Saudi preacher. He was exactly like Al-Qaeda theorist Faris al-Shuwail, and Sunni extremist preacher Hamad al-Humaidi. None of the three committed murder, but they were convicted by the judiciary based on the law of criminalizing incitement to violence, as they incited their followers to commit murder, and were involved in other activities that are based on practicing violence.

Humaidi’s group kidnapped and killed U.S. citizen Paul Johnson, and kept his head in a fridge in the house where they were arrested. Although it was not Humaidi who slaughtered Johnson, his followers committed the crime based on his instructions. Shuwail, who surrendered after he was injured in security confrontations in the town of ar-Rass, is considered one of the most prominent takfiri preachers in Saudi Arabia.

Abdulaziz al-Toaili’e, a Sunni figure and Al-Qaeda’s media broadcaster, was also among those executed. He did not kill anyone himself, but was involved in recruitment and armament operations, and incited against others.


Nimr was an extremist preacher, not a political leader. Like leaders of Sunni extremist organizations, he incited others to pursue armed opposition and fight, and helped them by collecting arms and funds.

He was arrested while helping a man wanted for murder to escape. Nimr had a group known as the List of the 23, who were accused of armed operations. Four of the 23 men handed themselves in and were later released, some were killed during confrontations, and others are on the run.

Nimr was arrested while police pursued a wanted man called Hussein al-Rabee. Nimr and Rabee were in two separate cars, and Nimr’s car bumped into a police car to help Rabee escape. While the police arrested Nimr, gunmen in another car opened fire on security forces, injuring Nimr and others. Rabee escaped, but was arrested two months later.

According to the Saudi system, Nimr is legally responsible for the incitement, recruitment and crimes that his followers committed because of him. These crimes are many. His followers deliberately killed six policemen in separate incidents, and dozens were injured.

They killed three civilians, and arbitrarily opened fire on foreign workers to obstruct work, killing a Bengali. They opened fire on a car belonging to the German embassy, and the vehicle burnt as a result. The two diplomats in the car survived the attack, and the perpetrators were later arrested.

Our problem, or rather the world’s problem today, is extremist clerics who lead destructive acts and threaten peace everywhere. It makes no sense to ask Saudis to execute Sunni religious leaders, and let other implicated clerics be.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Jan. 4 , 2016.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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