Why did Saudi Arab execute the cleric Sheikh Nimr since it was already aware that the consequences would be deadly? Certainly it was not the outcome of a decision taken in haste or without applying mind. The only logical explanation is that it was part of a well designed strategy to whip up sectarian tension and help the ruling family to consolidate its support amongst the Sunni regimes. History is replete with such instances when rulers take to sectarian stand to overcome the economic and political crises.
This strategy of Saudi simply underlines the fact that while it has lost ground in Syria and its move to build a forum of 24 countries has been aborted, it has been facing serious economic crisis following plummeting oil prices. In 2015, it ran a deficit of $97.9 billion, and has announced plans to shrink its budget for the current year by $86 billion. Obviously this would affect the government’s public spending resulting in triggering resentment. Saudi’s welfare policies and religious appeal have been helping it gain public support. Its response to Arab Spring protests and mechanism it resorted to come out of the situation is testimony to it.
Nevertheless execution of Sheikh Nimr, country’s most prominent Shia cleric and other 47 prisoners on January 2 has sent a strong message that everything was not well in Saudi and the rulers have lost touch with their people. The real intention of the rulers has been to suppress dissidence.
Though pre-revolutionary Iran and Saudi Arabia were the two pillars of the U.S.’s West Asia policy, their relations deteriorated when Saddam Hussein was toppled and a Shia-dominated government took over in Baghdad. While Iran was happy at the development Saudi Arabia was alarmed by the changing political equations in Iraq and had supported Sunni militancy to prevent the Shias consolidating power.
Saudi Arabia has to face criticism for its conservative interpretation of Islamic law is not so far off from what is practiced by the Islamic State, the terror organisation that claimed “caliphate” across parts of Syria and Iraq in June 2014. In fact the dispute between Saudi Arabia and Iran is part of a larger sectarian rivalry in the Islamic world. The Saudi kingdom views the Islamic State as a real threat to its stability.
Unless Saudi-Iran tensions are contained, there won’t be an effective strategy to fight the Islamic State, which is a Sunni-Wahhabi extremist group. The Saudis look determined to play a long-term game of sectarian geopolitics to maximise its interests. If the Iranians continue to respond in the same token, West Asia would remain turbulent for many more years.
While Saudi desires to have its stake and importance as a benefactor of Syrian people, it also intends to push away Iran from the good book of the US. Interestingly the U.S. and Iran have expanded cooperation from the nuclear deal to Iraq and Iran. In Iraq, American warplanes provided air cover when the Iraq army and Iran-trained Shia militias fought Islamic State fighters. The U.S. also agreed to let Iran join the peace talks on Syria. On the contrary the Saudis wanted to further complicate Iran’s re-accommodation in West Asian geopolitical and economic mainstream. This could not be achieved without whipping up sectarian tensions. Unfortunately Iran unwittingly helped Saudi design by not exercising restrain in the matter of execution of the cleric. This is exactly what Saudis wanted. It used this to make Bahrain, Sudan, UAE to severe relations with Iran.
The trouble is that it is not only West Asian oil-producing or Islamic nations that are caught in this sectarian cleft. The effect of the power struggle in West Asia will spread far and wide. Its immediate fall-out may be a stalemate over Syria. The passive attitude of the US administration is perceptible with its insistence that it is a matter that has to be sorted out amicably by the two countries. At this stage it cannot be ruled out that the entire show was enacted at the behest of the US administration for confusing the Syrian scene and checkmating Russia.
The USA would undoubtedly outright reject the allegation that it has fathered the present political turbulence in the middle and west Asia. But it is a fact that the US policies have pushed the situation in the region to the brink of the latent world war with the Muslim countries and communities vertically split on the issue of ISIS and Syria.
Though the US administration tactfully deflects the issue and washes off its hands of the sin of pitching the Muslim countries against each other, the facts raise accusing fingers towards Bush’s brother decision of 2003 to disband the Iraqi Army following the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s government for the birth and growth of the ISIS. Following this nearly 30 thousand military personnel were rendered jobless; they had no employment, they had no income, and they were left with access to all of the same arms and weapons. Bush created ISIS.
The supporters of Bush however blame President Barrack Obama for withdrawing the American troops. The removal of American troops had created a security vacuum that ISIS exploited. This was probably the single decision of the American administration that helped enable the creation of the Iraqi insurgency. In fact, many American commanders had strongly argued at the time that the Iraqi military should be kept intact. Disbanding would turn too many angry young men against the United States.
During the war, Al Qaeda in Iraq grew as the most powerful, violent and psychotic insurgency group. Incidentally the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was a diehard Al Qaeda foe and an American ally. It is shame that in complicity to US the rulers of the Muslim countries pitched their citizens against each other on the plea of preserving interest of Shia-Sunni. The Muslim world is facing the crisis of its survival and the oil has turned out to be lubricant to hasten up the civil war.
Three years ago, the Islamic State (ISIS) did not exist; now it controls vast regions of Syria and Iraq. What is ravaging the Middle East now is obviously deeper than ISIS. It has become commonplace over the last year to observe that we are witnessing the collapse of the post-Ottoman order – that the “lines in the sand” conjured in 1916 by the British and French diplomats Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot are being blown to dust.
But we haven’t reckoned with how the insurgents perceive that process. ISIS has religious, psychological, and technological faces. But in some fundamental respects it is an anti-colonial movement that takes as its reference point Islam’s pre-colonial conception of power – an Islamic state, a Sunni caliphate. Even if ISIS is crushed, this idea of “our caliphate” is likely to persist, and return.
The Sunni-Shiite tension in the Middle East has been on the rise since the civil war in Iraq that followed the US-led invasion in 2003. Growing sectarian tension is also closely linked to the regional cold war between the Sunni Saudi Arabia and the Shiite power Iran.
Little doubt it is the belligerent behavior of Saudi which has been consistently pushing Middle East dangerously closer to regional war. It is USA, only USA, that has been primarily responsible for creation of this situation; dividing and pitching the Muslim countries against each other
on Shia-Sunni line.