Saudi Arabia Protests: Sectarian Divide or Human Rights Issue?

Protests against the killing of Sheikh Nimr-al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia are about human rights and sectarian dividends.

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Flames rise from Saudi Arabia’s embassy during a demonstration in Tehran January 2. (Photo: Reuters)

Sheikh Nimr-al-Nimr was one among the 47 people executed by the kingdom of Saudi Arabia on January 2, 2016. He was the chief Shia cleric in the staunchly Sunni country and was a vocal critic of the royal government.

Iran, a Shia republic, has been the most vocal in its criticism of the execution and the two regional powers have severed diplomatic ties and stepped up the rhetoric against each other. Protests have rocked Tehran since the killing.

In the rest of the region, the protests have taken on sectarian overtones, with countries with significant Shia populations being rocked by protests.

Scores of protesters rallied in Baghdad on Sunday, to show their opposition to the execution of the top Shia cleric. The activists rallied peacefully carrying placards with pictures of sheikh Nimr-al-Nimr.

Earlier in the day, the Saudi Arabian embassy in the Iraqi capital city was reportedly hit by a rocket.

However, the protests have gone beyond just being a Shia-Sunni issue limited to the region. There have been protests in both the USA and the UK, with Amnesty International helping organise the demonstration outside the Saudi embassy in London.

In New York too, the protests were not about religion but rather the excesses of the ruling Saudi royal family. In addition to opposing Saudi Arabia’s royal family, protesters have also been demanding that their governments stop supporting the Saudi regime and hold it accountable for human rights violations.

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