A gulf between them: Understanding the Saudi-Iran dispute

Could open conflict now be one step closer between the two big regional powers in the Gulf? This week has seen tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran rise to dangerous levels following the Saudis’ execution of a Shia cleric and the subsequent storming of the Saudi embassy in Tehran by an angry mob.

The BBC’s Frank Gardner, whose attempted murderer was also executed by the Saudis last weekend, examines the historic enmity between the two regimes and assesses whether they can ever settle their differences.

In Saudi Arabia, a country that last year put to death a record 153 convicted prisoners, there has rarely been a more controversial execution in recent years. Amongst the 47 condemned men whose sentences were carried out simultaneously on 2 January one name stood out from all the others.

Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr, a firebrand Shia cleric and popular figurehead for thousands of disaffected Saudi Shias living in the country’s Eastern Province.

Arrested in 2012 in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings and charged with “disobedience to the ruler” and bearing arms, Al-Nimr’s supporters insisted he only ever called for peaceful protest and fair rights for the Shia minority. His critics, including Sunni hardliners, called him a terrorist, while the Saudi government suspected him of being an agent of Iran.

Of the 47 people executed that day, 43 were Sunnis and most of those were extremists. One was the last surviving criminal from a gang that attacked our BBC film crew in Riyadh in 2004, killing my Irish cameraman Simon Cumbers and putting six bullets into me and crippling me for life.

Yet it was the death of the Shia cleric Al-Nimr that was always going to be the most inflammatory in a region already beset with sectarian fault lines. There have been angry protests by Shia in Bahrain, Iraq and Lebanon.

Source: BBC. Date: 10 January 2016