News / Middle East

    Saudi Arabia Seen as Seeking to Project Tough Image

    Analysts: Saudi Arabia Seeks to Project Tough Image Amid Instabilityi
    X
    Heather Murdock
    January 06, 2016 7:42 PM
    The executions in Saudi Arabia last week of more than 40 dissidents - including a prominent Shi'ite cleric - and the subsequent severing of relations with Iran underscore the Saudi royal family's deep concerns about the stability of the kingdom. The mass execution appeared to be a warning that dissidents will not be tolerated. In neighboring Bahrain, protests over the matter continue. Analysts say the unrest could spread into Saudi Arabia's Shi'ite regions. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Cairo.
    Heather Murdock

    As Saudi diplomats return from Iran after the severing of diplomatic relations, protests continue in neighboring Bahrain over the Saudi kingdom’s execution of Shi’ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

    The cleric, along with 46 other condemned men, was executed on Saturday, prompting protests from Shi’ite groups around the world against the Sunni Saudi Arabian monarchy.

    The mass executions appeared to be a show of strength by a country surrounded by turmoil and deeply concerned about potential unrest in its oil-rich Eastern Province, according to analysts. 

    “Saudi Arabia wants to portray itself as a strong country that can stop any opposition in its Eastern Province, or anywhere else,” says Khalifa Gaballah, the Arab affairs editor at Masry al-Youm, a prominent Egyptian newspaper. “Saudi Arabia is a massive state in an area surrounded by conflicts.”

    Unrest to the east

    As the protests in Bahrain continue, Saudi leaders fear that the unrest could spill into its Eastern Province, where the mostly-Shi’ite population has long complained of marginalization – Such fears, says Gulf State Analytics founder Giorgio Cafiero, are not unfounded.

    “We should be keeping a close eye on events in Bahrain,” he said.  “In the Shia villages of Bahrain, protesters have expressed their solidarity with their counterparts in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province,” Cafiero said.

    Beyond inciting unrest in Saudi Arabia, sectarian strife in Bahrain could provide an opportunity for Islamic State militants to exploit the chaos, targeting the tiny, strategically located nation.

    Iranian protesters chant slogans as they hold pictures of Shi'ite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr during a demonstration against his execution in Saudi Arabia, outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy, in Tehran Jan. 3, 2016.
    Iranian protesters chant slogans as they hold pictures of Shi'ite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr during a demonstration against his execution in Saudi Arabia, outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy, in Tehran Jan. 3, 2016.


    Bahrain - located off the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia - has a Shi’ite majority population and a Sunni monarch in charge. 

    While Shi’ite protesters continue to express their anger at the Saudi government, officials in Bahrain have followed the lead of Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies. Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Sudan and Kuwait have all cut or downgraded diplomatic ties with Shi’ite-dominated Iran after protesters attacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran.

    Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of meddling in the affairs of foreign countries, including Bahrain. Saudi television channel Al-Arabiya reported Wednesday six people had been arrested in Bahrain, accused of being part of a “terrorist cell” associated with Iran and Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

    Threats from within and beyond

    It’s not just Shi’ite dissidents worrying the Saudi government, according to Cafiero.  All of the men executed were convicted terrorists, with 43 being affiliated with al-Qaida, a group that self-identifies as Sunni.

    Islamic State militants also issued a threat against the Saudi government online on Tuesday. 

    "The Islamic State always seeks to free prisoners, but we calculate that the ending of the issues of prisoners will not happen except with the eradication of the rule of tyrants, and then destroying their prisons and razing them to the ground," it reads.

    Saudi Arabia is also bogged down with fighting in Yemen and involved in the Syria and Libya wars, according to Gulf State Analytics’ Dubai-based senior adviser Theodore Karasik. 

    Smoke rises as Iranian protesters set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran, Jan. 3, 2016.
    Smoke rises as Iranian protesters set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran, Jan. 3, 2016.


    The diplomatic dispute, he adds, could be in part an attempt to shift geopolitical alliances as a way to manipulate potential conflict resolutions to be more favorable to maintaining or growing Saudi power.

    Conversely, Iran has reason to use the diplomatic break to potentially grow its international standing, he says. 

    “Iran can argue that the al-Sauds are incapable of governing their kingdom,” he explained.

    Shi’ite groups in other parts of the region have also vowed revenge for al-Nimr’s death.  In Iraq, two Sunni mosques were attacked in apparent retaliation for the execution.

    And given the depth of the Sunni-Shi’ite divide in many parts of the Middle East and beyond, says Gaballah, from Masry al-Youm, the Saudi Arabia-Iran dispute could mean widespread violence if it is not resolved soon.

    “I believe this conflict is impacting the whole region,” he said.  “It’s most dangerous for the Gulf, but if this crisis is not contained swiftly, it may lead to conflicts in many other parts of the region.”

    Iran and Saudi Arabia
    Iran and Saudi Arabia

    You May Like

    US-Russia Tensions Complicate Syria War

    With a shared enemy and opposing allies, Russia and the US are working to avoid confrontation

    Video Re-opening Old Wounds in Beirut's Bullet-riddled Yellow House

    Built in neo-Ottoman style in 1920s, it is set to be re-opened in Sept. as ‘memory museum’ - bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity

    Cambodian-Americans Lobby for Human Rights Resolution

    Resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges Cambodian government to end human rights violations, calls for respect of press freedom

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora