The execution of Saudi Arabia’s prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr has sparked anger and protests in Shia communities across the region.
Shia-led Iran, Sunni-led Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival, has led the official condemnation of the execution.
Protests have taken place in Saudi Arabia’s Shia-majority Eastern Province, in Bahrain and several other countries.
Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was a vocal supporter of mass protests in the province in 2011.
He was a prominent, outspoken cleric who articulated the feelings of those in Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority who feel marginalized and discriminated against.
Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was among 47 people put to death on January 2 after being convicted of terrorism offences.
In the early hours of January 3, unconfirmed reports from Tehran said that the Saudi embassy in the Iranian capital had come under attack from protesters.
Iranian officials have been strident in their condemnation of the execution. The foreign ministry said the Sunni kingdom would pay a high price for its action, and it has summoned the Saudi charge d’affaires in Tehran in protest.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps said a “harsh revenge” would be exacted for the execution, Iranian news agencies report.
Saudi Arabia in turn summoned the Iranian envoy “and handed him a strong-worded protest note on the aggressive Iranian statements”, a foreign ministry statement said.
The website of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei posted a picture suggesting the execution was comparable to the actions of ISIS.
As the Shia power in the region, Iran takes huge interest in the affairs of Shia minorities in the Middle East.
However, one of the principal concerns of the Saudis is what they see as the growing influence of Iran in places like Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.
At least one protest march was held in Qatif, in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, defying a ban on public protests.
Protesters shouted the slogans “The people want the fall of the regime”, and “Down with the al-Saud family”, reminiscent of the 2011 protests in the wake of the Arab Spring.
Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr ‘s arrest in 2012, during which he was shot, triggered days of protests in Eastern Province in which three people were killed.
January 2 executions were carried out simultaneously in 12 locations across Saudi Arabia. Of the 47 executed, one was a Chadian national while another was Egyptian. The rest were Saudis.
The international rights group Amnesty International said the 47 executions demonstrated the Saudi authorities’ “utter disregard for human rights and life” and called Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr’s trial “political and grossly unfair”.
Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr ‘s family said he had been found guilty, among other charges, of seeking “foreign meddling” in the kingdom but his supporters say he advocated only peaceful demonstrations and eschewed all violent opposition to the government.
Saudi authorities deny discriminating against Shia Muslims and blame Iran for stirring up discontent.
Saudi Arabia carried out more than 150 executions in 2015, the highest figure recorded by human rights groups for 20 years.
Former Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi has fled the capital, Sanaa, weeks after he was put under house arrest by Houthi rebels who forced him to resign.
Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi is thought to have reached the main southern city of Aden.
It comes a day after rival parties agreed on the formation of a transitional council to govern the country.
Yemen has been in crisis since the takeover by the Houthis, a Shia group.
UN mediator Jamal Benomar announced the preliminary accord between feuding factions on Thursday and hailed it as “an important step”.
Abd,Rabbuh Mansur Hadi’s supporters in Aden have so far refused to recognize what they denounce as a political coup.
Last week, the governors of the provinces of Aden, Lahij and Mahra demanded the reinstatement of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and reaffirmed their support for Yemen becoming a federation of six regions.
Houthi rebels seized the capital Sanaa in September, before capturing the presidential palace and placing Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi under house arrest. He then quit his presidential post, saying he could not continue under such pressure.
The Houthis dissolved parliament and installed a five-member “presidential council” on February 6.
This sparked security concerns that saw several Arab and Western states close their embassies and remove diplomats.
Since overrunning Sanaa, the Houthis have expanded their control to coastal areas and regions south of the capital.
Their takeover was denounced as a coup by rival political factions and prompted mass protests, mainly from the country’s Sunni majority.
The Houthis have also faced fierce resistance from Sunni tribes and al-Qaeda militants.
Bahrain is voting in its first parliamentary elections since Arab Spring protests broke out in 2011.
The government has called on all of the country’s political factions to participate in Saturday’s poll.
However, Shia opposition groups plan to stage a boycott, saying the vote is an attempt to establish “absolute rule”.
Despite being ruled by a Sunni monarchy, the majority of the Bahraini population are Shias.
Disenchanted protesters took to the streets of the capital, Manama, in 2011 to demand greater civil rights.
The protests were stamped out when the government, backed by Saudi tanks, moved in to crush dissent.
Talks to resolve the situation have since collapsed and unrest has continued.
Some 350,000 people are eligible to vote, choosing 40 legislators from among 266 mostly Sunni candidates.
A coalition of opposition groups said it would boycott Saturday’s legislative and municipal elections.
The alliance, which includes al-Wefaq, Bahrain’s most popular opposition group, has called the poll a “sham”.
It has also demanded an elected prime minister who is independent from the ruling al-Khalifa monarchy.
“These elections are destined to fail because the government is incapable of addressing the political crisis,” al-Wefaq member Abdul-Jalil Khalil told the Associated Press news agency.
Bahraini Information Minister Sameera Ebrahim Bin Rajab said that the “door to dialogue will never be shut, including with al-Wefaq” but added: “Violence is not allowed. It is tantamount to terrorism.”
Bahrain is of key strategic importance to Washington and hosts the US Navy’s 5th Fleet.
The election will also be closely watched by Saudi Arabia, which has a large Shia Muslim population in its Eastern Province.
At least 29 people have been killed after gunmen have stormed two buildings in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, officials say.
Twenty of those killed were said to be women.
The attack took place late on Saturday, July 12, in the neighborhood of Zayouna in east Baghdad, police said. One officer said he “found bodies everywhere”.
At least 29 people have been killed after gunmen have stormed two buildings in Baghdad’s neighborhood of Zayouna
The motive for the killings is not clear. No group has said it carried out the attack.
Reports said the two buildings were suspected to be brothels.
According to AFP, writing left on the door of one of the buildings read: “This is the fate of any prostitution.”
Locals in Zayouna have accused Shia militias of killing women thought to be prostitutes, Reuters news agency reported. The neighborhood is a mixed district of Sunni and Shia Muslims.
Prostitution is prohibited under Islam, the dominant religion in Iraq.
Iraq is experiencing an upsurge in instability as government forces battle an Islamist insurgency led by the jihadist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), which has seized huge swathes of the country’s north-west and closed in on cities near Baghdad.
Iraq’s most senior Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has issued a call to arms while Sunni-led insurgents seize more towns.
The call by representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Sheik Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbalaie, came during Friday prayers, as the militants widened their grip in the north and east, and threatened to march south.
Iraq’s most senior Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has issued a call to arms while Sunni-led insurgents seize more towns
The UN says hundreds have been killed – with militants carrying out summary executions of civilians in Mosul.
Both the US and Iran have promised to help the fight against the insurgency.
Led by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), the Sunni insurgents have threatened to push to the capital, Baghdad, and regions further south dominated by Iraq’s Shia Muslim majority, whom they regard as “infidels”.