Eliot Benman
Last updated: 19 January, 2016

What Arabic media says about: The Iran-Saudi conflict

We look at Arabic-language news outlets to see how their commentators approach the sectarian divide.

In early January Saudi Arabia carried out the executions of 47 individuals, most on charges of terrorism. Among them were dozens of al Qaeda members as well as prominent Shiite Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who the authorities accused of involvement in shooting policemen. Following al-Nimr’s execution, the Saudi embassy in Iran was ransacked and Saudi Arabia cut off diplomatic ties with Iran. Reactions in Arab media were split cleanly along ideological and sectarian lines. Many commentators applauded the execution, but others deemed the killing an assassination of a courageous leader who had spoken out for the rights of the Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia. Even those writers calling for restraint level accusations and warn of falling into the enemy’s trap.  

A column in the Saudi Al-Jazirah.net (not to be confused with the Qatari-based Al Jazeera) thanks the Saudi authorities for a “legitimate ruling”. A piece published in the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram emphasizes the importance of upholding the rights of Shiite Arabs as the best defense against Iranian “expansionist tendencies”. Finally, an Iraqi writer in Al-Akhbar makes similar arguments, warning Iraqis not to take “reactionary stances” but instead to defeat Saudi Arabia by defeating ISIS.


‘Justice Has Spoken’

Source: Al-Jazirah, Khalid Bin Hamd al-Malik


And thus the State confirms its strength by implementing the death penalty for those 47 terrorists on the basis of what was issued by the legitimate rulings against them. The State will not allow anyone to undermine security or expose people’s lives to danger or allow them to promote a corrupt culture. With this resolution, the State takes more strength and secures people’s lives. Everyone realizes that the exercise of terrorism and supporting it in any way is not acceptable.


Thanks to the leader of this country, Salman Bin Abd al-‘Aziz, who did not hesitate in approving or enabling implementation of legitimate rulings. He keeps the nation strong and lofty and stubborn against the enemies. And thanks to our courageous security personnel who led them (ed. note: the executed) to justice, after catching them red-handed in several crimes of terrorism. They wrote in their blood pages of eternal glory in history. And thanks to the impartial, just, and independent judiciary which spoke its piece, reinforcing with its legitimate ruling the strength of the State which is always present in maintaining security in the country, and therefore safeguarding the blood of the innocents and their money and their honor



‘Nimr al-Nimr: A Matter of Opinion or a Crime of Terrorism?’
Source: Al-Ahram, Mukaram Muhamed Ahmed


We cannot disregard the serious dangers which could befall the Arab and Islamic world, if the Iranian-Saudi conflict is prolonged, a conflict which almost divides the Islamic world into clashing camps: the Sunni camp which includes Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States and most of the Arab world, and the Shiite camp which includes Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah, and, unfortunately the government of Iraq which made the mistake of taking sides. Tehran tries to attract the Shiites of the whole world, which includes the Arab Shiites, which form a part of the Arab people in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

I think that the real conflict in the current crisis is not between the Sunnis and the Shiites, but is between the interests of Arab security and the Persian expansionist tendencies that characterizes the Khameini regime like it characterized the regime of the Shah and made it seek control of the Gulf States and stick its nose in Arab affairs. This clash is the essence of the current conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Thus, it has become a duty for every Arab and every Muslim to close the doors of strife between Sunnis and Shiites, just as it has become a duty for all Arab governments to foster in a judicious manner the rights of Shiite minorities, especially since Tehran plans to invest in a development of strife between Sunnis and Shiites.


‘The Execution of al-Nimr and the Proper Stance of Iraq’

Source: Al-Akhbar, As‘ad Kamaal al-Shalby


What is the proper and positive stance which Iraq must take at this stage? Some call for closing the Saudi embassy in Baghdad while others call for military intervention by the platoons of al-Hashd al-Sha‘by (ed. note: an Iraqi Shiite militia) to support the sons of the Saudi provinces and regions that have a representation of the Shiite population in fighting the Saudi family regime. On the other hand, some have called, and with complete enthusiasm, for expediting the executions of the Saudi terrorists tried by the Iraqi judiciary. If we were to take a quick look at those calls delivered by several political and popular parties, we would find the calls are shortsighted and nothing but reactionary stances. The intensity of sympathy with the issue of the Sheikh al-Nimr deprived some people of thinking of the repercussions of some of the stances which they call for (not all of them). We see that those stances are the main goal of the Saudi Kingdom and it planned well for it by carrying out the execution of the Sheikh, the martyr


The prudent stance which the Iraqi government must take is to contain the crisis and calm the atmosphere, because the multiplying of the fitful stances will lead to dire consequences.

As for the battle with ISIS, everyone must be certain of its strong connection with the issue of the execution of the Sheikh, the martyr. The more the sectarian strife worsens in Iraq, the more we will gradually lose what we have won in military advances in 23% of the area of Iraq, now a liberated area that was under the control of ISIS terrorism. Therefore, we see logically that the more our security forces in all their forms advanced a hand’s length on the ground, the Saudi project aimed at destroying the territory and people of Iraq suffered a setback. Breaking the back of ISIS represents a very firm response to the audacity of the Kingdom in implementing the execution of al-Nimr.