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Fisk writes: "Saudi Arabia's binge of head-choppings - 47 in all, including the learned Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr, followed by a Koranic justification for the executions - was worthy of Isis."

Saudi Arabia executed 47 people on Saturday. Some were beheaded while others were shot by firing squad. (photo: BBC)
Saudi Arabia executed 47 people on Saturday. Some were beheaded while others were shot by firing squad. (photo: BBC)

Saudi Arabia's Mad Head-Choppers

By Robert Fisk, CounterPunch

04 January 16


audi Arabia’s binge of head-choppings – 47 in all, including the learned Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr, followed by a Koranic justification for the executions – was worthy of Isis. Perhaps that was the point. For this extraordinary bloodbath in the land of the Sunni Muslim al-Saud monarchy – clearly intended to infuriate the Iranians and the entire Shia world – re-sectarianised a religious conflict which Isis has itself done so much to promote.

All that was missing was the video of the decapitations – although the Kingdom’s 158 beheadings last year were perfectly in tune with the Wahabi teachings of the ‘Islamic State’. Macbeth’s ‘blood will have blood’ certainly applies to the Saudis, whose ‘war on terror’, it seems, now justifies any amount of blood, both Sunni and Shia. But how often do the angels of God the Most Merciful appear to the present Saudi interior minister, Crown Prince Mohamed bin Nayef?

For Sheikh Nimr was not just any old divine. He spent years as a scholar in Tehran and Syria, was a revered Shia leader of Friday prayers in the Saudi Eastern Province, and a man who stayed clear of political parties but demanded free elections, and was regularly detained and tortured – by his own account – for opposing the Sunni Wahabi Saudi government. Sheikh Nimr said that words were more powerful than violence. The authorities’ whimsical suggestion that there was nothing sectarian about this most recent bloodbath – on the grounds that they beheaded Sunnis as well as Shias – was classic Isis rhetoric.

After all, Isis cuts the heads of Sunni ‘apostates’ and Sunni Syrian and Iraqi soldiers just as readily as it slaughters Shias. Sheikh Nimr would have got precisely the same treatment from the thugs of the ‘Islamic State’ as he got from the Saudis – though without the mockery of a pseudo-legal trial which Sheikh Nimr was afforded and of which Amnesty complained.

But the killings represent far more than just Saudi hatred for a cleric who rejoiced at the death of the former Saudi interior minister – Mohamed bin Nayef’s father, Crown Prince Nayef Abdul-Aziz al-Saud – with the hope that he would be “eaten by worms and will suffer the torments of hell in his grave”. Nimr’s execution will reinvigorate the Houthi rebellion in Yemen, which the Saudis invaded and bombed this year in an attempt to destroy Shia power there. It has enraged the Shia majority in Sunni-rules Bahrain. And Iran’s own clerics have already claimed that the beheading will cause the overthrow of the Saudi royal family.

It will also present the West with that most embarrassing of Middle Eastern problems: the continuing need to cringe and grovel to the rich and autocratic monarchs of the Gulf while gently expressing their unease at the grotesque butchery which the Saudi courts have just dished out to the Kingdom’s enemies. Had Isis chopped off the heads of Sunnis and Shias in Raqqa – especially that of a troublesome Shia priest like Sheikh Nimr – we can be sure that Dave Cameron would have been tweeting his disgust at so loathsome an act. But the man who lowered the British flag on the death of the last king of this preposterous Wahabi state will be using weasel words to address this bit of head-chopping.

However many Sunni al-Qaeda men have also just lost their heads – literally – to Saudi executioners, the question will be asked in both Washington and European capitals: are the Saudis trying to destroy the Iranian nuclear agreement by forcing their Western allies to support even these latest outrages? In the obtuse world in which they live – in which the youthful defence minister who invaded Yemen intensely dislikes the interior minister – the Saudis are still glorying in the ‘anti-terror’ coalition of 34 largely Sunni nations which supposedly form a legion of Muslims opposed to ‘terror’.

The executions were certainly an unprecedented Saudi way of welcoming in the New Year – if not quite as publicly spectacular as the firework display in Dubai which went ahead alongside the burning of one of the emirate’s finest hotels. Outside the political implications, however, there is also an obvious question to be asked – in the Arab world itself — of the self-perpetuating House of Saud: have the Kingdom’s rulers gone bonkers? your social media marketing partner


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+101 # ER444 2016-01-04 15:40
They are not bonkers, they are stuck in the 14th century financed by a willing world with mountains of oil money. Another really really REALLY good reason to quit the oil habit and pull the plug on these midieval kings. By the way, these very dangerous feudalists are armed to the teeth with billions and billions of dollars worth of the most modern weapons sold to them by the most "modern" western nation... USA, Germany, France, Great Britain and counting. Now who is BONKERS ???!!!
+97 # Jim Rocket 2016-01-04 18:12
Switching to renewable energy will not just help the climate it will put these goons out of business. It can't happen fast enough.
+44 # Doll 2016-01-04 18:27
Yes, that is the answer. And it will happen. Maybe 10, 20 or 30 years from now the big oil giants will be history. Since Saudi Arabia doesn't have anything else of value, except maybe sand, the nation will be impoverished.
+10 # bmiluski 2016-01-05 09:47
Actually, DOLL, Saudi Arabia has a lot of sun. I can see thousands of Saudi solar farms dotting the desert.
+4 # Radscal 2016-01-05 15:00
And Saudi Arabia is spending a fortune developing solar energy, and especially energy storage and transportation systems.
+23 # harleysch 2016-01-05 07:28
More appropriately, having western leaders publicly denounce them, cut relations with them, freeze their foreign bank accounts, prevent the royals from traveling to other nations (so they must remain in their own country and live under their own laws!) and stop sending them arms would be a good start!
+15 # goodsensecynic 2016-01-05 12:02
You are right, "ER444", the Saudis are not "bonkers." In fact, they are consistently cunning.

Now, isn't it time someone asked WHY they decided to go headhunting?

After all, they surely knew what the local, regional and global reactions would be. What was in it for them? Or, as the ancient Romans were wont to ask: "Cui bono?" (Who benefits?)

Is it just possible that they wanted to provoke the Iranians and to give US Republicans, AIPAC and "Bibi" Netanyahu ammunition to scuttle the Iranian nuclear deal?

Is it also possible that an disproportionat e response from Iran would make it easier for them to target the rebels in Yemen as well as Hamas and Hezbollah?

Could they be wanting to take attention away from their clandestine assistance to Daesh [aka ISIS]?

Just askin'

After all, these people aren't dolts. They are engineering the collapse of US "energy independence" by swamping the world with oil, simultaneously trying to re-jig the power balance around the Persian Gulf, and also eager to stifle dissent in their own country.

They may (or may not) have miscalculated, but "calculation" is what they're all about.
0 # John Escher 2016-01-07 10:53
Since when are "bonkers" and "cunning" mutually exclusive?
+5 # Radscal 2016-01-05 14:59
The salafist wahhabism spread by Saudi Arabia is barely a century old. Just like Christian and Hebrew "fundamentalism ," it is a new creation; a rejection of the results of post-industrial isation modernity.

It is fascinating why some people at some times choose to invent some perceived "originalist" version of their religion (or other cultural/social mechanisms).

The family of Saud saw this as a useful tool to conquer and then control what is now Saudi Arabia. The Anglo-American- Zionist Empire sees it as a useful tool to divide and conquer so as to control resources and create and expand the Jewish State of Israel in the Levant.

Burning fuels to create energy is an unsustainable and environmentally dangerous system which must (and will) go. But as long as the 0.01% can externalize their costs and skim off huge profits, they will extract and consume every last drop unless we 99% take control away from them.

The Zionist project will continue regardless of fossil fuels, again until we 99% force them to abide by International Law.
+59 # REDPILLED 2016-01-04 18:17
"Just days before Saudi Arabia performed a mass execution of 47 people, including four pro-democracy protesters, the US approved tens of millions in military contracts to the Saudi government. The contracts include $24 million to Raytheon for equipment relating to Patriot missiles, $12 million to Advanced Electronics for electronics updates to F-15 fighter jets, and tens of millions of dollars to Boeing for implementation of a laser guided, air-to-ground weapons system."
+59 # silverbullet 2016-01-04 18:32
Since 1976, the US has executed 1422 human beings, not by beheading but by even more tortuous and pain inflicting methods. For Texas alone (a most Christian state- just ask our Gov, Lt Gov and other God-fearing Republicans in office in Austin), since 1976 it is 531, including 13 in 2015, 10 in 2014, 16 in 2013, 15 in 2012, 13 in 2010, and 17 in 2010.
+17 # elizabethblock 2016-01-04 18:44
It makes sense that it was a deliberate provocation, maybe intended to make the US pick sides.
I don't think they're stuck in the 14th century, certainly not militarily.
+21 # vilstef 2016-01-04 19:20
Not militarily, but in about every other way that counts.
+6 # Radscal 2016-01-05 15:08
The royal families and their entourages enjoy "jet set" lives of debauchery and unfathomable indulgence. They embrace and enjoy every benefit of modernity.

And, they impose this severe religious controlling mechanism on the 99% to protect their wealth and power.

Meanwhile, the AAZ find this brutal religion useful for their own purposes.
+4 # Brice 2016-01-05 00:42
We don't like either side, we are just in this for the oil, and in the long term hope that enough of these vicious barbarians will go to war and kill each other that those left might have a chance to form a moderate government of some sort that can facilitate the move to modernism in one of the most violent and backward parts of the world.
+44 # Jack Radey 2016-01-04 19:33
As usual, an excellent article by Robert Fisk. One thing was missing though. Provocation. It is the name of the game in the Middle East these days. Turkey guns down a Russian jet. Why? Not to defend their airspace. It was to provoke Gospodin Putin, in hopes he would take retaliatory action. This was also why the Turks provided Al-Nusra with chemical weapons, in hopes of provoking a US response. The Saudis similarly provoke Iran, hoping for retaliation. In either case, they hope that, like the little sister who provokes her older sib in hopes of parental intervention on her side, the Turks and Saudis hope to provoke a response, which will force Mommy (Cameron) and Daddy (Obama) to step in and smite their oppressive bigger sib. Similarly ISIS provokes, in hopes of drawing in the Western boots onto their ground, where they will then be able to play the role of defender from the Crusader's return. Putin didn't bite, the Iranians may not (these people, unlike American political leaders, play chess, not checkers - they think more than one or two moves ahead). Watch for more of this. The Saudi kingdom is under new, more adventurous management.
+19 # Jim Young 2016-01-04 19:49
Now you are reminding me of the view that Allen Dulles gutted the effectiveness of the Bay of Pigs initial landings to form a better provocation (failed "freedom fighters") for sending in Air Support and US Troops already staged for what they were sure Kennedy would "have to" authorize.

At least that's the impression I get from David Talbot's "The Devil's Chessboard," mentioning alternative but believable versions of the actions of people I once trusted, perhaps more than I should have.
+58 # ChrisCurrie 2016-01-04 19:52
Given that Saudi Arabia has been one of the leading financers of ISIS and other Wahhabi terrorist organizations in the Middle East (including the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks), the US Government should seriously reconsider its policy of arming such a morally corrupt government.
+8 # Radscal 2016-01-05 15:12
Yes. Since those in the US government who design and execute our foreign policy are not stupid people, they must know this.

The fact that they continue to support these nations and groups implies complicity if not actual guidance.
+14 # Lennie 2016-01-04 19:59
Maybe we can figure out a way to stay out of this? Maybe? I doubt it.
+26 # Promoting Peace 2016-01-04 20:36
I doubt that the US will reconsider it's policy on arming Saudi Arabia, or any other country it can get away with selling arms to, as there is way too much money to be had in the sale of such arms. Sadly, these arms are often times later used against us - but of course, that is good for business and more millitary build up and more weapons manufacturing and sales to other countries. It's so sad that we truly put money ahead of people's health and well-being, and so often times have such blatant ulterior motives.
+5 # RNLDaWy 2016-01-04 21:20
Holy Shi iii TTT ...Let's not forget the role the USA played in fairly recent history arming Saddam Hussein in an 8 year war backed by USA Weaponry and funding against the Iranians ... under Ronny Ray-Gun ... here we arm a more civilized dictatorship than we did in Iraq .. 1980's .. grabbing for straws looking fof answers .. it's complex .. why the Arab Spring was a good thing . fall of Kadafy etc .. this will last 100 years more .. and the issue is keeping it from going Nuclear .. which is a legit concern ..
+8 # Stilldreamin1 2016-01-04 21:22
Rather than attaching altruistic intentions to the US, why not assume that what we get is what we intended. People still bestow positive motives on Obama rather than accepting that the result he got was in fact the one he wanted.
-4 # RNLDaWy 2016-01-04 22:02
AFTER the Arab Spring reaction .. the people under that vicious dictatorship WANTED a democracy and change .. all Obama did was then help expedite it. In this case we did not invade nor force our model on another's as Did Bush Et Al in Iraq. In one of the last Dem Debate Cherades Hillary was asked if she felt responsible for the way Libya turned out .. that's like asking a child why he let's his parents be such assholes! We did nothing wrong except let down our guard on the folks in Bengazi that was an internal and very bad communication breakdown i believe .. that's my take .. like it or not ..
-1 # RNLDaWy 2016-01-04 22:28
And to not participate means we leave ourselves out of having a say about any outcomes in Middle East. Author points out .. how authoritarian the leadership of SA is. This is true in all dictatorships today and past .. they use the ultimate card .. they kill you for your dissent. People ruled by these regimes want change. It's not the oil money. It's how they use it for royal gain and forced bad ideology. I retract in retrospect that it will take 100 years .. but until the leadership still chooses to rule with the iron fist they will never be respected by their people or the world. So we can't just walk away and ignore it all naively expecting anything good to happen on it's own ..
+2 # elkingo 2016-01-05 00:44
Cagey politics aside, what about the sheer moral repugnance of these guys? Regime change anyone?
+6 # Shades of gray matter 2016-01-05 00:44
This is not rocket surgery: We cannot pull out of the Middle East, Afpakistan, etc., and wait for those we leave behind to develop WMDs to deliver here in suitcases. We are STUCK. But we should not let Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey sucker US into more trouble than we've already gotten ourselves in.
+2 # ericlipps 2016-01-05 05:56
Quoting Shades of gray matter:
This is not rocket surgery: We cannot pull out of the Middle East, Afpakistan, etc., and wait for those we leave behind to develop WMDs to deliver here in suitcases. We are STUCK. But we should not let Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey sucker US into more trouble than we've already gotten ourselves in.

Rocket surgery?
+6 # Doll 2016-01-05 07:27
I think he meant to say brain science.
+6 # pietheyn07 2016-01-05 09:32
Interesting that the MSM has referred to the beheadings as "executions". Another distortion by the propagandizing media.

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