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Iran Protest in Teheran gegen Hinrichtung in Saudi-Arabien
Image: Getty Images/AFP/A. Kenare

Saudi-Iran: Gulf states turn backs on Tehran

January 4, 2016

The UAE, Bahrain and Sudan have joined Riyadh in cutting ties with Iran over the ransacking of the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Violence flared after the execution in Saudi Arabia of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.


Saudi Arabia's Gulf Arab neighbors sided with Riyadh on Monday in a worsening row with Iran over the seizure by protesters of the Saudi embassy in Tehran, in retaliation for the execution of the senior Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

Bahrain ordered Iranian diplomats to leave its territory within 48 hours, as it condemned Sunday morning's attack and accused Tehran of "blatant and dangerous interference" in the internal affairs of Arab countries, and of supporting terrorism.

Bahrain, whose Sunni ruling family is closely allied to Saudi Arabia, has seen two days of protests by members of its Shiite majority since al-Nimr's execution.

Three side with Saudi Arabia

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) also followed Riyadh's example, downgrading its diplomatic relations with Tehran and calling its ambassador home. Abu Dhabi said it would reduce the number of diplomats operating in Iran.

"This exceptional step has been taken in the light of Iran's continuous interference in the internal affairs of Gulf and Arab states, which has reached unprecedented levels,'' said a statement from the Foreign Ministry.

Mourning for Nimr al-Nimr
Several Saudi religious leaders joined a ceremony of mourning for al-NimrImage: picture alliance/AP Photo

Sudan later became the fourth Arab League nation to sever diplomatic ties with Iran, denouncing the "brutal" attack on the Saudi embassy as being "in clear violation of international law."

Khartoum said its decision would take effect immediately.

Calls for dialogue

As tensions worsened in the Middle East, Germany, France and China appealed for calm, and Russia offered to act as mediator in the escalating conflict.

The Kremlin called for the two countries to "show restraint and avoid any steps that would complicate the situation."

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Siebert, said that Germany's government had noted Saudi Arabia's decision to cut ties with Tehran "with the greatest regret."

"Ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran are of fundamental importance to the solution of the crises in Syria and Yemen, and for the stability of the entire region; therefore, it's our firm conviction that the door to diplomacy must remain open," Seibert said.

Execution caused outrage

Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was executed in Saudi Arabia on Saturday. Along with three other Shiites and 43 purported members of al-Qaeda, he was condemned to death for terrorism.

Al-Nimr had been a key figure during anti-government protests that erupted in Saudi Arabia during 2012 as part of the Arab Spring that swept through several Middle Eastern countries.

His killing was met with outrage among Shiite communities in dozens of countries including Iraq, Pakistan, the UK and Turkey.

Saudi embassy in Tehran
Demonstrators set the Saudi embassy in Tehran on fire early on SundayImage: Mehr

Protests turn violent

In Iran, a crowd of protesters broke into the Saudi embassy in Tehran in the early hours of Sunday, tearing up flags and documents, damaging furniture and setting the building on fire. The Saudi consulate in Mashhad was also targeted.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani immediately condemned the violence as "totally unjustifiable."

But on Monday, Tehran responded to Riyadh's diplomatic pullback, accusing Saudi Arabia's leaders of overreacting to the protests by pursuing a strategy of crisis and confrontation.

Iran's deputy foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, accused Riyadh of creating a distraction from its own domestic problems. He said the decision to sever ties would not cover up their "strategic mistake" in executing al-Nimr.

One prominent Iranian member of parliament threatened that Tehran may stop sending pilgrims to the annual hajj in Mecca, owing to the worsening relations between the two countries.

Further violence

In al-Nimr's hometown of Awamiya, in Saudi's oil-producing Eastern Province, police said they came under "heavy fire" from several masked men late on Sunday night. One civilian was killed and an 8-year-old child was wounded during the shootout.

Mosque in Hilla, Iraq
Two Sunni mosques were bombed in central Iraq on Monday as violence escalated following the cleric's killingImage: Getty Images/AFP/H. Hamdani

In Iraq, two Sunni mosques were bombed on Monday in apparent retaliation for al-Nimr's execution. Local media reported that groups of men wearing military uniforms bombed two mosques, and a muezzin - who leads prayers at a mosque - was shot dead near his home in Iskandariyah.

Further violence was expected on Monday, after Saudi officials informed al-Nimr's family that the cleric had been buried in an undisclosed cemetery.

Also read the commentary by DW's Kersten Knipp: Tehran and Riyadh are two murderous theocracies.

mm/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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