Mohamed al-Nimr: It’s About Qatif Not Iran
By: Shahira Saloum
Published Thursday, July 12, 2012
When the issue of Qatif in Saudi Arabia is brought to the table, it immediately brings with it the conflict between the Arab Gulf states and Iran. Some claim that the region is a card in the Islamic Republic’s hand, as it manipulates its “tools” to destabilize the kingdom.
But a closer look at the region and its people quashes all these allegations. In Qatif, marginalized Saudi citizens are yearning for equality and justice. Their demands are part of the calls for reforms throughout the country. It is not true that they are secessionist. This is what Saudi dissident Mohamed al-Nimr told Al-Akhbar. He called on moderates to halt the deterioration of the situation following the arrest of his brother [Shia sheikh] Nimr al-Nimr and on the Saudi authorities to safeguard itself through reforms, rather than blaming Iran for all its troubles.
Saudi dissident Mohamed al-Nimr, brother of prominent religious figure Nimr Baqer al-Nimr who was arrested by Saudi authorities in Qatif a few days ago, told Al-Akhbar it was unlikely that the situation will blow up following the arrest of his brother.
“The grounds are not prepared for such an eruption,” he said, indicating that the side responsible for the latest incitement was the extremist Wahhabi current.
He mentioned that the sheikh’s health is not reassuring and that “he should be transferred to the Security Forces Hospital in Riyadh, where they have detention wings. But we have not been able to contact him or receive information on his situation.”
He spoke about the incitement surrounding the arrest in Qatif. Nimr claimed that the extremist wing was the side that sparked the news about his brother a few days before the arrest took place.
Nimr explained that there are tens of thousands of Salafi detainees in prisons. They were saying, “How could you allow this rafidhi [“rejectionist”/Shia] to remain free and throw us into prison.” Sheikh Nimr had been under surveillance by the authorities for two years and was being closely monitored.
He believes that the security escalation in the eastern region a few days ago was due to the reckless behavior of the authorities. The arrest was meant to lead to clash. “We had hoped the authorities would act wisely and calmly.”
Nonetheless, Sheikh Nimr had raised the level of his discourse recently. But his brother said that his words were within the framework of freedom of opinion and he never called for any action against the authorities.
As for the accusations against his brother, saying he called for separation from Saudi Arabia and joining Bahrain, Nimr maintains that Sheikh Nimr never called for secession. His words were misrepresented and the rumors were false.
“We are demanding our rights. If you do not want to give them to us, let us secede,” the sheikh had said. His brother held that the issue was conditional. It was not based on a practical program or actual intent. Rather, it was in the framework of a reaction to the events in Medina [the clash between the police and Shia pilgrims during the Hajj], which created tensions in Qatif.
Concerning the recent reports about sleeper cells that Iran intends to activate, Nimr maintains that Arab countries always use Iran as a scapegoat so they can avoid responsibility for their own problems.
“There are real problems inside Saudi Arabia, questions of rights, rampant corruption, and calls for reform. These issues should be solved first,” he said.
Nimr added that “Iran aspires to be a regional power. Therefore Saudi Arabia should safeguard its interior through reforms, and not to pin its troubles on the outside.”
At the same time, he admits that there is sympathy with Iran in the eastern region. It is not a secret that it is confessional. Also, Iran’s achievements as a resistance front attracts people. Saudi Arabia should immunize itself against outside interference through reforms.
Tensions escalated in Qatif and Ihsaa following the arrest of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. Thousands of people protested, calling for the overthrow of the regime and the release of the sheikh. Two people were killed and dozens were injured.
Nimr said it is unlikely that the situation will continue to deteriorate. He said “moderate positions in the Saudi Interior Ministry should address the case politically, not as a security issue.”
As for the proliferation of weapons in the region that could lead to an eruption, Nimr held that weapons are available throughout the kingdom. But the grounds are not set for an [armed] escalation, because most Shia intellectuals reject armed action and insist on peaceful struggle. Extremists are a minority and their armed action is merely rhetorical, he said.
He mentions several other reasons for the unlikelihood of an escalation. “Things cannot erupt militarily, since the balance of power is very unfavorable, in the first place. Also, the culture of violent action is nonexistent,” Nimr said.
But at the same time, he agrees that the levels of popular unrest and sectarian tensions are very high, in addition to the events in Bahrain.
Family ties exist between the two sides and every family in Bahrain has relatives in the eastern region of Saudi. The events in Bahrain have an inevitable impact. This was evident recently, when protesters [in Bahrain] named an action after Sheikh Nimr.
Nimr did not separate the Qatif question from the kingdom’s other issues. He saw that the conditions for an escalation are not unique to the eastern region.
All the districts are facing economic, social, or political issues that could lead to an eruption. This is in addition to the problems of the princes who feel marginalized due to the inflation of the royal family.
“Princess Sara Bint Talal’s requesting asylum in Britain and the scandals exposed by ‘Mujtahid’ (@mujtahidd), a member of the royal family, on Twitter indicate the resentment and confusion within,” he claimed.
Elaborating on the issue, Nimr said that “the appointment of Prince Salman as crown prince irked many of his brothers.”
The Saudi dissident reaffirms the demands of the people of Qatif, saying they are among the Saudi citizens who are active within the reform current. Although their demands are related to a sect, they fall within the calls for reforms nationally.
Ending sectarian discrimination falls within the framework of reforms and equality. “Not a single Shia was ever appointed, even for one hour, in the government, since the establishment of the kingdom. In addition, Shia are forbidden from senior positions. As for the distribution of wealth, this is a problem on the national level.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.