Jul 10 2012
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WSJ(7/10) Cleric's Arrest Signals Saudi Hard Line
Tuesday, Jul 10, 2012
(From THE WALL STREET JOURNAL)
By Ellen Knickmeyer
RIYADH -- Two protesters were killed amid demonstrations in Saudi Arabia over the shooting and capture by security forces of a Shiite cleric who had called for "rejoicing" over the recent death of the crown prince, activists said Monday.
The arrest of the Saudi cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, disappointed some activists and diplomats who had hoped that the Sunni monarchy might ease up on crackdowns under a new interior minister who had succeeded one considered to be a hard-liner on dissent.
Sheik al-Nimr, known for his fiery speeches against the kingdom's rulers, played into government worries of opposition figures seeking to incite unrest among Saudi Shiites to destabilize the state and widen the influence of neighboring Iran.
Saudi Shiites, who mostly hail from the oil-rich Eastern province, have long alleged discrimination in majority Sunni Saudi Arabia. Last year, six Shiite protesters died in confrontations with security forces during several antigovernment protests.
Shortly after Crown Prince Nayef's death, Sheik al-Nimr appeared in a sermon posted on YouTube calling for "rejoicing" over the prince's passing.
The video caused a stir among Saudis in a kingdom whose royal family, which has religious stature and functions as the guardian of Islam's two holiest shrines, is rarely criticized openly.
Photos posted online after Sunday's capture of Sheik al-Nimr in the eastern city of Qatif showed the gray-bearded cleric lying on a car seat, blood splotching his white robe, as a uniformed officer raised the cleric's head for the camera.
The Interior Ministry, in a statement, accused the Shiite cleric of sedition but didn't specify any further. Sheik al-Nimr has been arrested several times before.
The kingdom "will not tolerate troublemakers who. . .abuse the community and their nation," the Interior Ministry said in a statement after the arrest.
The ministry said Sheik al-Nimr was in a car that tried to escape capture by security forces, leading to a crash and a gunfire exchange. There was no word on his condition Monday.
After the arrest, some marchers could be seen Sunday in videos chanting, "Death to al Saud," referring to the ruling family.
Activists said security forces cracked down on Sunday's protests, which appeared to involve several hundred people, and were responsible for the two deaths Sunday. The Interior Ministry acknowledged two deaths, but denied responsibility, saying, "there was no security confrontation whatsoever."
Elsewhere in the kingdom, others took to Twitter and Facebook to congratulate security forces for the capture of what some tweeters called "the dog of Iran." Others took to social media to condemn the government's actions in the incident.
Twitter traffic concerning the cleric's arrest rose 10 times the height of an earlier high point, in February, when a young Saudi tweeter was arrested for alleged online blasphemy, a Middle East Twitter monitoring site, mtwtron, reported Monday.
Signaling continuity of another tenet of the late Crown Prince Nayef, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Ahmed was meeting in Jeddah with the interior minister of Bahrain as Sunday's evening's events unfolded in Qatif.
Both governments share concern over possible political encroachment within their native Shiite populations by neighboring Shiite Iran. Bahrain's security will remain Saudi Arabia's responsibility, state media quoted the new Saudi interior minister as saying.
Despite some Western expectations that a change at the Interior Ministry's top might bring a softer approach, "change rarely comes quickly" in Saudi Arabia, Jane Kinninmont, a senior research fellow at London-based Chatham House think tank, noted Monday. "If anything, the direct targeting of Sheik Nimr represents an escalation."
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
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