The GPM Global Forecast is a new bi-weekly, members-only article series for 2016. It will provide analysis and short-term forecasting on key military, political, and economic events around the globe.
Saudi Arabia Executes Prominent Shiite Cleric
The government of Saudi Arabia authorized a mass execution of 47 prisoners over the weekend. Among those executed was prominent cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a popular political figure among the country’s approx. two-million-strong Shiite minority. Al-Nimr was arrested back in 2012 amid protests in eastern Saudi Arabia that roughly coincided with ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings elsewhere. He was charged with ‘foreign meddling’ among other things, likely in reference to a diplomatic cable published by Wikileaks that describes a meeting between al-Nimr and the US authorities back in 2008. During the meeting, al-Nimr attempted to distance himself from media portrayals of him being a radical. Though al-Nimr was a fierce opponent of the ruling Sunni monarchy in Saudi Arabia, he did not encourage his followers to resort to violence. In one 2011 interview with the BBC, he praised “the roar of the word against authorities rather than weapons.”
There are two important takeaways from al-Nimr’s execution. First, this is a highly incendiary move coming at a time of heightened sectarian tensions across the region. In itself it won’t bring immediate mass political upheaval or war; but it could trigger a wider chain of events that leads there, much like a local farmers’ protest in Dara’a tipped the dominos that ended with the Syrian civil war or Mohamed Bouazizi’s immolation brought democracy to Tunisia.