But the reaction to the execution of Al Nimr also points to something of far greater import. What has become starkly apparent in the past few days is how rapidly lines of allegiance are shifting across the region. In a way, who is criticising Saudi Arabia is more consequential than what they are saying.
The three strongest reactions came from Iraq’s former prime minister Nouri Al Maliki (who declared Al Nimr’s death would “topple the Saudi regime”), Hizbollah (an “assassination”) and Iran’s Supreme Leader (who warned Saudi’s rulers would face “the divine hand of revenge”).
On the one hand, this should be puzzling. Why is the former prime minister of one country criticising the internal court decisions of another? Why is a militant group that styles itself as the defender of one country concerned about a citizen of another?
What they have in common is that they all represent Shia religious communities – that is, they all see themselves, in part, not merely as defenders of a national or political community, but as defenders of a religious one.
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