Iran promised consequences after Saudi Arabia publicly beheaded illustrious Shiite Cleric and political activist, Nimr al-Nimr, along with 47 other people charged with terrorism. Tension between the Sunnis and Shiites has continued to escalate in the region.
“Saudi Arabia practices capital punishment by beheading the offender in a public setting,” said Dr. John Swails, director of the Center for Israel and Middle East Studies. “They will behead infidels because they believe if you’re beheaded then you cannot make it into heaven, which is why they behead Christians as well.”
The Sunnis and Shiites have been fighting over who is the legitimate civil leader since the first century. Shiites make up 12 to 15 percent of the Muslim religion and believe only Allah and his male descendants can be the ruler. Sunnis believe anyone can become the ruler of the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia carried out the death sentences despite pleas for mercy from countries around the Middle East and promised consequences from Iran.
Sheik Nimr Baqr al-Nimr, 56, was a cleric and rival to Saudi Arabia. Most of the 47 others accused were allegedly involved in al-Qaeda terrorist attacks in The Kingdom and were beheaded or shot in a firing squad.
The Iranians erupted in anger when Saudi officials announced the executions. Al-Nimr’s death has threatened to upset the already shaky peace efforts made in the Yemen and Syrian wars.
“The Saudi Arabia government will pay a heavy price for adopting such policies,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari in a statement. He called the executions, “the depth of imprudence and irresponsibility,” on the part of the Saudi government.
Iran rioted, attacking the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. Saudi Arabia then publicly cut off diplomatic relationships and forced the Iranian diplomat to leave the country within two days.
The import of Saudi Arabia goods and pilgrimages to Mecca, a holy site in the Muslim religion, was prohibited by the Iranian government on Jan. 7.
According to the United Nations News Center, United Nations Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon has phoned the Saudi and Iranian foreign ministers urging both countries to avoid actions further exacerbate tensions.
Ki-moon also reiterated the attack on the Saudi Embassy in Tehran was deplorable. He also added the announcement of a break in Saudi diplomatic relations with Iran was deeply worrying and urged Saudi Arabia to renew its commitment to a ceasefire in Yemen.
It is unclear how the Saudi and Iranian dispute will play out, but Dr. Paul Vickery, professor of history, said the United States must pay attention to the conflict.
“They are committed fanatics with an agenda that is not favorable to the West. We ignore them to our peril. They have a focus to destroy the West if we do not confront them militarily,” Vickery said. “They are a threat to our way of life and Christianity as a faith and worldview.”