More than seven years before he was beheaded by the Saudi Arabian government, outspoken Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr tried to persuade American diplomats in Riyadh that he wasn’t the pro-Iranian militant portrayed by Saudi officials seeking to discredit his push for greater rights for the kingdom’s embattled Shiite minority.
According to the cable, Nimr, whose execution Saturday has sparked a growing diplomatic crisis between Tehran and Riyadh, “eagerly attempted to divorce himself from the image of being an Iranian agent.” The cable’s author added that Nimr was also “much more complimentary of the U.S” than he had been in past sermons.
Highlights of the conversation were summed up by a U.S. diplomat in a 2008 embassy cable and later made public by Wikileaks. Foreign Policy has condensed it for space and clarity. Read the cable in its entirety here.
On supporting insurrection:
“When asked…whether his tough talk promoted violence or simply warned of it as a possible repercussion of continued discontent in the Shi’a community, al-Nimr responded that if a conflict were to occur he would ‘side with the people, never with the government.’ He continued by saying that though he will always choose the side of the people, this does not necessarily mean that he will always support all of the people’s actions, for example, violence.”
On the United States:
“Al-Nimr stated that in his view, when compared with the actions of nations such as Britain, the European colonial powers, or the Soviet Union, the ‘imperialism’ of the United States has been considerably more benign, with better treatment of people and more successful independent states.
Al-Nimr also stated that Shi’a Muslims, even more than Sunnis, are natural allies for America as Shi’a thought, as reflected by the Imam Ali, is based on justice and liberty, ideas central to the United States.
In addition to giving his comparison Shi’a and American ideals, al-Nimr showed significant historical knowledge of U.S. foreign policy – for example, speaking positively of the spirit of Middle Eastern initiatives during the Carter administration – and was well-informed regarding the state of the U.S. Presidential campaign.”
“Al-Nimr stated that his fundamental view of foreign powers — including Iran — is that they act out of self-interest, not out of piety or religious commonality. Al-Nimr said he was against the idea that Saudi Shi’a should expect Iranian support based on some idea of sectarian unity that supersedes national politics.
Al-Nimr stated that the Shi’a community had the right to search for foreign assistance in the case of conflict against other Saudis. Al-Nimr did not invoke Iran in detailing where this foreign assistance might come from.”
On the Saudi government:
“Al-Nimr also unflinchingly continued to denounce the Saudi government and its actions. One of the al-Nimr’s overriding messages in this meeting was his view of governments as reactionary institutions.
He did, however, mention that there is a small amount of hope that younger generations, as they continue to study abroad in larger numbers and are exposed to more tolerant societies, will bring more tolerant attitudes back to the Kingdom.”
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