Nimr al-Nimr was known for participating in anti-government demonstrations and for his criticism of the Sunni rulers in Saudi Arabia. He had been incarcerated since 2012 and was sentenced to death back in 2014.
Iran responded immediately, denouncing the executions for inflaming regional tensions. Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari said that the Saudi government will “pay a heavy price” for pursuing a policy of execution and suppression of its domestic critics and that “It is clear that the outcome of this unproductive and irresponsible policy will affect those behind it”.
Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign-policy chief, contacted the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and asked from Tehran to “defuse the tensions and protect the Saudi diplomats.”
As a result of the embassy attack, Saudi Arabia decided to cut diplomatic ties with Iran late on Jan. 3, and requested its diplomats leave Iran within 48 hours. In the meanwhile, the Saudis decided to stop any direct flights to Iran.
Other Sunni countries and allies to Saudi Arabia decided to downgrade ties with Iran; namely Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates, while the Kremlin offered to act as an intermediary between Riyadh and Tehran.
Turkey remained silent up until yesterday when following a cabinet meeting, the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş told reporters that “Saudi Arabia and Iran are two major countries of the Muslim world, and we have ties with both of them… both countries should leave these tensions behind as soon as possible… we are against all kinds of political death sentences… we need peace in the region. As a country that is friends with both countries, we say that they should act in moderation. Enmity between Saudi Arabia and Iran will harm both countries, will harm the region. The people of Iran and Saudi Arabia are our brothers, friends.”
Turkey finds itself in a difficult position once again in this crisis since is part of the 34-nation Saudi led coalition against terrorism and just a few days ago, the two countries agreed to set up a strategic cooperation council. However Turkey also needs good relations with gas rich Iran which could play an important role in the Turkey’s effort to diversify from Russia.