History shows House of Saud at tipping point

January 6, 2016 5:01 am

 Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud. Photo / AP

The dates June 5 and 6, 1963, were significant in the history of the
Iranian revolution. Masses of angry demonstrators from around the
country took to the streets to protest against the arrest of a popular
Shia cleric, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, an outspoken critic of the
then king of Iran known as the Shah.
Although the protests were
brought under control quickly, the Shah was left with no doubt as to the
threat of the Shia opposition to his rule. The Shah also knew about the
history of resistance among Shia clerics in Iran. A Shia-led tobacco
revolt of 1891, against a tobacco concession granted by Nasir al-Din
Shah to Great Britain, proved the effectiveness of the clerics in
safeguarding public interests and curbing the excesses of the ruling
As protests and strikes against the Shah continued in
Tehran and elsewhere after 1963, hardliners within the regime advised
the Shah to order the execution of Ayatollah Khomeini in order to bring
the unrest to an end.

Others argued that such a move would only exacerbate the anger of the devout Shia Muslims and would turn Khomeini into a martyr.
was a senior diplomat, Hassan Pakravan, who eventually convinced the
Shah to spare Khomeini’s life. Pakravan, who met regularly with the
Ayatollah when the Ayatollah was under house arrest, understood that the
killing of an important Shia cleric would be regarded as an attack on
Islam itself and, as such, would render the Shah ungodly and the enemy
of the common people.
So, Khomeini escaped execution and having
spent more than 15 years in exile, returned to Iran as a triumphant
leader of the Iranian revolution on February 1, 1979, the same year Time
magazine named him “man of the year”.
After coming to power,
Khomeini ordered the execution of Pakravan, the very man who had saved
his life. The Ayatollah then went on to systematically and murderously
eliminate nearly all the other political factions that had contributed
to the success of the revolution under his leadership. The rest, as they
say, is history. The secular dreams and aspirations of the people of
Iran were turned to a theocratic nightmare that continues to this day.
Iranians and other international observers have long pondered whether
the killing of Khomeini would have stopped the path of revolution and
spared Iran from falling into the trap of an oppressive Islamic
republic. Many believe the decision to execute Khomeini would have only
hastened the arrival of the revolution which, given the level of
political oppression and corruption in Iran under the Shah, seemed
Could the same be said about the ruling royal family
of ? Could the execution of a prominent Shia cleric, Sheikh
Nimr al-Nimr, be the beginning of the end for the crumbling House of
One thing that has changed dramatically since the early
years of Ayatollah Khomeini’s political activism is the damage Isis
(Islamic State) and the Islamic Republic of Iran have done to the
credibility of Muslim clerics. It is now possible to regard ayatollahs
and those claiming to be Muslim leaders as evil in a way that was
unimaginable before the Iranian revolution.
Following the
execution of the Shia cleric in Saudi Arabia, the supreme leader of
Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, tweeted “awakening is not suppressible” – a
clear reference to the vulnerability of the Saudi regime despite their
attempt to suppress dissent through mass executions.
Khamenei’s tweet, I cannot help but wonder if the Ayatollah is being
disingenuous in his claim. After all, Iran repeatedly suppresses the
awakening of its own people through summary executions, mass arrests,
intimidation and torture. But, for once, I hope the supreme leader of
Iran is right.
I just wish that democratic governments, including
our own, would stop pretending that grovelling to countries like Saudi
Arabia would help improve their human rights.
With 158 beheadings
in the past 12 months, it is hard to tell whether it is Saudi Arabia
that has gone mad, or the United Nations who elected Saudi Arabia to
chair its Human Rights Council panel.

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