Saudi-Iran tension: Here are the facts you need to know about it

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New Delhi, Jan 5: The execution of Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr has escalated tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia who have already in strained relation. Nimr was among 47 people executed by Saudi authority on Jan 2.

Al-Nimr was a central figure in Shiite protests that erupted in 2011 as part of the Arab Spring. Carrying out his execution sparked new unrest among the OPEC powerhouse's Shiite minority.

Saudi-Iran tension timeline

After his execution, Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties with Iran after later protested against cleric's execution. Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran.

But the dispute between the two Middle Eastern nations has deep religious, historic and political roots.

Who was Nimr?

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was an outspoken critic of the Saudi government, had been calling for more rights for the kingdom's marginalized Shiite community.

He came to national prominence in February 2009, when Shia pilgrims at al-Baqi cemetery in Median clashed with religious police and security forces.

He was given death sentence by Saudi Arabia's specialised criminal court in October 2014 for taking up arms against the security forces, seeking foreign meddling in Saudi and ‘disobeying' its rulers.

His brother, Mohammad al-Nimr, was arrested for sharing death sentence news on social networking site Twitter.
Born in Saudi Arabia, he studied in Iran and Syria. He had been sharing brittle relationship with Saudi authorities since his return to Saudi Arabia in 1994.

Ups and downs in ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia

  • Both the countries have been sharing tense relationship since the beginning of the Islamic Revolution in 1979 that overthrew Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
  • Ties severed between Iran and Saudi Arabia in 1987 when hundreds of Iranian pilgrims were killed in clashes during the Haj.
  • Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran citing the 1987 haj riots and attacks carried out by Iran on shipping in the Persian Gulf. Diplomatic ties restored in 1991.
  • Both the countries saw thaw in their relation under the regime Iranian President Mohammad Khatami. A political moderate took office in 1997.
  • Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah reached Tehran on a historic visit in 1997 which was reciprocated by Khatami in 1999.
  • Saudi worries about Iran resumed amid international sanctions against Tehran over its contested nuclear program and the increasingly harsh rhetoric of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
  • Iran and Saudi Arabia each backed opposite sides in Syria's civil war and the conflict in Yemen. 
  • Saudi Arabia also grew increasingly suspicious of Iran over the nuclear deal reached with world powers.
  • The toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003 empowered the Shia majority of Iraq which resulted into shift in political alignment towards Iran.
  • During the Arab Spring in 2011, Saudi Arabia helped Bahrain to quash pro-democracy protests fearing Shia opposition would align with Iran.
  • Saudi Arabia also extended its support to rebels fighting to topple Iran's all Syrian President Bashar-al-Assad in 2012.
  • In March 2015, Saudi Arabia started campaign in Yemen to stop Houthi.
  • 2015 haj stampede: Iran alleged that due to Saudi Arabia's incompetence more than 400 of its pilgrims killed on September 24.
  • Cleric execution: It has become latest reason to spark the ongoing tension between the two nations.
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