The fallout of Saudi Arabia’s execution of a Shiite cleric is threatening to spread beyond a spat between Saudi Arabia and Iran, as Middle East nations choose sides and world powers Russia and China weigh in.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has called for for “calm and restraint” in reaction to the execution by Saudi Arabia of 47 people, including the cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr.
Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran have deeply deteriorated since the execution on Sunday with protesters in Shiite-majority Iran attacking the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. The Saudis cut diplomatic relations with Iran over the attack on its embassy.
Saudi Arabia has suspended all flights to Iran.
The United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, has announced it is “downgrading” its diplomatic relations with Iran.
The UAE “has taken this exceptional step in light of Iran’s ongoing interference in internal (Gulf Cooperation Council) and Arab affairs that has recently reached unprecedented levels,” a government statement said.
The row has also spread to Africa with Sudan, a majority Sunni Muslim country, expelling the Iranian ambassador and the entire Iranian diplomatic mission and recalling its ambassador from Iran.
Ban Ki-Moon said he was “deeply dismayed over the recent execution”. He also urged all regional leaders to work to avoid the exacerbation of sectarian tensions and deplored the violence by demonstrators against the Saudi Embassy in Tehran.