Skip to main content

Shenaz Kermalli is a Canadian freelance journalist with an interest in faith and politics. She has previously worked for Al Jazeera English, BBC News and CBC Television.

It's something the Canadian Foreign Minister still fails to grasp.

On Wednesday, the same day that John Baird was greeted warmly by his Saudi Arabian counterpart to discuss coordinated efforts to combat Islamic State militants (also known as ISIS or ISIL), a Saudi court judge decided to pass a death sentence against a leading opposition figure on charges of sedition and "breaking allegiance to the king."

"We consider the Kingdom and Kuwait important allies in combating violent extremism and terrorism," Mr. Baird said before leaving for his trip to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait on Tuesday.

Does Canada really see an ally in a country that has carried out twice as many beheadings over one month than the militia it now claims it wants to destroy? According to Amnesty International, 59 people have been decapitated in Saudi Arabia since January this year, and eight in the past month alone. That's twice the number of Western hostages who have been featured in IS's execution videos (though there have also been non-Western hostages beheaded by IS). Saudi Arabia's track record actually makes IS look scant in comparison.

For more than a decade, Nimr Baqer Al-Nimr has been considered a revolutionary hero in the Shia Muslim world for peacefully calling for an end to corruption and discrimination against religious minorities. But in a country where political opposition and insulting the monarchy is tantamount to suicide, the reformist cleric clearly crossed all red lines.

During his sermons in 2011, Mr. Al-Nimr exposed the government's ill-treatment of political prisoners, calling out Saudi princes and princesses by name to stop "killing our sons."

In another sermon following Arab Spring-inspired protests the following year, he questioned the very legitimacy of the Gulf monarchies on the basis that they were inconsistent with Islamic law.

"The House of Saud and Khalifa (in Bahrain) are mere collaborators with and pawns of the British and their cohorts. It is our right, and the right of the Bahraini people, and all people everywhere, to choose our leaders and demand that rule by succession be done away with as it contradicts our religion."

What Mr. Baird needs to grasp immediately is the horrific impact executing Mr. Al-Nimr would have in fuelling sectarian violence in the region. Carrying out the sentence also gives zero credence to Saudi Arabia's purported claim of opposing the militant group. Saudi Arabia already shares their extremist ideological roots in Salafism with IS and their love of decapitating people who don't agree with them - won't the execution of a prominent Shia cleric only encourage them to continue their persecution of religious minorities?

There's only one message Mr. Baird needs to deliver to Prince Saud Al-Faisal: Pressure Saudi Arabia to release Mr. Al-Nimr and disavow the violent and regressive ideology that lies at the heart of its state.

Interact with The Globe