Saturday, January 2, 2016

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Israel bans novel on Arab-Jewish love story

Israel's Ministry of Education has banned a novel that portrays a romantic relationship between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man on the grounds that it "threatens Jewish identity" and encouraged "miscegenation."
The book was supposed to be taught in advanced literature classes in secondary schools across the country, following a recommendation by a professional committee of academics and educators.
The committee's role is to advise the ministry on various educational issues, including the approval of the curriculum, and its decisions are usually taken after consulting with a considerable number of veteran teachers, professors and other educationalists.
It is the first time in the country's history that the ministry disqualifies a book despite the decision of the official responsible for literature instruction in secular state schools.
Left-wing politicians, as well as worried citizens, artists and activists, expressed their outrage over the decision, calling for the minister of education, Naftali Bennett, to reverse it. However, Bennett's office has replied in an official statement that "the minister backs the decision made by the professionals."
"Bennett's commissars are boycotting an excellent book recommended by a professional committee," Zehava Galon, the leader of the dovish party Meretz, wrote in a Facebook post.
"They do it because [the book] talks about a love story between a Jewish and an Arab and is encouraging assimilation. The ministry wants to purify Israel's education system away from values like pluralism, freedom and equality."
Galon called Israeli citizens to join her in a demonstration in front of the ministry, which in her words "aims to raise obedient subjects rather than thinking citizens," adding that "we have no greater war to fight than this."
Israel Dorit Rabinyan
Israeli author Dorit Rabinyan holds her novel 'Borderlife'
The book, "Borderlife," by the Israeli author Dorit Rabinyan, tells the story of Liat, an Israeli translator, and Hilmi, a Palestinian artist, who meet in New York and fall in love. Eventually, they go their separate ways, as she has to return to Tel Aviv and he to the West Bank city of Ramallah.
"Intimate relations between Jews and non-Jews threaten the separate identity of each sector," the Education Ministry said in a statement, adding that "young adolescents don't have the systemic view that includes considerations involving maintaining the national, ethnic identity of the people and the significance of miscegenation."
Preventing fruitful debate
However, many cultural figures in Israel, and even high school pupils themselves, tend to disagree.
"I know I may not represent the opinion of all the students, but I personally think it's pretty stupid to ban the book," Noa, a 17-year-old student from Haifa, told DW. "What happens now is that it created such a stir that our teacher is forced to talk about the book with us, because we keep asking her about it," she adds.
Even public libraries expressed antagonism over the move, with some of them now offering the public the opportunity to borrow the book for free. The "Beit Ariela" library in Tel Aviv posted on its Facebook page "a call for the reader Naftali Bennett: Residents of Tel Aviv are welcome to borrow, at no cost, Dorit Rabinyan's book 'Gader Haya'" (literally 'hedgerow' - the Hebrew name of the book).
The library continued, writing that the book "awaits you at Beit Ariela as well as other libraries across the city."

The Dorit Rabinyan book at the center of this Israeli controversy: no English translation yet, right?

The ministry's letter included some arguments in favor of adding the book to the curriculum - such as the fact that it brings a controversial topic into a legitimate public debate, that it portrays Palestinians as potential friends rather than enemies and that it deals with a contemporary issue that might serve as an incentive for fruitful debate.
Still, Dalia Fenig, the acting chair of the Education Ministry's pedagogic secretariat, concluded that "even the critical discussion of the work that will be done in class (if at all) will not overpower a very strong message in the work that the right, and best, thing is the realization of the love of Hilmi and Liat." She therefore decided not to include the book.
Fenig added that "in the reality of the conflict, such a work can cause controversy and might even lead to the opposite result of what the work seeks to achieve, and in that fan the flames and increase the hate."
Feminist activists have also taken to social media in protest, claiming that this is yet another way in which the government tries to dictate to women what is morally expected from them.
Noga Cohen, a feminist journalist and blogger, has posted on her page that "the resistance of the right-wing regime to the possibility that a relationship such as described in the book could even exist, is only covered by claims of 'assimilation' and 'Jewish identity.' In fact, these claims are made to draw the boundaries of the nation through women's bodies."
Cohen claims that according to this view, Jewish women's bodies must be dedicated to the breeding of the Jewish population alone, and only Jewish men are entitled to sexually benefit from Jewish women.
She describes the decision as a way to fight other nations by declaring women as the exclusive property of Jewish men. "An option in which an Israeli woman is choosing to be with a non-Jewish man simply does not exist for them."
Haaretz columnist Alon Idan, who usually analyzes the use of words in Israeli media and politics, has quickly reacted to the move, saying that "in simple words, what the Israeli Ministry of Education does by disqualifying 'Borderlife' is protecting the purity of Jewish blood."
Rabinyan has said in a statement that "there's something ironic about the fact that a novel dealing with the Jews' fear of assimilation is banned for this exact reason."

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Thousands fete Mao’s birthday

A woman holds a picture of late Chinese leader Mao Zedong in front of his statue at Shanxi University in Taiyuan, North China's Shanxi Province, on Saturday. Local residents came to the statue to commemorate the 122nd anniversary of Mao's birth. Photo: IC

Mao, one of the most influential figures in China's modern history, was born in Shaoshan, Hunan on December 26, 1893.

Local authorities held a wreath-laying ceremony and a running competition to mark the anniversary of his birth. According to China News Service, hundreds of thousands of local residents convened at the square in Shaoshan on Friday and presented bouquets before Mao's statue while singing the song "The East Is Red." Large numbers of visitors also came to Shaoshan early on Saturday morning to pay their respects to Mao.

Viral photos posted online showed admirers holding photos of Mao and carrying red flags bearing Maoist slogans.

A 39-year-old Mao admirer surnamed Xia from Jingzhou in Central China's Hubei Province told the Global Times on Sunday that he has come to Shaoshan several times since 1996 to commemorate Mao, whom he adores and misses.

"He is a savior of the Chinese people," Xia said, adding that he cherishes the simple ethos of the society of the past.

"There were more young people and red flags at the site this time," he said.

Lin Minjie, president of the Hong Kong Society of Mao Zedong Thought, an NGO established in 2013 to study and spread Mao's thought and promote social development in Hong Kong, told the Global Times on Sunday that his association also went to Shaoshan to commemorate Mao on Saturday.

Lin said that his mission is to counter what he sees as an anti-communist trend in Hong Kong by spreading Mao's thought in Hong Kong and supporting socialism there.

"The grand gathering showed Chinese people's approval of Mao's and other revolutionaries' historic contributions to China," celebrity commentator Sima Nan told the Global Times on Sunday.

"It also reflects people's willingness to rehabilitate Mao from the false accusations made against him over the past 30 years," Sima pointed out.

Sima added that the presence of large numbers of admirers in Shao-

shan also demonstrated people's appreciation for the life of equality and justice experienced in Mao's time.

Several of Mao's relatives, including his grandson Mao Xinyu and Mao Xinyu's family, came to Beijing's Chairman Mao Memorial Hall to commemorate him on Saturday.

Other regions also carried out additional memorial ceremonies honoring Mao.

A library in Hefei, Anhui Province, came together with a local media company and calligraphy association to offer local residents free DVDs featuring stories from Mao's life.

Authorities in Northwest China's Gansu Province also held activities to recall memories of difficult times and to spread the revolutionary spirit, media reported.

A sign of disaffection, rural worship of Chairman Mao is treated with caution

By Zhang Yu 

Today, many villagers in China’s rural areas nostalgic for the era of people’s communes and collective farming regard Mao Zedong as their god and spiritual leader. Such Maolovers seek to establish December 26, Mao’s birthday, as a public festival to celebrate the former leader. But as China drifts ever further away from Maoism, these voices, while persistent, are complaining of becoming increasingly marginalized. 

The trumpets blared, the drums were beat, and firecrackers exploded. Days before Mao Zedong's 122th birthday, a Taoist temple in Jingyuan county, Northwest China's Gansu Province welcomed a new statue for people to worship: a statue of the leader. 

As red Chinese flags fluttered in the temple, revolutionary nostalgia and folk religion mixed in this remote northern village. According to the video uploaded to the Internet, a consecration ceremony was held, attended by a procession of Taoist priests clad in blue robes and villagers dressed in Mao suits, in front of some curious onlookers. 

Six old men wearing red scarves worshipped the bronze statue through an ecstatic dance while singing "The East is Red," a socialist song, accompanied by music played by a brass band. Then an otherworldly, Shaman-like figure, donning a colorful sacred robe and holding a sword, chanted a long incantation to the figure of the smiling atheist leader.

This is just the latest temple that features a statue of Mao. According to media reports, temples dedicated to the former leader have been seen in many rural areas in the past decades, especially in Shaanxi, Guangdong, and Hunan provinces.

The founder of the People's Republic of China, who asked his people to break old traditions and fight against superstition and religion during his lifetime, is now worshipped alongside other folk deities like the Jade Emperor and the God of Wealth. People pray to Mao to help them rid of ill fortune, bear a baby boy or get rich quick.

Idolizing Mao

Building Mao temples is not encouraged by the central government or local authorities. In 2013, on Mao's 120th birthday, Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a public speech that "we cannot worship [revolutionary leaders] as gods just because they are great people, not allowing others to point out and correct their errors and mistakes."

When a temple dedicated to Mao in a village in Jiangmen, South China's Guangdong Province, was under construction in the 2000s, local government ordered it to be demolished because "Mao didn't believe in god and wasn't superstitious, and there shouldn't be a temple dedicated to him," Southern Weekly reported. 

But that didn't stop villagers from building a temple to a man that wielded total power in China when he was alive. Believers managed to rebuild it in 2003, albeit in secret. The village Party chief, after he learned the temple had been built, reportedly went to the temple himself to pray for victory in the next Party chief election.

Song Guiwu, economics professor at Gansu's Provincial Party School who researched Mao idolization in rural Gansu, said such a phenomenon is inevitable when China's contemporary history and folk religion is concerned. "One reason is a lack of faith in rural areas, and farmers can only look for any people in history they can worship. Mao is an inevitable choice because farmers who are relatively lower in literacy rate and lacking in independent thinking are more susceptible to the ubiquitous ideological propaganda during Mao's era," he told the Global Times.

During his research trips to Jingyuan, Yuzhong and other Gansu counties, Song saw the idolization of Mao was a common practice among farmers in the northern province. About a third of them would put Mao's portraits alongside those of the God of Wealth or Guan Yu - a figure from the ancient Chinese epic The Romance of the Three Kingdoms who has been deified - in their homes as a means of protection or a blessing.

And it's not just old people who worship Mao, but also young couples who did not experience the Mao era. "This has more or less become a custom in rural areas," Song said.

Farmers' nostalgia about Mao's era is also because of their discontent with the current situation. While the economy grew rapidly in the past thirty years, many farmers have not become any better off.  

Although after the reform and opening up, marketization and the household contract system brought farmers more freedom, rising inequality and the growing wealth gap has made farmers an increasingly underprivileged and weak class in China. "This is another basis for their yearning for an authoritative leader who could change their fate," Song told the Global Times. During his trips, he even got the impression that the less developed an area is, the more people would idolize Mao.

"Farmers miss people's communes, which offered them a sense of belonging and stability. In Mao's era, people were poor - but everyone was poor, and at least farmers, along with workers, had a high social status," he said.

People's Day
While not every Mao-lover will worship a Mao statue, demands to give Mao some sort of recognition are shared by many. On Saturday, despite official obstruction, tens of thousands of people gathered together in Shaoshan, Central China's Hunan Province, Mao's hometown, to celebrate the man's birthday. In a middle school in Luan county, North China's Hebei Province, thousands of students and teachers gathered to eat longevity noodles to remember him.

Maoists in China have long been seeking for the establishment of a People's Day, which falls on Mao's birthday, to celebrate the leader and his legacy. This year, they drafted a petition that asks the Communist Party of China Central Committee and Chinese legislators to officially designate the day as a public festival.

"A great Party needs a soul, an undefeatable army needs a soul, a rising country needs a soul, and the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people needs a soul. Mao Zedong is that soul!" reads the petition, which circulated on social media sites.

"Mao has stamped everything in China with 'people' - people's government, people's army, people's courts … even our currency is called the renminbi, or people's currency…. Mao should forever be remembered in history as the people's leader," it reads.

Thousands of people have signed the petition. The most prominent names who signed on the list include sons and daughters of former officials, party leaders and generals, as well as some leftist scholars.

Leftist scholars tend to attribute many of China's current problems, including the exploitation of migrant workers, corrupt officials, lack of social welfare and drug problems to the fact that China adopted a capitalist path after reform and opening up, ignoring his negative contribution to Chinese history. "If Mao was still alive, will people dare to make these mistakes? … Chinese people remember Mao because it meets their personal interest," Sima Nan, a famous far-left scholar, said in a recent blog post.

Guo Songmin, a leftist and Maoist ideologue, who also signed the petition, said, "China's reform and opening up was fruitful. But it also spawned many problems - wealth gaps, inequality and people living in poverty. There is high demand from many people that want to return to the socialist era. And Mao is the symbol of that era."

Leftists' outcry

While many liberals complain leftist ideology is regaining lost ground now, leftist scholars, however, say they are not satisfied. “Rightists dominate most media outlets, websites, university classrooms and publishing houses. Although Xi tightened ideology, the leftists are still given a very small space for public speech,” Guo told the Global Times.

Guo Songming thinks Mao was a great man, and that the media, controlled by the rightists, have been demonizing Mao and exaggerating the harm he has done. “But this will not stop people from loving him. The more Mao is vilified, the more people will strike back and love him even more,” he said.

On social media, whether or not to pay tribute to Mao on his birthday is the subject of debate. When famous actor Wang Baoqiang, who comes from a poor rural background, published a blog post on Mao’s birthday, saying he always prayed to “grandpa Mao” and thanked him for making his dream come true, he received hundreds of scornful critical comments about the harm that Mao did to China, forcing him to delete the post. 

“If Mao was still alive, you will be nothing but a poor jobless farmer, and be forced to wear a hat and paraded around; and just think about what life your father lived, and what life you’re now living?” one comment read, referring to how people were brutally interrogated and publicly criticized during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).

Sima Pingbang, a leftist cultural critic, think this is unfair. “Many people who hold respect for Mao are attacked as maozuo, a derogative term for Mao ideologues, which is insulting. This isn’t supposed to happen in a rational society,” he told the Global Times.

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'Europe Turns a Blind Eye' To Erdogan's Praise of Nazi Germany

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's praise of Adolf Hitler's Germany, which he cited as an example of effective centralized government, was ignored by a Europe Union more concerned with negotiations surrounding refugees, French politicians said.

European politicians have preferred to "turn a blind eye" to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's praise of Adolf Hitler's leadership of Germany, French legislator Thierry Mariani wrote on Twitter.
Erdogan told reporters on Friday, that Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler was an "example" of an effective form of government. Erdogan's office later issued a convoluted statement which attempted to explain that Erdogan meant to say the exact opposite. Erdogan cited Nazi Germany as an example of a system which had a unitary system of government and a strong executive, like the one he wants for himself.

​"Erdogan cites Hitler's Germany as an example! But Europe turns a blind eye, preferring to negotiate with him…"
Another legislator member of the Nicolas Sarkozy-led Republicans party, Valerie Boyer, echoed Mariani's concerns:

: Erdogan prend l'Allemagne nazie comme exemple. L'entrée de la ds l'UE est toujours d'actualité ? 

Erdogan uses Nazi Germany as an example. Is Turkey's entry into the EU still timely?"
A senator from France's upper house of the legislature also questioned recent moves by the European commission to open a new chapter in Turkey's EU membership process amid negotiations on refugee trafficking:

Erdogan veut renforcer ses pouvoirs de President en Turquie:il cite en référence Hitler et l'Allemagne nazie!Et l'Europe négocie l'adhésion?
​"Erdogan wants to strengthen his powers as President in Turkey, he cites Hitler in Nazi Germany! And Europe is negotiating membership?"
Turkey and the European Union opened a chapter on the country's membership in the organization on December 14, amid negotiation on the migrant deal.

Read more:

Arabic Music - Habibi

These singing sisters are wildly popular in Yemen. And they're Israeli Jews.

By Ruth Eglash The Washington Post

With their ebony hair and Yemeni accented Arabic, singing sisters Tair, Liron and Tagel Haim would probably not seem out of place on the streets of Yemen's capital, Sanaa.
But the sisters, collectively known as A-WA, or "yes" in Arabic slang, are actually descendants of Yemeni Jews who immigrated to Israel decades ago.
Today, they live in Tel Aviv.
While siblings singing sweet harmonies together might not be big news, these Jewish sisters — who mix near extinct Yemenite poetry with fast-paced hip-hop and electronic beats - just might be.
Their first song, "Habib Galbi" (Love of My Heart), is an updated version of an ancient song passed down orally through multiple generations of women. Released this year, the video clip accompanying the song has gone viral on YouTube, drawing more than 2 million views and thousands of comments from around the globe.
The sisters, who are as much in tune off stage as they are on, have already performed before sold-out audiences in Israel and Europe. National Public Radio recently named the group one of the top 10 global music acts of 2015.
The group has also garnered countless fans in the Arab world, notably in Yemen and other Arab states that do not even have formal ties with Israel.
Now they are eyeing the United States.
"We don't have a label there yet, but we are working on it," the three sisters said in near unison. They hope to release their first album in America in the coming months and are planning a tour there next spring.
We are sitting on the leafy rooftop of Tair's trendy Tel Aviv apartment. The sisters, who grew up in a farming village in the barren desert plains of southern Israel, have relocated to this bustling metropolis. But their exotic Middle Eastern upbringing and strong desert ties live on through their music.
In the clip for "Habib Galbi," the sisters don bright pink jalabiyas that billow in the wind as they move through the arid landscape of their childhood. As the story unfolds and the music heats up, they break away from the watchful eye of a stern white-haired man we presume is their father and rush into the arms of three break-dancing young men. An elderly woman sucking on a water pipe cheers when the six youngsters hold hands and dance together.
"We grew up in the desert, and we thought it would be a natural place to start to tell our story," said Tair, 32, the eldest sister.
They grew up in the tiny town of Shaharut, a community of only about 30 families, close to Israel's border with Egypt. Surrounded by camels and mountains, the siblings would take walks through the sandy dunes and play in nearby caves. All they had was their imaginations and their love of music.
At home, the family, including three additional siblings, would spend their days singing. Their father would film his daughters on home videos and encourage their musical talents. From an early age, they became known as the "Jackson family of Shaharut."
"We were a band a long time ago, but we didn't even know it," said Tagel, 26, the youngest of the three. "We laugh about that now."
As for the decision to sing in Arabic, the three said it was natural. Deeply inspired by past Jewish Yemenite singers, they learned the distinct Judeo Yemeni Arabic dialect through songs they heard at family events, weddings and especially visits to their grandparents, who immigrated to Israel from Yemen in 1949.
Between 1949 and 1950, some 50,000 Yemeni Jews were airlifted to Israel in a secret operation called Magic Carpet. An estimated 350,000 Jews of Yemeni heritage live in Israel today, and a few hundred still remain in Yemen.
"At first we did not communicate that we are from Israel, we just released the video of 'Habib Galbi.' We wanted people to listen and respond naturally," said Tagel.
"We knew we would get comments from Yemen because it is an old Yemenite song, but it was surprising and amazing to get comments from other Arab countries, too. Even when people found out we are from Israel, the comments were still good and people said they loved our music," said middle sister Liron, 30.
"People from Yemen told us how much they miss their Jewish brothers and sisters. They feel like we are spreading their traditions," said Tagel.
The three say they struggle a little to read all the messages they receive in Arabic, but recently they bought a book. And there is always Google Translate.
As for negative comments from fans living in countries traditionally hostile to Israel and Israelis, the three say they pay them little attention, focusing more on the positive.
They also wave off negative comments from fellow Israelis who disapprove of the Jewish girls singing in Arabic, a language perceived by some as that of the enemy.
"We think the solution is to bring a good vibe and focus on the similarities we have rather than the differences," said Liron.
"We are naturally very positive and optimistic," said Tair. "I think people get that, which is why they are so attracted to our music and get the whole A-wa vibe."

Saudi armored vehicles heading to Qatif: Report

Saudi armored vehicles are headed to the restive city of Qatif in Eastern Province after the execution of prominent cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a report says.
Hundreds of anti-riot personnel carriers set off for the city on Saturday to quell any potential protest on the part of its Shia population against the execution, according to Lebanon’s Al Ahd news website.
Security forces have also been alerted in other Shia-populated cities across Saudi Arabia.
The state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported Nimr’s execution, who was put to death alongside 47 others, earlier in the day, citing the kingdom’s Interior Ministry.
The ministry said those executed had been found guilty of involvement in “terrorism.”
Following the implementation of the cleric’s death sentence, all security outposts were evacuated across the country and all police stations shut down amid fears of Shia outrage.
An outspoken critic of Riyadh’s policies, Nimr was shot and arrested by the Saudi police in the Qatif region of the kingdom’s Shia-dominated Eastern Province in 2012.
He was charged with instigating unrest and undermining the kingdom’s security, making anti-government speeches, and defending political prisoners. He had rejected all the charges as baseless.
In 2014, a Saudi court sentenced the clergyman to death, provoking widespread global condemnations.
 The sentence was upheld last March by the appeal court of Saudi Arabia. Back at the time, UK-based rights body Amnesty International called the sentence “appalling,” saying the verdict should be quashed since it was politically motivated.

Video Report - Saudi Arabia executes top Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr

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Video Report - Bahrain: Protests erupt after Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr among 47 executed in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia's executions were worthy of Isis – so will David Cameron and the West now stop their grovelling to its oil-rich monarchs?

Saudi Arabia’s binge of head-choppings – 47 in all, including the learned Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr, followed by a Koranic justification for the executions – was worthy of Isis. Perhaps that was the point. For this extraordinary bloodbath in the land of the Sunni Muslim al-Saud monarchy – clearly intended to infuriate the Iranians and the entire Shia world – re-sectarianised a religious conflict which Isis has itself done so much to promote.
All that was missing was the video of the decapitations – although the Kingdom’s 158 beheadings last year were perfectly in tune with the Wahabi teachings of the ‘Islamic State’.  Macbeth’s ‘blood will have blood’ certainly applies to the Saudis, whose ‘war on terror’, it seems, now justifies any amount of blood, both Sunni and Shia. But how often do the angels of God the Most Merciful appear to the present Saudi interior minister, Crown Prince Mohamed bin Nayef?  
For Sheikh Nimr was not just any old divine.  He spent years as a scholar in Tehran and Syria, was a revered Shia leader of Friday prayers in the Saudi Eastern Province, and a man who stayed clear of political parties but demanded free elections, and was regularly detained and tortured – by his own account – for opposing the Sunni Wahabi Saudi government. Sheikh Nimr said that words were more powerful than violence.  The authorities’ whimsical suggestion that there was nothing sectarian about this most recent bloodbath – on the grounds that  they beheaded Sunnis as well as Shias – was classic Isis rhetoric.
After all, Isis cuts the heads of Sunni ‘apostates’ and Sunni Syrian and Iraqi soldiers just as readily as it slaughters Shias. Sheikh Nimr would have got precisely the same treatment from the thugs of the ‘Islamic State’ as he got from the Saudis – though without the mockery of a pseudo-legal trial which Sheikh Nimr was afforded and of which Amnesty complained.  
But the killings represent far more than just Saudi hatred for a cleric who rejoiced at the death of the former Saudi interior minister – Mohamed bin Nayef’s father, Crown Prince Nayef Abdul-Aziz al-Saud – with the hope that he would be "eaten by worms and will suffer the torments of hell in his grave". Nimr’s execution will reinvigorate the Houthi rebellion in Yemen, which the Saudis invaded and bombed this year in an attempt to destroy Shia power there. It has enraged the Shia majority in Sunni-rules Bahrain. And Iran’s own clerics have already claimed that the beheading will cause the overthrow of the Saudi royal family.
It will also present the West with that most embarrassing of Middle Eastern problems: the continuing need to cringe and grovel to the rich and autocratic monarchs of the Gulf while gently expressing their unease at the grotesque butchery which the Saudi courts have just dished out to the Kingdom’s enemies. Had Isis chopped off the heads of Sunnis and Shias in Raqqa – especially that of a troublesome Shia priest like Sheikh Nimr – we can be sure that Dave Cameron would have been tweeting his disgust at so loathsome an act. But the man who lowered the British flag on the death of the last king of this preposterous Wahabi state will be using weasel words to address this bit of head-chopping.
However many Sunni al-Qaeda men have also just lost their heads – literally – to Saudi executioners, the question will be asked in both Washington and European capitals:  are the Saudis trying to destroy the Iranian nuclear agreement by forcing their Western allies to support even these latest outrages? In the obtuse world in which they live – in which the youthful defence minister who invaded Yemen intensely dislikes the interior minister – the Saudis are still glorying in the ‘anti-terror’ coalition of 34 largely Sunni nations which supposedly form a legion of Muslims opposed to ‘terror’.

     The executions were certainly an unprecedented Saudi way of welcoming in the New Year – if not quite as publicly spectacular as the firework display in Dubai which went ahead alongside the burning of one of the emirate’s finest hotels. Outside the political implications, however, there is also an obvious question to be asked – in the Arab world itself — of the self-perpetuating House of Saud:  have the Kingdom’s rulers gone bonkers?

    People in Saudi Arabia’s Qatif slam Nimr execution

    People in the Qatif region of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province have taken to the streets to express anger at the execution of prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.
    The rally was held on Saturday with protesters marching from Nimr’s hometown of al-Awamiya to Qatif, chanting, “Down with the Al Saud.”
    The regime in Riyadh on Saturday announced the execution of Sheikh Nimr and 46 others in defiance of international calls for the release of the prominent Shia cleric and other jailed political activists in the kingdom.
    Meanwhile, mourning ceremonies are being held across Qatif amid media reports that said the region’s residents have called for taking up arms against the Saudi regime in the form of popular resistance.
    Saudi security forces are said to have been evacuated from their stations in the region.
    The development comes as Lebanon’s Al Ahd news website said hundreds of anti-riot personnel carriers set off for Qatif on Saturday to quell potential protests on the part of its Shia population against the execution.
    Security forces have also been alerted in other Shia-populated cities across Saudi Arabia.
    Saudi Arabia’s execution of the top Shia cleric has drawn angry reactions from Muslim bodies worldwide.
    Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hossein Jaberi Ansari said the execution of Sheikh Nimr “who had no means other than speech to pursue his political and religious objectives only shows the depth of imprudence and irresponsibility.”
    Lebanon’s resistance movement Hezbollah also condemned the killing as an “assassination,” describing Sheikh Nimr as a spiritual scholar who always sought dialogue and resisted injustice.

    A critic of the Riyadh regime, Sheikh Nimr was shot by Saudi police and arrested in Qatif in 2012. He was charged with instigating unrest and undermining the kingdom’s security, making anti-government speeches and defending political prisoners. He had rejected all the charges as baseless.

    Fascist #SAUDIARABIA - Riyadh using execution to settle political scores: Amnesty

    Human rights group Amnesty International says Saudi Arabia’s execution of prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr shows Riyadh is using death penalty to “settle political scores.”
    The London-based rights group made the remarks on Saturday, following the execution of Sheikh Nimr and 46 others, including Shia activists and Sunnis accused of being involved in al-Qaeda-linked attacks.
    "What the Saudi Arabian authorities have said so far indicates they regard these executions as taken to preserve security. But the execution of Sheikh Nimr suggests they are using execution to settle political scores," Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa director Philip Luther said.
    He added that Saudi Arabia was actually carrying out executions to clamp down on dissents under the “guise of counter-terrorism” measures.
    Luther said that the trials of those executed, including that of the Shia cleric, were politicized and “grossly unfair,” as the “international standards for fair trial were grossly flouted.”
    Nimr’s execution has sparked outrage and condemnation across the world, drawing people to the streets in countries including in Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and Lebanon. People have also taken to the streets in the Saudi Eastern Province’s Qatif region in protest against the cleric’s execution.
    German and British officials have also condemned the execution of the Shia figure.
    A critic of the Riyadh regime, Sheikh Nimr was arrested by Saudi police in Qatif in 2012. He was charged with instigating unrest and undermining the kingdom’s security, making anti-government speeches and defending political prisoners. He had rejected all the charges as baseless.
    Saudi Arabia, which has been under pressure for its human rights violations over the past years, executed more than 150 people in 2015.