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Saudis take to social media in support of executions

Some commentators back the kingdom's decision, while condemning Western media for giving the incident a 'sectarian veneer'
In the tweet, a caricature showing the hand of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei is seen trying to take over the Saudi embassy, suggesting a growing hatred among the Arab public for Iran. (AFP)

Saudi Arabia's mass execution of 47 people, including Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, on 2 January, has sparked a swift reaction among Saudis on social media, with many backing their government's decision. 

Despite the spread of protests across the predominantly Shia southeastern provinces of Saudi Arabia, few people in the kingdom have spoken out on social media to condemn the executions. 

Reactions on social media were mostly in support for the authorities' decision to execute the 47 men, most of whom were allegedly Sunni members of the al-Qaeda militant group. 

Following the mass executions, an Arabic hashtag that translates into "the_execution of_47_terrorists_in_SaudiArabia" went viral across the Kingdom, as commentators insisted that all those killed were terrorists threatening the country's domestic security.

Translation: "We are in a time of war against terrorism. There is no space for taking a middle ground." 

In support of the decision, a caricuture of Saudi King Salman in traditional garb and holding a sword, as if prepared for battle, was also widely shared across social media.

Beneath the drawing a few lines said: "Whoever tries to destroy this homeland, will only receive the fate of those who transgress.

"A sharpened sword is the only medicine for a terrorist. There is no differentiation between Sunnis and Shia." 

Several Saudi columnists also wrote in support of the executions, saying those who were killed were all terrorists. 

In a column published by the Saudi-funded newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat, Professor Hamad al-Majed from the Imam University of Riyadh supported the executions, saying that the authorities did not take this step until threats from neighbouring countries, namely Iran, and from Islamic State militants in the kingdom, had grown to a dangerous level.

"Taking a quick look at those who were executed, they belonged to one of two categories - Iran supporters or Islamic State and al-Qaeda cells - both of which wish to spread chaos and terrorism across Saudi Arabia," he wrote. 

"These groups had no real presence on the ground, only supporters and sympathisers... but now IS has cells in the heart of Saudi Arabia and Iran's sectarian ideology is spreading through the country with the help of its allies in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen, as they plan to take over the kingdom."

Anti-sectarian rhetoric

Another Arabic hashtag that went viral not only in Saudi Arabi, but across the Arab world translates into "The_Shia_are_not_all_Iranian" pointing toward the non-sectarian nature of the executions. 

The hashtag, which was created by Shia Lebanese journalist Nadim Qutaish, aimed to highlight the growing sense of unity among Sunnis and Shia in the region. 

On his satellite TV programme DNA, Qutaish said that Iran was not the leader of Shia across the region and had no right to meddle in other countries affairs, reported Arabi21. 

Many Saudis took to social media to say that all Saudis are united and their Shia brethern are as nationalist as they are.

Translation: "Our Saudi Shia brothers are nationalists and pan-Arabists. As for the Persian sectarians, our nation, Sunni and Shia, have nothing to do with them."

The hashtag was also used to lash out at Iran. 

Translation: "The_Shia_are_not_all_Iranian, that is what we believe, but Iran is using sectarianism to achieve its own interests.

Several commentators pointed toward what they saw as exaggerations on the part of Western media regarding the sectarian nature of the executions. 

"A New York Times reporter in Tehran deleted a tweet saying that all 47 of those executed were Shiite, without clarifying instead that only four of those executed are Shiite, while 43 were Sunni," wrote Saudi columnist and former editor of the al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper Abdelrhaman al-Rashid on Monday. 

"At the same time, BBC covered the executions by only reporting on the death of Sheikh Nimr without mentioning any of the others," added Rashid, claiming that Nimr was not a peaceful activist nor a Shia leader, but an "extremist" like the other 46 men who were executed. 

In a similar fashion, Qatari journalist Jaber bin Nasir al-Marie condemned the media for what he described as inaccuracy in their description of the executions as driven by sectarianism.

"The media wants to place a sectarian veneer on the Saudi executions. Nimr was a Saudi citizen who was executed like other citizens who tried to bring destruction to their homeland," wrote Marie in a tweet. 

Iran and Saudi sever ties

While Saudi Arabia has seemingly maintained support domestically, the mass execution sparked uproar in other parts of the world, including Iran and countries with large Shia populations, Iraq and Lebanon.

On Saturday night a mob stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran, breaking through the gate and causing widespread damage to embassy buildings. Saudi's subsequent decision to break off diplomatic ties with the Islamic republic was applauded by a number of Saudi social media users.

Arabic hashtags that translates into "Saudi_Arabia_cuts_ties_with_Iran" and "Iran_is_a_terrorist_state" have been widely shared since.

In the tweet, a caricature showing the hand of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei is seen trying to take over the Saudi embassy, suggesting a growing hatred among the Arab public for Iran. 

Thousands of people took to the streets of the Iranian capital again on Monday for the third consecutive day. 

Some 3,000 demonstrators gathered in eastern Tehran's Imam Hossein Square, chanting slogans against Saudi Arabia's Al-Saud royal family.

As several Gulf countries including Bahrain and Kuwait followed suit and cut diplomatic relations with Iran, social media users across the Gulf region have voiced similar condemnations against Iran.