When Saudi Arabia executed a Shia cleric on Saturday, January 2, crowds of angry Iranian protesters were quick to storm the Saudi embassy in Tehran and stage demonstrations outside their consulate in Mashhad – events which led to the Saudis cutting diplomatic ties with Iran.
The execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and 46 other prisoners in Saudi Arabia, and events that followed, were widely covered in Iranian media today. But while some media took a relatively balanced approach – condemning both the execution of al-Nimr and the attacks on the Saudi embassy – conservative media took a more extreme stance.
The hardline newspaper Kayhan, which is considered to be the most conservative newspaper in Iran, used its front page to threaten revenge against Saudi Arabia. “The unjustly spilled blood of this martyr will soon show its effect and vengeance on Al Saud,” said the front-page headline, followed by an article citing Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s speech, which had been broadcast on Iranian state TV the day before. It also included an interview with the secretary-general of the Lebanese political militant group Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, who said, “We won’t forget Al- Nimr’s martyrdom easily.”
Another conservative daily newspaper, Resalat, also filled its front page with threats and inflammatory remarks. “We will burn Al Saud,” said the headline for an article about the many protests across Iran and other countries with Shia populations, including Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. “Al Saud is hated,” the article said. “Even supporters of Al Saud could not ignore this crime when they heard of the wave of global anger. The United States, Britain, Germany, the EU, and other supporters of Al Saud have expressed their concerns and criticized executions in the country.”
Fars News Agency, which is affiliated with Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards, went a step further, referring to Saudi Arabia a “frog.” Entitled “Frogs in the peninsula use revolvers,” one of the agency’s articles sarcastically referred to Saudi Arabia’s small size and significance. Although Fars News did not openly condone the attacks, it didn’t condemn them either. “The region is in chaos, from Syria to Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen,” the article said. “In this situation, the frogs of the region became armed. But we shouldn’t be afraid, because the dignity of the Iranian civilization is far beyond a few Arab countries that came to exist after the world wars.”
The daily Iran, an official newspaper with links to the Iranian government, took a more moderate standpoint. “Attack on Embassy and Saudi Execution Condemned,” read the front-page headline. President Hassan Rouhani appeared on its cover, giving a speech in which he condemned the attacks on the Saudi embassy in Tehran – calling the attackers “individual, criminal and extremist.” The paper also covered the supreme leader’s speech, but in less radical way than its hardline colleagues: “The execution of al-Nimr was a political mistake of Al Saudi,” said the headline. “Iran’s supreme leader condemned the execution: The whole world is responsible for al-Nimr’s death,” it went on.
Likewise, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), the country’s official news agency, both condemned the execution of al-Nimr, as well as the attacks on the Saudi embassy. One article criticized Saudi Arabia’s decision to cut ties with Iran and quoted Carl Bildt, Sweden’s former prime minister, who said, “Saudi Arabia’s decision to sever diplomatic relations with Iran was a distinctly bad move.” Another article dismissed Saudi’s decision as insignificant: “Iran won’t lose anything by severing relations with Saudi Arabia,” said Eshaq Jahangiri, the first vice president of Iran. “Saudi will lose more in this situation. Iran is a big and great country, and the great should be treated greatly,” he said.