Middle East

Iran-Saudi row plays out in Middle East press

Iraqis hold placards bearing portraits of prominent Shia Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr during a protest held in the capital Baghdad, on January 3, 2016, against his execution by Saudi authorities. The Saudi cleric was a driving force of the protests that broke out in 2011 in Saudi Arabia's east, an oil-rich region where the Shia minority of an estimated two million people complains of marginalisation. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Al-Nimr's execution has led to protests by Shias in the region

The row over the execution by Saudi Arabia of prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and the attack on the Saudi embassy in Iran has led the Middle Eastern press to line up behind either Tehran or Riyadh.

Dailies in the Gulf, Jordan and Egypt support the Saudi stance, condemning Iran's "aggressive attitude"; while papers in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq describe the execution of Nimr al-Nimr as a "crime".

Meanwhile, some Iranian papers stress that the embassy demonstrators do not reflect the views of the government.

'Ugly face'

An editorial in Saudi pro-government Al-Riyadh does not hide its disgust at events in Tehran: "Iran has a strong tradition of targeting embassies… These attacks harm Iran and portray it as an unbridled state, whose people are led by hooligans."

Echoing the same sentiments, Saudi pro-government Al-Jazirah says : "Iran has shown its ugly face. By setting fire to the Saudi embassy, it proves that it is a main supporter of terrorism."

Image copyright E'temad
Image caption Iran's Etemad shows protesters outside the Saudi Embassy in Tehran, with the headline over the photo saying, 'Playing with fire and embassy'

Similarly, Khalid al-Sulayman writes in Saudi pro-government Ukaz : "This aggressive attitude by the Iranian regime is no surprise… The frenzy aggressive statements were expected because Tehran has a large stock of obscene insults and hollow threats."

In Egyptian government-run Al-Ahram, Amr Abd-al-Sami stresses Egypt's position. "We stand by the side of Saudi Arabia in its confrontation with Iran… We reject Iran's detestable foreign interference in Saudi internal affairs."

An editorial in Qatar's pro-government Al-Rayah says: "The storming of the Saudi embassy in Tehran is a criminal act that is totally rejected. The Iranian government should... realise that these acts violate international conventions."

Jordan's Al-Rai suggests the embassy attack is part of manoeuvring around forthcoming Iranian elections. "Hardliner elements are preparing for the election battle and they need a big cause to fight for through using demonstrations," the paper says.

'Ball in Iran's court'

Iran's conservative Khorasan newspaper criticises the government for failing to ensure peaceful protests, meaning that the focus of the affair had switched from the executions to the embassy attack: "A mistake resulting from the anger or emotions of a few people - to replace the main issue, which is Ayatollah al-Nimr's martyrdom."

Tehran's reformist newspaper Etemad says the attack has left Iran on the defensive over the affair.

"The suspicious and untenable behaviour of the extremist groups at their representative offices in Iran... puts the ball in Iran's court after Iran said that Saudi citizens' human rights have been violated," the paper says.

Meanwhile, reformist Mardom Salari newspaper lays blame for the diplomatic row at the door of those who invaded the embassy:

"Unfortunately the action by some who like Spider-Man climbed the walls of the Saudi Arabian embassy and set it on fire, caused the marginalisation of the issue of execution of Sheikh Nimr and sweetened the Saudis' appetite to deceive and create tension with Iran."

'Kingdom of darkness'

Tehran has found support in Iraqi pro-government Al-Sabah newspaper, which describes the execution of Nimr al-Nimr as a "crime", columnist Muhammad Abd-al-Jabbar al-Shabbut saying: "Executing Al-Nimr will backfire. And this is the last thing we wanted."

Along the same lines, the editorial of pro- Shia Iraqi Al-Adalah, says: "The execution of Al-Nimr will not help calm down the situation in the Kingdom… This will lead to violent actions that will be followed by more oppression."

Syrian government run Al-Thawrah lashes out at Riyadh, saying: "The regime of Al Saud violates all human rights, curbs freedom of expression and personal freedoms and uses methods of execution that date back to the Middle Ages."

Meanwhile, Nasri al-Sayigh in Lebanese Al-Safir newspaper concludes: "The Saudi human rights record is characterised by brutality. This is a kingdom that lives through oppression… This is the kingdom of darkness."

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

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