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Are Shiites divided over what to do about Saudi Arabia?

Over the years, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani of Iraq have encouraged Shiites to take opposing approaches toward Sunnis, with ramifications for Saudi Arabia.
Members from Hashid Shaabi hold portraits of lawmaker and paramilitary commander Hadi al-Amiri (C), Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (R) and Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (L) during a demonstration to show support for Yemen's Shi'ite Houthis and in protest of an air campaign in Yemen by a Saudi-led coalition, in Baghdad March 31, 2015. Saudi troops clashed with Yemeni Houthi fighters on Tuesday in the heaviest exchange of cross-border fire since the start of a Saudi-le

Following the Jan. 2 execution of the Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi Arabia, Shiite leaders from around the world issued statements of condolence and protest. Among the collection of stances expressed, a clear distinction could be seen between those reflecting the position of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and those following the thinking of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, leader of the Najaf Hawza. ​This distinction has been of consequence to the Saudi regime and will perhaps increase in importance with implementation of the Iranian nuclear deal and the public opposition to Nimr's execution. 

Khamenei issued a statement Jan. 3 that not only condemned the execution of Nimr and hurled accusations at the Saudi regime, but also went so far as to portend its demise. “The oppressed martyr’s blood will leave its mark, and divine vengeance shall strike down Saudi politicians for their conduct in his regard,” wrote Khamenei. In contrast, Sistani avoided attacking the Saudi regime, and instead expressed solidarity with the families of the 47 people executed — four Shiites (including Nimr) and the rest Sunnis, most of them affiliated with al-Qaeda. Sistani simply stated, “We condemn and denounce what occurred and express our condolences and sympathy to their bereaved families for this great loss.”

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