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CONNECT THE WORLD
Shia World Reacts as Saudi Executes Nimr al-Nimr; Turkey Buried in Snow; CNN Tests Cuba's Tourism Infrastructure; Donald Trump on Attack Against Hillary Clinton. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired January 3, 2016 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:10] BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: An execution sparking outrage across the world. Angry protests and strong words of condemn after Saudi Arabia kills
a Shia cleric.
Tonight, this hour, we're going to explore how Sheikh Nimr's death could shape relations between regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia and assess
the wider regional implications.
Also ahead this evening, manhunt in Tel Aviv as police continue to search for the suspect in a deadly shooting on New Year's Day. Get you the very
latest on the investigation there.
Plus, thinking of heading to Cuba? Well, some travel tips that could make your vacation a little more hassle free.
ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Abu Dhabi, this is Connect the World with Becky Anderson.
ANDERSION: A very good evening at just 8:00 here in the UAE. I want to start this evening with the fallout of Saudi Arabia's execution of a
leading Shiite cleric and critic of the Saudi regime. Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr had been on death row since 2014 after anti-government protests several
years previously. He was finally executed on Saturday.
Well, this was the scene in Tehran earlier. That anger being echoed by the country's political leaders and by Shiite figures across the region.
Speaking in Lebanon, the leader of Hezbollah said al-Nimr's death, and I quote, could not be taken lightly.
Reuters news agency reports that Hassan Nasrallah also accused Riyadh of trying to stir up sectarian tensions.
Well, human rights groups and western governments have also condemned al- Nimr's killing, but the reaction right here in the Middle East is the most vehement with fears that this execution will deepen sectarian rifts and
inflame conflicts where Saudi Arabia and Iran are vying for dominance.
ANDERSON: A measure of the fury that erupted in parts of the Middle East after the execution of Sheikh Nimr. The Saudi embassy ablaze in Iran. That
violent reaction was criticized by the country's President Hassan Rouhani who blamed it on extremists. But he also
condemned the killing of the Shiite cleric saying it violated human rights and Islamic values
and labeled it another example of, quote, sectarian policies that he said are destabilizing the region.
It's a view echoed by Shiite leaders in Iraq, in Lebanon and in other parts of the Middle East.
For many, the execution of the prominent Shiite dissident is the latest step in an increasingly vicious rivalry between Sunni Saudi Arabia and
Shiite Iran, one that is playing out in various proxy wars.
FAWAZ GERGES, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: I fear that the execution of Sheikh Nimr would go most likely pour gasoline on raging fires in Syria, in
Iraq, in Yemen, in Lebanon, in Bahrain and in Saudi Arabia itself.
ANDERSON: From Bahrain to Iraq to Lebanon, Shiites protested the killing of one of their most referred holy men, even Saudi Arabia's own Shiite
minority protested, a rare act.
GERGES: The decision to execute Sheikh Nimr would really have major repercussions on political and social stability in the kingdom itself. It
will polarize relations between the dominant Sunni community and the Shiite community, a community that feels marginalized and it feels that basically
it's not fully integrated into Saudi Arabia.
ANDERSON: Sunni-led Gulf states like the UAE and Bahrain were quick to come out in support of the Saudi monarchy, already racked by rumors of a
power struggle at the top. The wider region is starting the new year with a collapsing ceasefire in an already devestated Yemen. And a prospect of a
long and bitter road ahead to any prospective peace in Syria.
ANDERSON: Well, for more on the backlash over al-Nimr's execution, then, CNN's Ffred Pleitgen joining us live from London.
I know you've spent many a week over the past couple of years in either Tehran or in Riyadh, what do you make of the reaction to this execution,
firstly, in Iran?
[11:04:56] FRED PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Becky, I think that it clearly shows that the supreme leader of Iran and the Iranian
government specially Hassan Rouhani, might not be totally on the same page as to their reactions. Both of them, of course, condemning the killing of
this Shia cleric. However, I think that Hassan Rouhani, for his part, realizes that the reaction, especially with the Saudi embassy being set on
fire, that that was something that did go too far.
And you could see today Hassan Rouhani and other Iranian officials, as well, if you look at the Iranian news agencies, trying to control the
damage that was done to Iran's reputation internationally, of course, saying that they believe that this was the work of extremists. And today
you could see the security around both the consulate in Mashad (ph) and then the embassy in Tehran, was a lot more strong than it was in the last
The supreme leader, for his part, a very angry reaction, of course, saying that he believed that there would be divine revenge for what happened to
the Shia cleric.
It does show that they may not be completely on the same page but I do believe that there is certainly genuine outrage on the part of Rouhani, on
the part of the Supreme Leader, as well, and generally among the Iranian population.
ANDERSON: Well, there's clearly the potential for a ratcheting up of tensions between Riyadh and Tehran.
What do we think about the timing of this execution, coming as it did over a weekend during which the Saudis ended officially a cease-fire with the
militia seemed to be Iranian-backed in Yemen? An incredibly important conflict, and one we know that many other countries including the U.S.
would like to see and then to end the proxy war clearly that's going on in Syria.
The implications for this not just so far as Saudi-Iranian relations are concerned, but the wider region is important, isn't it?
Earlier, we mentioned that the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warns that, and I quote, al-Nimr's execution is a message of blood and is an
event that cannot be taken lightly. Nasrallah also accusing the Saudi kingdom of intentional tirring Sunni-Shia strife.
Is that what we are looking at going forward, a ratcheting up of these tensions?
PLEITGEN: Well, I think that there certainly is a potential. And I do think, Becky, that these tensions have been ratcheting up for quite awhile,
not just iwth what's going on in Syria and of course very much also what's going on with Yemen, but also we have to keep in mind that right now it is
also politically a very, very difficult time right now in the Middle East.
And also if we keep in mind the fact that, for instance, these peace talks for Syria are something that have been moving forward. It's something
where the Saudis for a long time have not been comfortable that the Iranians are now on the table. And so therefore, you could see the two
sides ratcheting up the rhetoric internationally.
And you do have to wonder whether that is something that's going to translate on the battlefield, as well.
We know that the Iranians now are more involved in Syria than they ever have been before. They, on their part, are saying that they have military
advisers on the ground, but many are saying that it is a lot more than that. And certainly if you look at some of the militias that are fighting
in Syria, fighting in Iraq, as well, that is something that downright scares the Saudis.
The Saudis, from their part, of course, have this big military campaign in Yemen on their hands, which is getting them a lot of criticism, certainly a
lot of cricitims from the Iranians.
So you do feel those sectarian tensions ratcheting up. You have been seeing them ratchet up for quite awhile. And this is certainly something
that is in no way going to help to try to suppress any of that.
ANDERSON: So Fred, one expert described it to me this way today. This is a poke in the eye from the Saudis to the Iranians. The question is, will
the Iranians be provoked to respond. Your thoughts?
PLEITGEN: Well, that's going to be the big question. And we're going to have to wait and see in the next couple of days. And then of course you
have to ask yourself what exactly could the Iranians do if they did want to retaliate in
any way, shape, or form.
It certainly is quite telling how forceful the supreme leader responded to this, much more forceful, for instance, than the top Shia cleric leader in
Iraq, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who condemned all of this as well, but didn't go quite as far as calling for divine revenge or saying there would be
Is that going to translate, for instance, onto the battlefield in Syria? Are the Iranians going to up the ante there? Are they going to move in
more forces there? Are they going to try and do thing as far as the Houthis in Yemen are concerned? One thing that we have to keep in mind is
that at this point in time, the Iranians have a lot on their hands as far as international military conflicts are concerned, very much involved in
Syria, very much involved in Iraq, very much involved in Yemen. The question is, how far could they up the ante if they
wanted to in any of these conflicts?
So that is certainly something I have to wait and see how the reaction is going to be.
It's interesting to see, though, how Hassan Rouhani appears to be trying to control all of in this at this point in time, certainly as far as the
public perception is concerned by cracking down on those people who broke into the Saudi embassy in Tehran.
[11:10:04] ANDERSON: Yeah, Disturbing start to 2016, one that we will continue to report on of course.
Fred, for the time being, thank you very much indeed. Fred Pleitgen is out of London for you this evening.
As we've been discussing, then, the repercussions from the execution of the Saudi cleric Nimr al-Nimr are being felt throughout this region and that is
what we will analyze the fallout from that during the hour to come, including a look at the man at the center of this.
Why was the killing of the Sheikh al-Nimr so controversial? And with protests taking place on Saudi soil, we'll be asking what the decision
could mean for the conservative Gulf kingdom.
Meantime, the uncle of the man suspected of a pub shooting in Tel Aviv has told CNN that his nephew has a mental disorder.
Authorities are still hunting for 31-year-old Arab-Israel Nashab Melhem(ph) who, they believe, was behind the attack on New Year's Day.
The shooting left two people dead and eight others injured.
Well, Ian Lee, We're live in Jerusalem with the very latest on the investigation -- Ian.
IAN LEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Becky, this is quite unusual, quite odd for Israeli police. It has been over 48 hours now since the
attack happened and still no word about capturing the suspect.
We went up earlier today, talked to the family members about him. They described a disturbed young man, someone who has been fighting depression,
someone who has a psychological disorder. And talking to his uncle, they're also concerned about his safety, as well. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AHMED MELHEM, UNCLE OF SUSPECTED SHOOTER (through translator): He's suffering from a mental disorder. And we are worried that a civilian in
Tel Aviv might find him, shoot him and kill him.
Our second concern is that he might hurt himself.
We urge him to turn himself in for his own safety.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEE: Well, and Becky, right now, the Israeli authorities -- and we heard from the prime minister today at his weekly cabinet meeting stressing the
need to find him. A lot of resources have been put into this, a lot of
intelligence agencies working on this right now. And that's what makes it so bizarre is that with all the security, all the people on the ground,
they still have yet to find him. They are going house to house.
But their main priority right now talking to Israeli officials is finding him, whether he goes peacefully or if they have to take him down, they do
consider him armed and dangerous. They want to get life back to normal.
And while they're telling people in Tel Aviv that it is safe to go out just to be a bit more cautious.
Today, families were -- some families were keeping their children away from school out of fear that something else could happen -- Becky.
ANDERSON: Ian Lee is in Jerusalem for you. Ian, thank you.
Still to come tonight, Donald Trump takes aim at Hillary Clinton again saying she should be in jail. We'll explain the controversial comments, or
at least bring it to you, and look for some analysis on it.
First, though, dissident terrorist or oppressed martyr? Who was Nimr al- Nimr? And why is his death causing such outrage?
[11:15:43] ANDERSON: Chanting death to the al-Saud family, protesters gathered outside the Saudi embassy in Tehran again on Sunday, less than 24
hours after it was attacked and set on fire.
Demonstrators are angry about Saudi Arabia's execution of the Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, which has been widely condemned.
You're watching CNN. This is Connect the World with me Becky Anderson. Welcome back.
Well, as you've just seen, his death caused protests in the Middle East as well as diplomatic fallout and a heightened tensions between regional
powers Saudi Arabia and Iran.
But who exactly was Nimr al-Nimr? Well, CNN's John Jensen has been finding out.
JOHN JENSEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORREPSONDENT: His criticism of the ruling family in Saudi Arabia was extremely rare. It was this type of political
dissent from Nimr al-Nimr that in part led to the Shiite cleric's execution on Saturday.
Now his death is sparking outrage across the region.
al-Nimr was a prominent religious leader from Saudi Arabia's oil rich eastern region, home to the country's minority Shia.
In 2011, protests inspired by the Arab Spring, erupted on the streets there.
al-Nimr was a vocal leader as thousands of Saudi's Shia demanded political reform and greater economic opportunity.
He was arrested in 2012, seen here wounded in the back of a police car. The cleric's brother, Mohammed, speaking to CNN last year warned that
tension would escalate if his execution order was signed.
MOHAMMED AL-NIMR, NIMR AL-NIMR'S BROTHER (through translator): This decision would have consequences, consequences that could be dangerous on a
JENSEN: And we're seeing just that. A tense sectarian divide further inflamed and it could possibly get worse because Nimr al-Nimr wasn't the
only member of his family on Saudi Arabia's death row. His nephew, Ali, just 17 years old when he was arrested, is still there awaiting an
execution that could come at any moment.
John Jensen, CNN, Abu Dhabi.
ANDERSON: Well, joining me now then to discuss this execution and the regional fallout is Simon Henderson. He's director of the Gulf and energy
program at the Washington Institute. Simon, thank you for joining us.
You described this execution as a significant challenge to Saudi-Iranian relations why?
SIMON HENDERSON, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE: Saudi Arabia and Iran are traditional rivals. They -- Saudi Arabia is Arab, Iran is Persian. Saudi
Arabia is Sunni Islam in its majority apart from the Shiite community from Nimr al-Nimr belonged to, while Iran is almost exclusively Shia.
And on top of that, there is political rivalry going on in the Middle East at the moment, which can be divided upon the Sunni-Shiite lines. And so
this is an additional ingredient into this tension and how it plays out if it is going to be immensely significant.
ANDERSON: If this is a poke in the eye from Saudi Arabia, which some are suggesting, I know I think you buy that line, what likelihood that Iran will respond? And if so, how?
HENDERSON: Well, that's the big question. Iran is certainly responding already in terms of words. From a Saudi point of view, the expectation,
and perhaps even the fear, is that Iran will become more involved in Sunni- Shiite tension both in the Saudi eastern province and perhaps in the island state of Bahrain close by.
And whereas in the past Iran has mainly, but not exclusively, kept itself to verbal support for Shiites in these areas, it now might heighten the
tension by a more overt supply of arms and bomb making material, matters like this which have appeared in the past, but have been essentially
This might make the rivalry more open.
ANDERSON: I want to show our viewers -- you won't be able to see this because I know you're on Skype with us, but I want our viewers just to have
a look at an image which shows a newly installed sign outside the Saudi consulate in Tehran where we've seen these protests over the past 24 hours,
Simon. The sign reads the street of the martyred Ayatollah Nimr Bagra Nimr. The street sign has changed
This is provocative in anybody's books.
Look, how about the timing of all of this? Saudi Arabia, one assumes, didn't need to execute these 47, including Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr this
weekend. It was also the weekend that Riyadh announced that the cease-fire in Yemen had ended because of the continued assault by Iranian-backed
How do you read the timing of these events and what may happen next?
HENDERSON: Well, the timing is certainly bad. But the executions weren't entirely unexpected. A month or so ago, there was a report out of Saudi
Arabia that there was going to be a series of mass executions. And no particular figure attached to it, but 47 dead over one weekend in 12
different locations, either by having their heads chopped off or by facing firing squad is a pretty emphatic message.
And to me it shows that the Saudi Arabia of today is not a subtle country. It wants to make deliberate points. And the point it mainly wants to make
is that it doesn't want to put up with any sort of trouble making by Iran from its own perception and it's prepared to confront Iran wherever that
would be, either if Iran is playing games in the Shiite community in Saudi Arabia or supporting Houthi rebels in the Yemen war.
This I think is potentially a huge mistake by Saudi Arabia, but which can be more subtle in its policy.
But it's facing a tension of also that there are Sunni extremists out there who also dislike the House of Saud, the Saudi royal family, and indeed 43
of those executed were Sunni extremists. And so there was that.
There is a degree of balance in what Saudi Arabia has been trying to do.
HENDERSON: But in doing that, I think they're taking a major risk.
ANDERSON: Simon is out of Washington for you this evening.
Simon, thank you for that.
We're going to do more on this, not the least the implications that enhanced or ratcheting up of tensions between Saudi and Iran might have for
the conflict in Syria.
Do remember that just before Christmas both Riyadh and Tehran agreed for the first time in a very long time to sit around the same table to discuss
the prospect of peace for Syria going forward. That is a meeting that we were expecting towards the end of January.
So the fallout from what has gone on this weekend and its implications for Syria something we want to analyze and discuss a little later in this hour.
Live from Abu Dhabi, this is Connect the World. Coming up as the U.S. president begins his final year, he is expected to tackle one of the most
controversial issues in his country, that of gun control. We'll have the latest on that for you.
And on the road to Havana as more and more Americans with set to visit Cuba, and others, of course, CNN gets a firsthand look at what they and
others can expect.
ANDERSON: This is Connect the World live from Abu Dhabi. I'm Becky Anderson. Welcome back.
Barack Obama has an ambitious final year as U.S. president. 2016 will see visits to places ranging from China and Japan to Poland and Peru.
But there is somewhere still high on Mr. Obama's wish list: that is Cuba.
In the next few months, the White House is expected to decide if he could make an historic trip to the Communist nation.
Well, the White House says a number of issues would have to be addressed first.
2015, of course, was an historic year for U.S./Cuba relations, one which saw the re-establishment of diplomatic ties for the first time in more than
half a century. Well, since then, a deal has been reached to resume commercial
air travel between the U.S. and Cuba paving the way for American tourism at the very least.
So, what can visitors expect? Will Ripley road tested Cuba's tourism trail for you. This is his report.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After years of isolation, Cuba's crumbling infrastructure isn't exactly ready to handle a surge of
tourists. But soon they'll be coming, with more flights expected from places like the U.S. and China and more cruise ships sailing here to
Havana's only commercial port.
And already a huge hotel room shortage, finding a last-minute room here in Havana, nearly impossible. Your best bet may be renting a private room in
someone's home, known around here as a casa particular. You can even try your luck on Airbnb.
Cubans only have Internet access at a few dozen wi-fi hot spots like this. The lack of wi-fi and mobile data means your smartphone or tablet won't
really work here aside from these particular places.
Another thing that may not work: your credit card. Be sure and check with your bank before traveling. And bring euros or Canadian dollars to avoid
paying the high taxes slapped on U.S. dollars.
And don't expect to pay in local Cuban pesos; foreigners have to use these convertible pesos, which are valued like the U.S. dollar.
(SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE).
RIPLEY: You can usually expect to pay more when you're using this.
If you have a U.S. bank account, don't access it online from Cuba. Your assets might end up frozen.
Also you may want to stick to bottled water and be sure to peel your fruits and veggies or you might end up sick.
Beware of driving here. It's easier and safer to hire a taxi like this. And classic cars can get you around town in style and on the cheap. But make
sure you negotiate your price ahead of time.
If you want to take home the legally allowed $400 in souvenirs, Cuba wants just $100 of that to be cigars and rum, so you can make your own mojitos at
One more thing: embrace the slower pace of life here. Things do take a while in Cuba but in an oasis like this, that's a good thing -- Will
Ripley, CNN, Havana.
ANDERSON: Well, the latest world news headlines are just ahead here on CNN, as you would expect.
Plus, angry protests in predominantly Shia Iran over a cleric's execution in mostly Sunni Saudi Arabia. We'll take a look at Shia life among the
[11:33:35] ANDERSON: A reminder of our top story for you this evening. There has been a growing backlash against Saudi Arabia's decision to
execute the prominent Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr. Now, the outspoken critic of the Saudi ruling family played a key role in anti-government uprising
in 2011. He had been in prison since 2014 and was executed along with 46 others on Saturday. His death has caused sectarian anger across the Middle
East, but has also seen protests in Saudi Arabia's eastern province of Katif (ph), which has a large Shia population.
Well, for more now, we're joined by Toby Matthiessen from Oxford University's Middle East center. His book "The Other Saudis" focuses on
the country's minority Shia population looking at how they have mobilized politically and how dissent is managed in the country.
He joins us via Skype from Switzerland this evening.
There was clearly a message in these executions, this being the biggest mass execution security offenses since the 1980 killing of 63 jihadist
rebels in Saudi.
The cleric Nimr al-Nimr not one of the al Qaeda-related terrorists that was executed though. How big a threat does the rest of the eastern province
pose to the leadership in Riyadh?
[11:35:02] TOBY MATTHIESSEN, OXFORD UNIVERSITY: Well, it is a threat where oil is located and Nimr al-Nimr is a figurehead of the protest movement in
the eastern province (inaudible).
ANDERSON: Yeah. Toby, sincere apologies. Your analysis is incredibly important to us. Unfortunately, the line that you're on is not good enough
to hold up I'm afraid. We'll try and get you back. Otherwise we'll talk to you again on what is an extremely important story. Toby Matthiessen is
out of Switzerland for you this evening. Apologies for the quality of that line.
Well, the U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump has weighed in on his appearance in a video allegedly made by the Somali terror group al Shabaab.
The recruitment video, which CNN can't independently verify, uses Trump's recent call to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. It claims that is an
example of racism in the U.S., telling the American Muslims that their country will the turn on
Well, trump tweeted, and I quote, al Shabaab not ISIS, just made a video on me. They all will as front runner. And if I speak out against them, which
I must. He added, Hillary lied!
Last month, the democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric was fueling ISIS propaganda. ISIS and
al Shabaab are actually rivals.
Well, Trump has also suggested Hillary Clinton and U.S. President Obama are directly responsible for the rise of ISIS and he went on to say that
Clinton should be behind bars.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: You know, it's really sad. It's a corrupt system. Everybody knows she should be in jail. What she did with the e-mails is a disgrace.
People that did 5 percent of what she did, their lives have been destroyed, their lives have been ruined. Their lives have been ruined.
You look at General Petraeus. Nice guy. Had some bad moments, right? Nice guy. What happened, they destroyed him. They've destroyed other
people far doing far less than Hillary.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON: Well, that's Donald Trump there.
He also touched on President Obama's proposed executive actions on guns in the U.S. saying the he would, quote, veto them so quickly.
While Trump and other Republicans are critical of Mr. Obama's proposed gun reforms, the president insists that changes are necessary after a number of
deadly shootings across the country last year.
CNN's Jim Acosta explains what the executive action might entail.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For President Obama, the final round is about to begin.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In 2016, I'm going to leave it all on the field.
ACOSTA: Up first in the president's eighth and last year in office, Mr. Obama's long promised response to mass shootings in the U.S.
Sources familiar with the plan say it will be a package of executive actions on gun control.
ACOSTA: Expected before the January 12th State of the Union and aimed at the gun show loophole which allows firearm sellers to conduct background
checks on customers. (on camera): And so, the beginning of this year?
ERIC SCHULTZ, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I think that would be fair, yes.
(voice-over): The White House argues the president's actions will be within his executive authority and in line with polls that show broad support for
tightening background checks.
SCHULTZ: Unfortunately, Congress hasn't shown the courage to do so. So, that's why the president asked his team to look at what we can do
ACOSTA: Vowing to fight the move, the nation's biggest gun lobby, the NRA, says the president is doing what he always does when he doesn't get his
way, defying the will of the people and using executive action.
Another controversial proposal coming in the New Year, the president will ask Congress to shut down the terror detention center at Guantanamo,
facility Mr. Obama may close on his own if lawmakers balk at the White House plan.
OBAMA: It will be an uphill battle.
ACOSTA: The president also hopes to travel to Cuba and perhaps more than a dozen other countries in what is shaping up to be a global farewell tour.
But the president's agenda could be up ended but setbacks in the war on ISIS, a foreign policy crisis that could complicate White House plans to
have the president campaign heavily with the 2016 Democratic nominee, a prospect that may well put him and Hillary Clinton on the trail together
[11:40:20] OBAMA: I think we will have a strong Democratic nominee. I think that Democratic nominee will win. I think I will have a Democratic
ACOSTA: But first, the president will layout his plans for the final year in office at the fast approaching State of the Union Address, which is less
than two weeks away. A White House official say don't expect a long list of proposals in part because the president is running out of time.
Jim Acosta, CNN, traveling with the president in Honolulu.
ANDERSON: Jim Acosta reporting for you.
Well, let's return now to our top story and the backlash over the execution in Saudi Arabia of the
Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr.
Toby Matthiessen joins me now on the phone from Oxford University's Middle East Center. And apologies for the particularly bad line we had earlier
We were talking about the message from Riyadh in the execution of al-Nimr and the other 46 mostly accused of terrorism and affiliation with the Sunni
group, it has to be said, al Qaeda.
A very clear message in this, Toby, we don't do dissent and security issues and we will not accept that going forward.
Let's concentrate on the rest of eastern province where the Shiite cleric was from. How big a threat does it pose to the leadership in Riyadh and
the al-Saud family?
MATTHIESSEN: Well, it does pose quite a significant threat particularly because the Shia, which make up a majority of the population in the eastern
province, have been discriminated against and suppressed particularly over the last few years, the very unwise policies which were distinctly
anti-Shia both at home and in the region have fueled more anger.
And Nimr al-Nimr was the kind of the leader of a protest movement since 2011. He was then arrested in 2012 and has since been on death row.
But most people expected that he wouldn't be executed but rather kept as a sort of bargaining
tool, you know, telling the people that if they stayed quiet then he and about 20 other young Saudi Shia, which are on death row, would not be
But after this execution now, really, I also don't know what will happen and what will restrain people from really going out and demanding their
ANDERSON: I know that you think this was possibly a way of getting Sunnis rallying around the kingdom's flag in a way perhaps to deflect attention
from the real issues in Saudi life, for example, the economic problems of late given the significant fall in the price of oil.
But what is absolutely clear is the ratcheting up of tensions between Saudi and Iran does nothing to help solve the conflict in Yemen and will
significantly hurt and possibly hinder any peace or peace talks in Syria, correct?
I mean, we should remember that over the last few days, Saudi Arabia has announced that it
will cut subsidies, it will raise the price of basic commodities. So, it has serious economic problems
because of the low price of oil.
It has also just restarted the bombing campaign in Yemen. Now this execution. So I suppose these executions shall rally people around kind of
sectarian narrative of Saudi as the defender of the Sunnis and the Shia if they rise up, they will be treated accordingly.
Now, this obviously will complicate possible solutions of the Syrian crisis. It will further inflame tensions in Bahrain and the eastern
province as well as in Iraq. I mean, many Iraqi, Shia actors have really taken on the issue of Nimr al-Nimr as like one of the main things they were
calling for in foreign policy and they called for, you know, a stop -- or not even an opening of diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia after this.
So, it's really pretty serious the regional implications of this.
ANDERSON: We do know that Sheikh Nimr's nephew is still on death row. He's only 17 or certainly was when he was arrested after these protests in
2011. It remains to be seen what happens to him.
Certainly Sheikh Nimr's brother and the father of his nephew calling for protests or objections which are peaceful as opposed to violent protests
against the Riyadh leadership.
We do know that will al-Nimr and other Shias were lumped together with some pretty serious Sunni militants. What was it, remind our viewers, that
Sheikh Nimr was charged with? And just how close, if at all, has he been to Iran, for example?
MATTHIESSEN: Well, he was charged with sedition basically and you know, urging people to overthrow the government and in fact, he did. He did call
for the downfall of the al-Saud.
But interesting, he also called for the downfall of Assad, for example. So the sectarian narrative, you know, that he's only a Shia and the stooge of
Iran doesn't really fit.
I mean, e was certainly calling for actually a peaceful revolution in Saudi Arabia and that is why he was executed. But lumping him together with al
Qaeda leaders which actually really did attack the state and did commit acts of terrorism in Saudi Arabia is really quite outrageous. And I
suppose it is being done so that the execution of these al Qaeda figures is more acceptable amongst the Sunni
hardliners in Saudi Arabia. And we've actually seen some pretty hardline clerics inside Saudi Arabia come out and saying these executions were
justified and so on and so forth. So these are the reasons.
ANERSON: Fascinating. Well, this story isn't going away. We'll speak again.
For the time being, thank you for persevering with us for the technical difficulties we had early on. Toby Matthiessen fo you from Oxford
University's Middle East Center.
Live from Abu Dhabi, this is Connect the World. I'm Becky Anderson.
Coming up, a major snowstorm disrupting travel in parts of Turkey while the UK and the U.S. still dealing, I'm afraid, with massive flooding. A check
of the latest and quite wild weather just ahead.
ANDERSON: Well, a major winter storm has dumped heavy snow across parts of Turkey. One city along the Black Sea coast picked up nearly a meter of
The storm also dropping up to 20 centimeters of sea effect snow, as it's known, in Istanbul.
Hundreds of flights were canceled and schools closed in many cities. More snow and travel disruptions are expected for the next week. So if you're
traveling to that part of the world, do keep an eye on it.
I want to bring in meteorologist Allison Chinchar who joins me from CNN Center.
Wild weather for the time of year in Turkey. And we continue to have miserable conditions for
many people living in the U.S. and in the UK. Just what do you want to start with, Turkey?
[11:49:58] ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Let's start with Turkey, because again while they do get sea effect snow there, it's not generally
this late into the season. They tend to get this earlier. Say November into December when that colder air first comes down from the Arctic. But
it was a little bit delayed. Much of Europe has been so warm so far this winter.
But look at these totals. Istanbul picking up just about 20 centimeters. Barton (ph), this was a big winner, we had about 93 centimeters.
But other areas, you can see well to about 66 to about 75 centimeters of snow. Again, incredible.
Here are some of the images coming out. You can see not only with the streets but cars, mopeds, everything are just absolutely covered with the
Here's an interesting juxtaposition. You have the palm tree coated in snow in downtown is Istanbul. Incredible.
The reason for it. Again, you have the Black Sea. We have that frigid continental arctic air
coming down from the north mixing with the warm air that sits right on top of the Black Sea and the
combination of the two very much like in Canada and the United States how you get lake-effect snow it's very similar. And we have the low pressure
system that was over Russia bringing those snow trails straight down into the Black Sea coastal areas of Turkey and very heavy, thick snow.
Now the thing is, they're going to go through the same thing over again. We have a trailing set of systems that will be coming in.
Now, Istanbul likely mostly to just get rain out of this. But any of the areas along the Black
Sea coastal areas of Turkey could end up picking up additional snow on top of it.
Another area, here's a look at some of those snowfall totals. Notice again around the central region could pick up at least an additional 20 if not 30
Now, once we look farther off to the north and west, now we move up to the UK, an area that they really do not need any more rain into these areas.
They're also going to pick up some snow into parts of the Scottish highlands, most of these areas picking up an additional say about 50
But take a look at this video, this is an area that absolutely does not need to have any more rain added to it.
Already, Wales and Scotland picking up their wettest December on record, because they were just flooded with amounts of rain. A lot of streets,
homes completely flooded out. Again, not good news for them to pick up any more rain.
Another region that doesn't need to see any more more rain is the United States. Again, right along the Mississippi River, they're still dealing
with massive flooding stretching from St. Louis all the way down towards New Orleans.
Some of the sites have already crested. That's good news. They could begin the recovery process. But farther south into cities like Memphis and
New Orleans, they have yet to crest. And, Becky, the flooding could just get worse over the text ten to 14 days.
ANDERSON: Absolutely remarkable.
All right. Allison, thank you for that.
Live from Abu Dhabi, this is Connect the World. I'm Becky Anderson. Coming up, a -- well, let's try this one shall we, a heart-warming story
from a chilly arctic dog sled team where the snow is abundant and so are the puppies.
ANDERSON: Well, your Parting Shots just before we go this evening, A story of snow puppies.
Let me start again. It's a story of snow, of puppies and a team of hard- nosed CNN journalists.
During one of their reporting assignments recently, CNN international correspondent Arwa Damon and her team headed to a dog sled camp where a
guide shows them how to drive a sled and handle their four-legged friends.
Have a look at this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Thomas Kantolson (ph) and I'm a guide working here on Svalbard. And I'm a dog sled guide.
What I do is I'm bringing people from all over the world in the wintertime on sleds and in the
summertime and early fall on wagons.
If you have a bad morning, you get out in the yard, it's not possible to not be happy when you meet these dogs because there's always happy to see
[11:55:29] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can we get a puppy? Oh, my god.
Do you guys like the iPhone?
Can you take a picture of him kissing my nose?
Oh my god, this one's in my pocket.
Oh, someone stole my hat. Could I get my hat back?
OK. All right.
I'm being overrun by cuteness.
Excuse me. Excuse me.
Thank you, Arwa. Thank you, thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does it smell of pee?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It smells of puppy love.
UNIDENTIFIED MAEL: So this is the dog teams that we are going to use.
So I will be driving dog team number one. Then the two of you will be driving dog team number two.
They are bred to do running. It's like sheep herding dog would go love to run herding
sheeps and these dogs they want -- they love to run and pull a wagon.
You stand on top here, you can steer this like a bike you see. We got long row of dogs, six
dogs now. When they go to the right, you have to do the same. The dogs are the ones that decide where we are going.
And we use brakes like on a bike and we can stop.
We call this harness a cross back harness over here. And then when you are walking with them, you walk like this, they are like a two-wheel drive,
then they are easy to control.
Yeah, they always get excited when they are going to run.
I found out that they like dogs here. I always knew that I really enjoyed being out in nature and especially in the wintertime.
When you start to work with the dogs, you get so many friends in the dog yard that it's -- you just have to continue working with them because they
are your best friends.
ANDERSON: A different story there from Arwa, producer Gul (ph) and the rest of the team.
You can always follow the stories that the team is working on by using Facebook.com/cnnconnect. Do get in touch with us that way or you can tweet
me. @beckyCNN. That's @BeckyCNN.
I'm Becky Anderson. That was Connect the World. From the team here, it's a very good evening.