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Iran quietly changes name of 'Nimr Street' in Mashhad

After deal with Saudi, Iran quietly changes name of 'Nimr Street' in Mashhad
2 min read
11 April, 2023
In an attempt to buy Saudi Arabia's trust, Iranian officials removed the name of an executed Saudi Shia cleric from a street in the holy city of Mashhad.
A man in Tehran holds a local newspaper reporting on its front page the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, signed in Beijing the previous day, on 11 March 2023. [Getty]

While the Iranian and Saudi foreign ministers met last week in China with huge fanfare and massive press coverage to restore ties, something was brewing quietly in Iran to assure Riyadh about Iran's good intentions: the name of Sheik Nimr was removed from a street in Mashhad.

Mashhad, Iran's second-largest city, is one of the most religious cities in the country, and the Shrine of Imam Reza, the eighth Shia imam, is located there. After the execution of the Shia Ayatollah Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia, the city council in Mashhad voted to rename the street where the Saudi Arabia consulate was based to Sheikh Nimar.

On 8 April, Ali Movaqar, a journalist in Mashhad, posted photos showing the removal of the Sheikh Nimr street sign in Iran's second-largest city following the restoration of ties between Tehran and Riyadh.

"The street name sign was removed in a very stealthy way not to hurt the honour and authority of the revolutionary officials," Movaqar wrote on Twitter.

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Sheikh Nimr was a popular cleric in Saudi Arabia among the minority Shia Muslims, with several young followers. He was an outspoken critic of the Saudi royal family and was executed in January 2016.

Iranian pro-reformist media also covered the news about the change of Nimr Street's name, but due to risks of prosecution, the outlets only published the photos posted by Movaqar and, in one line, reported the change of the street's name.

However, on Farsi social media, many users highlighted that Saudi Arabia ceased its political ties with Iran when, in protest to the execution of Sheikh Nimr, the hardline Basij militias raided the Saudi consulate in Mashhad and their embassy in Tehran and set the two buildings on fire.

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Pejman Mousavi, a member of the board of directors at the Tehran province Association of journalist, wrote: "The sign of Nimr Street was brought down in Mashad; so what happened to all the work they had done to make Sheikh Nir a symbol of struggle and resistance?"

Abdollah Abdi, an Iranian journalist based in Switzerland, posted a video from 2016 in which Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei hailed Sheikh Nimr and vowed that "the revenge of his blood would happen undoubtedly".

Along with the video, Abdi wrote: "Now what about Ayatollah Khamenei's promise of divine revenge and the punishment of Saudi Arabia government? Is that fulfilled, or now it's cancelled?"