Bahrain and Sudan joined Saudi Arabia in cutting ties with Iran on Monday amid escalating tensions between Tehran and the Sunni states triggered by the execution of a Shiite cleric in the Gulf kingdom over the weekend.
The United Arab Emirates also said it recalled its ambassador from Iran on Monday and downgraded diplomatic relations with Tehran over its “interference” in the affairs of Gulf and Arab countries.
The UAE decided to lower “diplomatic representation to the level of charge d’affaires and reduce the number of Iranian diplomats in the country,” the foreign ministry said in a statement, quoted by the official WAM news agency.
The move came after Saudi Arabia severed links with the Islamic Republic on Sunday.
“This exceptional step has been taken in the light of Iran’s continuous interference in the internal affairs of Gulf and Arab states, which has reached unprecedented levels,” said the UAE foreign ministry.
It said relations should be based on “mutual respect for the sovereignty” and “non-interference in the internal affairs of others.”
The UAE enjoys strong business ties with Iran, and the emirate of Dubai is home to a large Iranian community.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir announced Sunday that the kingdom was severing diplomatic ties with Iran after demonstrators stormed its embassy in Tehran in protest of Riyadh’s execution of a Shiite cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.
Jubeir also said that all Iranian diplomats must leave Saudi Arabia within 48 hours.
Saudi Arabia “is breaking off diplomatic ties with Iran and requests that all members of the Iranian diplomatic mission leave… within 48 hours,” he told a news conference.
Iran’s supreme leader warned Sunday that Saudi Arabia would face “divine revenge” for executing a Shiite cleric, as condemnation also poured in from Iraq and protesters took to the streets.
Executions have soared in Saudi Arabia since King Salman ascended the throne a year ago, with 153 people put to death in 2015, nearly twice as many as in 2014, for crimes ranging from murder to drug trafficking, armed robbery, rape and apostasy.
Human Rights Watch said Saturday’s “mass execution was the largest since 1980” when 68 militants who had seized Mecca’s Grand Mosque were beheaded.
“Saudi Arabia had a shameful start to 2016, executing 47 people in a day, after a year with one of the highest execution rates in its recent history,” said HRW’s Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson.
Amnesty International said Saudi Arabia was using Nimr’s execution “to settle political scores.”