Iran and Saudi Arabia-Sanity to Prevail
By Dr. Minhaj Qidwai
The relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia (IS) have never been smooth since their inception. Both oil rich countries, monarchy/authoritarian style, quest for geo-political dominance, relations with super powers; and above all different interpretation of Islam have made them bitter enemies of each other. Both, Iran and Saudi Arabia are Muslim-majority nations follow and rule through Islamic Scripture, their relations are fraught with hostility, tension and confrontation, due to differences in political agendas that are strengthened by their differences in faith. Saudi Arabia is a conservative \”Wahhabi\” Sunni Islamic kingdom with a tradition of close ties with the United States and United Kingdom. In fact, Saudi Arabia came into existence with the help of Britishers, conniving against Ottoman Empire and thus playing a part in breaking it. In the Middle East, it was the main beneficiary. Iran is a Twelver Shia Islamic Republic founded in an staged anti-Western and anti-Shah revolution, where its leader came from France to lead the nation. Like the Sunni Wahabi sect is also followed by some other countries especially in Gulf; Iran’s Shia religion is also followed in other countries. This polarization has created two distinct blocks among the Muslims. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran have aspirations for leadership of Islam, and different visions of stability and regional order. There have been number of incidences where both have come close to retaliate against the other in the region and on global platforms. After the Islamic Revolution, relations deteriorated considerably after Iran accused Saudi Arabia of being an agent of the US in the Persian Gulf region, representing US interests rather than Islam. Saudi Arabia is concerned by Iran’s consistent desire to export its revolution across the board to expand its influence within the Persian Gulf region — notably in post-Saddam Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Bahrain. In addition, Iran’s controversial, much debated nuclear program is also a source of instability for Saudi Arabia.
Tensions between the two countries have waxed and waned. Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran soured particularly after the Iranian Revolution. There have also been numerous attempts to improve the relationship. After the 1991 Gulf war there was a noticeable thaw in relations. In March 2007 President Ahmadinejad of Iran visited Riyadh and was greeted at the airport by King Abdullah, and the two countries were referred to in the press as \”brotherly nations\”. However, post-Saddam and the Arab spring has changed the scenario. At present, Iran enjoys control on Iraq and is supportive of Syrian regime; which has made the two arch rivals wide apart from each other. Control of Damascus by opposing forces is termed as crucial for the global powers. A new dimension was given to the crises in post-Saddam Iraq and in Syria by the induction of Islamic State (IS). While Iran and Saudi Arabia may be having differences but both see IS as their enemy.
Both agreed to come at one platform to devise strategies to control IS. While Saudi Arabia is fearful of IS. It is also afraid of the minority Shia in the kingdom. These Shiites have allegiance with Iran and are against the kingship rule, asking for more rights.
This led to arrests of several Shia leaders in Saudi Arabia and few days back led to the execution of one of the leaders Nimr-Al-Nimr. This led to protests in the region and in Iran led to the burning of Saudi embassy in Tehran. The Saudi reaction was swift, with announcement of severing of ties. This makes the situation tense in the fragile region. Hard line approach from Iran and a tit for tat follow up by Saudi Arabia will make the situation further worse. Although, Saudi Arabia has the right to take decisions related to their security as does any other country like Iran; however, the option of severing ties from Iran by Saudi Arabia was not a better choice. The action and reaction from Saudi Arabia may influence other countries to follow the suit. Sanity should prevail on both sides and the super powers should intervene to diffuse the situation If urgent action is not taken, both the countries (IS) and IS will compound the miseries of the people in the region.