The crisis between the two totalitarian regimes, although one is a kingdom and the other a republic, is not likely to cause a sectarian war, but nonetheless will incite polarization in the Middle East
Soon after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan paid a visit to Saudi Arabia with a delegation in tow, tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran came into the spotlight. Erdoğan conducted a series of productive meetings with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, which resulted in a decision to form a strategic partnership between the two countries. The details of the planned Islamic alliance against DAESH also began to be specified in these meetings. However, before even finding a chance to review the reflections of the visit, Riyadh executed some 47 people, including the prominent Shiite cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, which raised concerns regarding whether a Sunni-Shiite war would break out. Why did Saudi Arabia execute Nimr? Why has the country issued statements targeting Iran? Do they ultimately aim to target Shiites?
To answer these questions, it is necessary to look at Iran's recent expansionist policies, attempts to increase its influence and Saudi Arabia's practices in order to protect its regime. By smartly taking advantage of the authority gap in Iraq, the ongoing civil war in Syria and Shiite minority in Yemen, Iran has indisputably marked the most expansionist policies in the Middle East in the recent period. The Shiite leaders relegated from Iraq during Saddam Hussein's reign eventually returned and gained prominence. Also, the U.S. government condoned former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's pro-Shiite policies. Remember Turkey's rightful objections during that period. On top of that, Iran also backs President Bashar Assad in Syria and acted as one of the main factors sustaining the regime for a long time. In addition, Hassan Rouhani being elected president as a moderate figure favors Iran. Having been able to keep close relations with the West and negotiate with the U.S., Rouhani could implement the country's fear-instilling expansionist policies much more easily.
When one looks at Saudi Arabia, considering all these aspects, it can be observed that the country, which is a very totalitarian and introverted state, is endeavoring to protect its regime. Of course, this factor cannot justify their actions, but Nimr was killed not because he was Shiite, but because he was seen as a threat against the country's regime. The others executed were affiliated with al-Qaida and already on the list of terrorists. Even this is enough to refute the argument that emphasizes a sectarian point of view.
Of course, one can find some traces of the deeply rooted Sunni-Shiite conflict in this crisis. However, it has a political character encompassing some sectarian factors. Saudi Arabia does and risks everything for the sake of protecting its regime. It is impossible to mention democracy or human rights in this context. And Iran is no different. The world is watching a conflict between two totalitarian regimes. Although one is a kingdom and the other a republic, they both completely disregard the individual. One feels the urge to say let them fight each other. As for the executions, it would be useful to cite remarks by Renad Mansour, a Lebanese analyst at the Carnegie Middle East Center, to the BBC: "The 46 people executed along with Nimr were Salafis propping al-Qaida. This might have caused serious trouble in Saudi society." In other words, Mansour claims that Nimr was executed to divert attentions. But it is highly questionable how logical it is to divert attention by stirring up the entire Shiite world.Also, Salman could have taken this step in order to provoke and radicalize, increasingly consolidating Iran again. Riyadh, which is a good ally of the U.S., does not hide its disturbance over the developing relations between Iran and the U.S.
At this phase, this crisis is not likely to cause a war between the two countries, but it can sharpen the polarizations in the Middle East even more, which can endanger the efforts to gather the parties in Syria at a table.
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