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The Sectarian Divide in Iran–Saudi Relations

Part of the Contemporary Gulf Studies book series (CGS)

Abstract

President Hassan Rouhani came to office with the promise of bringing Iran out of the cold, to normalise Iran’s external relations. This agenda was primarily focused on US–Iran relations and hinged on Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But there was also a regional angle to the agenda: presenting Iran as a responsible and reliable power that works for regional stability. The notion of regional stability has been a constant theme in Iran’s foreign policy proclamations. Yet Iran’s relations with Saudi Arabia suffered a diplomatic breakdown under Rouhani’s watch. The war in Syria, and Yemen, and security concerns in Bahrain have pitched Iran and Saudi Arabia against each other. The breakdown in relations has led observers to describe the relationship as a new Cold War, with connotations of an ideological divide. Tehran and Riyadh have contributed to that impression by sponsoring sectarian players and depicting the other as a corruptor of Islam. This chapter will examine this relationship in light of the religious/ideological divide. To what extent is President Rouhani a prisoner of Iran’s Shi’a identity?

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Turki Al Faisal bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, “Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Policy,” Middle East Policy, 20 (4), 2013, pp. 38–39.

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  4. 4.

    Mahmood Monshipouri and Manochehr Dorraj, “Iran’s Foreign Policy: A Shifting Strategic Landscape,” Middle East Policy, 20 (4), 2013, pp. 133–147.

  5. 5.

    Ibid.

  6. 6.

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  7. 7.

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  8. 8.

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  9. 9.

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  10. 10.

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  11. 11.

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  12. 12.

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  13. 13.

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  14. 14.

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  15. 15.

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  16. 16.

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  17. 17.

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  18. 18.

    Kayhan, June 28, 1990; cited in Takeyh, p. 133.

  19. 19.

    Kayhan, July 6, 1989, cited in Takeyh, p. 133.

  20. 20.

    “Ayat Azam Makaram, “Nouri va Safi dar mahkoumiyat e fatway e muftihaye Saudi,” (Translated: Grand Ayatollahs Makaram, Nouri, and Safi Condemn Fatwas Issued by Saudi Clerics) Iranian Student News Agency, July 23, 2007.

  21. 21.

    The June 7, 2017 terrorist attacks against Iran resulted in the death of 12, while injuring 42. For more info on attacks see Bozorgmehr Sharafedin, “Islamist militants strike heart of Tehran, Iran blames Saudis,” Reuters, June 7, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-security-idUSKBN18Y0HV.

  22. 22.

    Bethan McKernan, “Tehran attacks: Iran parliament gunman ‘detonates suicide vest on fourth floor,” The Independent, July 7, 2017, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/tehran-attacks-iran-parliament-suicide-bomb-vest-gunman-shooting-explosion-a7776556.html.

  23. 23.

    Ross Colvin, “‘Cut off head of snake’ Saudis told U.S. on Iran,” Reuters, November 29, 2010, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-wikileaks-iran-saudis/cut-off-head-of-snake-saudis-told-u-s-on-iran-idUSTRE6AS02B20101129.

  24. 24.

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  25. 25.

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  26. 26.

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  27. 27.

    Nicholas Cumming Bruce, “Bazargan Government Resigns in Iran,” New York Times, November 7, 1979, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1979/11/07/bazargan-government-resigns-in-iran/e4360d7c-31ba-4cd0-9cbb-4649d24f50f2/?utm_term=.101ddba71bfd.

  28. 28.

    Shahram Chubin, “Iran and the Arab Spring: Ascendancy Frustrated,” Gulf Papers (Gulf Research Centre, 2012), p. 3.

  29. 29.

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  30. 30.

    “Iran’s Supreme Leader accuses Saudi Arabia of committing ‘treason’ against Muslims with US alliance,” The Independent, January 17, 2017, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/iran-saudi-arabia-treason-accusation-muslims-ayatollah-ali-khamenei-donald-trump-jerusalem-israeli-a8163306.html.

  31. 31.

    Frederic Wehrey, Saudi Iranian relations since the fall of Saddam: rivalry, cooperation, and implications for U.S. policy (Santa Monica: Rand, 2009), pp. 3–4.

  32. 32.

    Donald Trump, “US President Donald Trump’s Saudi speech – full transcript,” The Sydney Morning Herald, May 22, 2017, https://www.smh.com.au/world/us-president-donald-trumps-saudi-speech-full-transcript-20170522-gw9wkm.html.

  33. 33.

    Madawi Al-Rasheed, A History of Saudi Arabia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 2nd edition, 2010, p. 131.

  34. 34.

    Simon Mabon, Saudi Arabia and Iran: Soft Power Rivalry in the Middle East (London: I.B. Tauris, 2013), p. 5.

  35. 35.

    Ray Takeyh, Guardians of the revolution: Iran and the world in the age of the Ayatollahs (Oxford: New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 2.

  36. 36.

    Shabnam J. Holliday, Defining Iran: Politics of Resistance (London: Routledge, 2016), p. 111.

  37. 37.

    UNESCO, “Dialogue Among Civilizations,” 2001, http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0012/001238/123890E.pdf.

  38. 38.

    Ariane M. Tabatabai and Annie Tracy Samuel, “What the Iran-Iraq War Tells Us about the Future of the Iran Nuclear Deal,” International Security, 42 (1), 2017, p. 117.

  39. 39.

    Mohammad Javad Zarif, “What Iran Really Wants: Iranian Foreign Policy in the Rouhani Era”, Foreign Affairs, 93 (3), 2014, p. 52.

  40. 40.

    Ibid.

  41. 41.

    “Iran nearly doubles its death toll from Hajj stampede,” Al Jazeera, October 1, 2015, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/10/iran-doubles-death-toll-hajj-stampede-151001073425842.html.

  42. 42.

    “Iran Suggests Saudi Arabia Should Not Run Haj,” Reuters, September 5, 2016, https://thewire.in/world/iran-suggests-saudi-arabia-should-not-run-haj.

  43. 43.

    Toby Matthiesen, The Other Saudis: Shiism, Dissent and Sectarianism (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

  44. 44.

    Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzojan, “U.S. Relies Heavily on Saudi Money to Support Syrian Rebels,” New York Times, January 23, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/24/world/middleeast/us-relies-heavily-on-saudi-money-to-support-syrian-rebels.html.

  45. 45.

    “Guards chief rejects Trump ‘slander’ that Iran behind Saudi missile,” Reuters, November 6, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-missiles-iran-trump/guards-chief-rejects-trump-slander-that-iran-behind-saudi-missile-idUSKBN1D50QD.

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Correspondence to Shahram Akbarzadeh .

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Akbarzadeh, S. (2020). The Sectarian Divide in Iran–Saudi Relations. In: Zaccara, L. (eds) Foreign Policy of Iran under President Hassan Rouhani's First Term (2013–2017). Contemporary Gulf Studies. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-3924-4_5

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