Saudi allies unite against Iran

Tensions are increasing across the Middle East as Bahrain and Sudan cut ties with Iran. The United Arab Emirates, home to hundreds of thousands of Iranians, has also downgraded its relations with the country and Saudi Arabia broke off all relations with Iran following the storming of its embassy in the Iranian capital of Tehran.

Iran has accused Saudi Arabia of using the attack on its embassy as justification to cut ties and stoke tensions across the region in the deepening crisis.

Iranian demonstrators had attacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran in protest at Saudi Arabia’s execution of senior Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr who had been an outspoken critic of Saudi’s ruling Al Saudi family.

Shia communities worldwide have responded furiously to the Sunni Kingdom’s execution of the cleric.

Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, has retorted by accusing Iran of creating “terrorist cells” among the Shia minority in the Saudi Kingdom.

He has todays announced trade links with Iran would be cut and air traffic stopped, but has conceded that Iranian pilgrims travelling to holy sites in Mecca and Medina will still be allowed to enter.

As a result of the growing crisis, gold prices have increased as investors seek refuge from the potential economic fall out of these unfolding events and oil prices have risen almost two percent. 

Global concern

China, a large importer of crude oil, has said it is, “highly concerned” with events. Russia has offered to mediate between the two countries and the US and Germany have both asked both sides to show restraint.

The troubles also threaten to derail attempts to end Syria’s civil war, where Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab powers support rebel groups whilst Iran continues to back President Bashar al-Assad and his supporters.

Unity in Syria with an end to the civil war is seen as a key objective in defeating ISIS and removing their power base in the country, leading many in the West to be concerned over the implications this may have on efforts to defeat the terrorist organisation in the longer term.

Key facts

  • Saudi Arabia is a Sunni Kingdon, whereas, in Iran, Shia Islam is the official religion accounting for approximately 90% of the population. Iran has previously accused Saudi’s ruling Sunni’s of poor treatment of its Shia minority.
  • The schism between the Sunnis and Shia sects of Islam occured after the death of the Prophet Muhammed in 632 over who should lead the Muslim community and has resulted in bitter in fighting within the religion. The vast majority of Muslims are Sunni, who regard themselves as the Orthodox branch of Islam, with roughly only 10% being Shia.
  • The strained relations between the two countries are due not only to Sunni/Shia divisions, but also being on staunchly opposing sides in the current Syrian and Yemeni civil wars.
  • Whilst troubles between various groups within the Middle East pre-date even Islam, friction has existed between the two countries for many years. Amongst many other events, in 1997 Iranians stormed the Saudi embassy with a Saudi diplomat dying in the ensuing events, Iran’s nuclear programme has provoked fear and confrontation from Saudi Arabia, there were accusations of Iranian assassination plots against Saudi diplomats abroad during the 2011 Arab Spring, and more recently during the Syrian crisis, accusations from Iran that Saudi Arabia was supporting terrorism by supporting the rebels trying to topple Iran’s ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.