The religious roots of Iran’s rivalry with Saudi Arabia

Discussion in 'West Asia & Africa' started by pmaitra, Oct 14, 2011.

  1. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    Posted at 12:08 PM ET, 10/13/2011
    The religious roots of Iran’s rivalry with Saudi Arabia

    By Vali Nasr

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    Then Saudi Arabian Foreign Policy Advisor Adel-Al-Jubeir gestures during a press conference in response to U.S. engineer Paul Marshal Johnson's beheading at the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington, in this June 18, 2004 file photo. U.S. authorities broke up an alleged plot to bomb the Israeli and Saudi Arabian embassies in Washington and assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States, court documents and a U.S. official said on October 11, 2011. (SHAUN HEASLEY - REUTERS)

    The furor over the alleged Iranian plot to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States has made one point clear: The most important strategic divide in the Middle East today is between Iran and Saudi Arabia. At issue is religion and power. Iran’s clerical rulers see their regime as the product of the first and only Islamic revolution, and the true vanguard of Islamic politics in the Muslim world.

    For it’s part, Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam; the Saudi king carries the title of the keeper of the two holiest shrines in Islam (those ofMecca and Medina). The Saudi monarchy was also born of a puritanical religious revolt and continues to see itself as the true standard bearer of Islam.

    Saudi Arabia and Iran are the two most avowedly religious states in the Middle East. But they are not of the same creed. At issue between them is not which is more religious and truer to the spirit of Islamic law, but rather whose Islam is the true faith. The majority of Iranians are followers of Shiism, the smaller of the Islam’s two main branches, and Saudis are predominantly followers of Sunnism.

    Since the Iranian revolution the two have competed over leadership of the Muslim world and claims over who speaks for Islam. Ayatollah Khomeini denounced the Saudi monarchy in his will, and Saudi clerics have reciprocated with fatwas declaring Shias as heathen. The rivalry between the two has divided Islamists into warring camps. In Pakistan, it ignited a sectarian war that continues to rage and over the past three decades has claimed thousands of lives.

    The Iraq war transferred power from Iraq’s minority Sunni regime to its majority Shia population. That emboldened Iran and angered Saudi Arabia, which continues to support that country’s Sunnis and shun its Shia leaders.

    The same pattern has since unfolded in Lebanon where Iranian-backed Shia Hezbollah is now accused of murdering that country’s popular Saudi-backed Sunni Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, and more recently, of ousting his son from office and replacing him with a Sunni politician of its own choosing.

    The familiar narrative of the Arab Spring is its call for democracy, but behind that hopeful dynamic lies the specter of more Saudi-Iranian competition, this time to decide what comes after faltering dictatorships. Saudis drew a line in the sand when Bahrain’s Shia protesters looked poised to topple the Sunni monarchy in that island kingdom, and Tehran and Riyadh are now supporting opposite sides in Syria.

    After Iraq, the West took refuge in the false hope that the worst of Middle East’s sectarian conflicts were over. But the Washington plotshows that the fundamental divide at the heart of Islam continues to shape regional politics. This is a struggle shaped by identity that is defined by sect; but it is not a battle waged in books or at mosques and seminaries. It is now high politics intermingled with rivalry between states. Iraq’s sectarian war was a paroxysm of violence; the Saudi-Iranian rivalry burns on a much slower fuse. This is battle over who garners the political power of Islam; but also which claimant to leadership of the Muslim world and the sect of Islam that it represents, will decide the future of the Middle East.

    Vali Nasr is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy of Tufts University. From 2009 to 2011, he was an advisor to the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke. He is the author of many books, including, “The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam will Shape the Future.” Follow him on Twitter @vali_nasr.

     
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2011
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  3. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    Obama Says Facts Support Accusation of Iranian Plot

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    [HR][/HR]October 13, 2011

    Obama Says Facts Support Accusation of Iranian Plot

    By HELENE COOPER

    WASHINGTON — President Obama vowed on Thursday to push for what he called the “toughest sanctions” against Iran, saying that the United States had strong evidence that Iranian officials were complicit in an alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States.

    In his first public remarks on the assassination scheme, Mr. Obama sought to counter skepticism about whether Iran’s Islamic government directed an Iranian-American car salesman to engage with a Mexican drug cartelto kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States and carry out other attacks. Mr. Obama insisted that American officials “know that he had direct links, was paid by, and directed by individuals in the Iranian government.”

    “Now those facts are there for all to see,” Mr. Obama said. “We would not be bringing forward a case unless we knew exactly how to support all the allegations that are contained in the indictment.”

    The president did not lay out any specific new sanctions against Iran; his administration is considering a number of measures, but has limited leverage and would have to muster international support to impose anything with real teeth.

    While Mr. Obama made his remarks during a news conference in the White House East Room with the South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, the State Department said that United States officials had been in direct contact with the government of Iran over the accusations.

    The State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, would provide no details. But Thursday night a White House official said the contact had been made by the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice, who gave a letter to her Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Khazaee.

    In her remarks about the alleged plot, Ms. Nuland said: “When you look at these details, it seems like something out of a movie. But as you begin to give more detail on what we knew and when we knew it and how we knew it, it has credibility.”

    Mr. Obama said that the administration had reached out to allies and the international community to build support. “We’ve laid the facts before them,” he said. “And we believe that after people have analyzed them, there will not be a dispute that this is in fact what happened.”

    The president got some support from some allied governments on Thursday. The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, told reporters at a news conference in Vienna that “this dastardly act reflects the policies of Iran.” The Saudi government has not yet decided whether to withdraw its ambassador from Tehran in protest, he said.

    In London, the British foreign secretary, William Hague, told the House of Commons that the suspected plot “would appear to constitute a major escalation in Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism outside its borders,” British news agencies reported. He added that the British government was “in close touch with the U.S. authorities and will work to agree an international response, along with the U.S., the rest of the E.U. and Saudi Arabia.”

    Iran escalated its rebuttal of the American charges, saying the claims about the alleged plot were so ludicrous that even politicians and the media in the United States were expressing skepticism about them.

    Iran’s state-run media was dominated on Thursday by rejections of the American charges. The foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, called the charges part of a “new propaganda campaign.” The official IRNA news agency quoted Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as saying: “Repeating stupid and useless methods by hopeless Western policy makers to create Iranophobia will not be fruitful and they will fail again.”

    While Mr. Obama echoed assertions by other administration officials that Iranian officials were complicit in the alleged plot, he did not go as far as some officials did on Wednesday when they told reporters that they had concluded that the operation had been discussed at the highest levels of the Iranian government.

    Appearing next to the South Korean president, Mr. Lee, who was in Washington for a state visit, Mr. Obama promised to “apply the toughest sanctions and continue to mobilize the international community to make sure that Iran is further and further isolated and pays a price for this kind of behavior.” He said that all options were on the table — a diplomatic signal that he would not rule out military strikes — but administration officials privately say it is highly unlikely that the United States would respond with force.

    Instead, the administration will try to persuade Russia, China, Europe and India to endorse tougher sanctions against Tehran. Thus far, the United States has prodded its international partners to put in place limited sanctions against Iranian officials involved in the country’s nuclear program, as part of the international effort to rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

    But that strategy has, so far, had limited success, with Russia and China in particular wary about going too far in a direction that officials say could hurt commercial interests in those countries.

    The United States does virtually no business with Iran, and that leaves American officials with few meaningful options for unilateral action. Some lawmakers in the United States are calling for Mr. Obama to try to increase pressure on Iran by punishing Russian and Chinese companies that do business with Iran’s energy industry. But the administration has resisted such a move, which would undoubtedly deeply anger Moscow and Beijing.

    White House officials said they were still weighing what additional sanctions they would push for in light of the alleged plot. One possibility, administration officials said, would be to target Iran’s central bank. But that likely would provoke resistance because it would entangle other countries or entities that do business with the central bank. Another possibility would be to focus on members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps who are involved in the country’s oil industry. But that could affect global oil markets.

    Standing next to Mr. Obama in the White House East Room Thursday, Mr. Lee gave him a measured vote of confidence on the suspected plot.

    “We were deeply shocked when we read the reports on the attempt to harm the Saudi envoy here in Washington, D.C.,” Mr. Lee said. “I and the Korean people strongly condemn all forms of terrorism.”

    Artin Afkhami contributed reporting from Boston, Steven Lee Myers from Washington, and Rick Gladstone from New York.

    Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/14/u...sanctions-following-alleged-plot.html?_r=1&hp
     
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2011
  4. civfanatic

    civfanatic Retired Moderator

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    All obvious stuff. But it should be added that Saudi Wahhabism in particular is to blame for sectarian conflict, and not necessarily Sunnism in general.
     
  5. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    Of course. The way I look at it, Sufis are also Sunnis and are rather peaceful and want to get on with their lives. Correct me if I am wrong, most of the people who frequent the Sufi shrines identify themselves as Sunnis.
     
  6. Tronic

    Tronic Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    Sufis and Sunnis are two different sects and schools in Islam (the more radical Sunnis reject the Sufis as heretics). In the Indian subcontinent however, like all other religions, these all overlap each other. Sufi shrines are frequented by Sunnis, Shias and even Hindus alike. In Sikhism, sufi saints are actually part of the religion, their teachings are part and parcel of the Guru Granth Sahib.
     
  7. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    Thanks for the corrigendum. Yes, there are radical Sunnis who reject the Sufis as heretics, just like they do for Shias and Ahmadiyas.
     
  8. Galaxy

    Galaxy Elite Member Elite Member

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    Iran is Shia majority. Also, Bahrain is Shias majority (15% Sunnis) and In Syria, Shias are minority around 15%.

    Now, Look more closely. Syria is ruled by Assad family for last 40 years (He is Alawi - Shia) on other hand, Bahrain is ruled by Sunni Monarchy. Iran is supporting Assad and opposing uprising in Syria and vice-versa in Bahrain.

    8)
     
  9. W.G.Ewald

    W.G.Ewald Defence Professionals/ DFI member of 2 Defence Professionals

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    Well, that sentence needs editing.
     
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2011
    Tronic likes this.

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