Saudi-Iran tensions over execution of cleric: analysis. With the holidays over national polling will resume shortly.
Happy New Year to all of our viewers. Polling for the presidential nominations, by and large, took a break for the holidays. Polls from individual states, you’ll recall, get much more accurate with the holidays in the rear view mirror. We’ll analyze and report on them and the important national polls as they become available.
Meanwhile, sectarian tensions in the Middle East were exacerbated when the Saudis executed a Shiite cleric that triggered large demonstrations at the Saudi embassy in Tehran, which was ransacked and damaged in the process. That this was in violation of the Geneva Convention seemed of little consequence to the demonstrators, who appeared organized, judging by the plethora of similar professionally made signs showing the likeness of the cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. Iran, of course, is predominantly Shia, while Saudi Arabia is Sunni–with a sizable Shia minority, that mostly live in Saudi’s strategically important Eastern oil region. Al-Nimr, though not theologically a major cleric, was popular throughout the Shiite world and had spent many years in Iran. Al-Nimr, a long-time vocal critic of the Saudi royal rule, had called for the secession of the Eastern Provence, and had been arrested numerous times. Executing him, at this time, appears to show the ascendance of the “hard-line” faction in Saudi royal politics. Not at all surprising given Saudi Arabia’s invasion of Yemen to fight the Shia Houthi Rebels and their opposition to Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite (an offshoot of Shia Islam) rule in Syria. Saudi Arabia responded to the destruction of their embassy by breaking off diplomatic relations with Iran. The same day, Saudi Arabia unilaterally announce an end to the cease-fire in Yemen. Saudi’s Persian Gulf allies Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait either downgraded or broke off relations with Iran. Bahrain, where the U.S. has a naval base, has Sunni rule but contains a Shia majority population.
Though regional tensions are obviously strained, fears of a disruption of Persian Gulf oil, or worse, of military confrontation–at least at this time–are likely overrated. For one thing, the Saudis have not walked away from participation with Iran in talks about possible regime change in Syria. For the moment, at least, the actions on both sides are largely symbolic. Perhaps more important, they reflect internal political contests, between hawk and dove factions among the major participants.