Monday, January 4, 2016

A New Year With Little Promise for the Middle East

Saudi Arabia's execution of the prominent Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, has set off protests throughout the Middle East.

In Ankara, Baghdad and Tehran protestors took to the streets to voice their indignation of the Saudi Kingdom's move to have the cleric, among almost 50 others convicted on terrorism charges, executed. Nimr al-Nimr was allegedly responsible for the killing of Saudi police officers during rioting, which his family contends. 

In Tehran, the protest outside the Saudi Embassy soon turned violent with demonstrators making their way into the compound as they set the building alight with molotov cocktails.

The violence against Saudi Arabia's Embassy no doubt provokes the memory of the U.S. hostage-taking in 1979, where Iran's revolution and political shift left America's presence loathed and unguarded for a historic support of the authoritarian Shah, previously Iran's leader. The 444 days of captivity for staffers and their families remains a point of contention for both nations.

In response to the event, Saudi Arabia was quick to announce it is cutting diplomatic, commercial and even transportation ties between the two states. The attack on the Embassy left no one injured but may lead to unprecedented bloodshed even amid the current prevalence of religious fundamentalism and violent extremism.

Analysts have spoken plainly regarding the effects of the quarrel between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Looking to establish peace and stability in countries Syria, Yemen and Iraq will remain almost impossible if not for the coordination between the region's two most powerful nations, which just so happen to be religiously partial.

This was signaled by several nation's move to align themselves with either of the two; the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, among other Sunni-majority states, flocked in support of Saudi Arabia while in Iraq, a Shia-majority nation like Iran, politicians and religious figures made clear Saudi Arabia's wrongdoing in accordance with the Iranian view.

The international response to the execution has been overwhelmingly in favor of Iran and against Saudi Arabia for a move that clearly aims to further destabilize the region and allow the further spread of the Islamic State, which follows a fundamentalist doctrine of Sunni Islam.

Saudi Arabia is becoming increasingly uncurbed. The Kingdom has had direct involvement in the success of the Islamic State in recent months in Iraq and its intentions of promoting religious bloodshed can be traced back to an infamous conversation that took place between then-head of MI6, sir Richard Dearlove, and Prince Bandar Bin Sultan; the latter exclaimed, "the time is not far off in the Middle East...when it will be literally 'God help the Shia'. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them."

The conversation makes discernible the irked state's position, as shown by one of its most distinguished representatives to the West at the time. 

In the aftermath of the continued violence at the blood-spattered hands of ISIL, Dearlove has remarked that Saudi Arabia is evidently complicit in genocide. This is constituted primarily by the "Muslim-on-Muslim" conflict that has emerged, but also religious minorities, notably Christians. 

Hundreds of thousands have been displaced and some estimates have shown that some nations will have no Christian population within a matter of years owing to ISIS violence and Saudi backing. 

The current conflict between these two nations, and the general involvement of Saudi Arabia in fueling extremism, has urgent implications for the West. As the U.S. continues to move away from Saudi Arabia and closer to Iran with regards to the conflict in Syria, we will seen an increase in violence. 

This violence will not only take place in desolate deserts, but across the world, as the Islamic State continues to have safe havens from which to operate and promote bloodshed. The terrorist group's internet presence will further weave extremism into the fabric of European and American society, making it harder to identify and deal with over time. 

Saudi Arabia's involvement has largely been avoided as a topic of political conversation. However, decreasing oil prices (which only spiked during the current situation), mean less dependence on the Saudis and more spine for Europe and North America. The lifting of Iranian sanctions have helped more Iranian crude make its way to the market, and the Western reaction to the execution is in no way a coincident. Germany, whose relations with Iran are budding, has already suspended weapons exports to the Kingdom and it won't be alone in its response. 

While Saudi Arabia has undertaken a step to perturb the region, its own position is most threatened.
The Kingdom continues to shroud flagrant support for religious extremism, yet Iran continues to leverage its relation with the U.S. through involvement in Syria -- the right type of involvement. No doubt a shouting match with Iran will only leave the Kingdom with a broken voice. 

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