How to ease Iran-Saudi Arabia crisis

Story highlights

  • Arshin Adib-Moghaddam: Saudi Arabia-Iran crisis about power politics, not Sunni vs Shia
  • U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 fundamentally changed Saudi view of the region, he says

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam is professor in Global Thought and Comparative Philosophies and Chair of the Centre for Iranian Studies at the London Middle East Institute, SOAS, University of London. The views expressed are his own.

(CNN)The execution of Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia at the weekend has triggered a predictable diplomatic crisis.

Iran immediately condemned the move, the Saudi Embassy in Tehran was attacked by angry demonstrators, and Saudi Arabia then severed diplomatic ties with the country. On Monday, Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates followed suit. Yet despite the war of words, it is important to remember that this crisis is merely a microcosm of a wider geopolitical chess game between Saudi Arabia and Iran. And it might also need some outside help to prevent it escalating further.
Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia must have known that the execution of a senior Shia cleric would exacerbate existing grievances within the region, especially with Shia-dominated Iran. After all, both countries claim leadership within the region and beyond. And both use sectarianism as a tool to buttress their goals.