In events that have since become known as the Arab Uprisings or Arab Revolutions,
people across the Middle East took to the streets to express their anger and
frustration at political climates, demanding political and economic reform. In a
number of cases, protest movements were repressed, often violently, with
devastating repercussions for human security and peace across the
region. While a number of scholars have sought to understand how the
protests occurred, this book looks at sovereignty and the relationship between
rulers and ruled to identify and understand both the roots of this anger but
also the mechanisms through which regimes were able to withstand seemingly
existential pressures and maintain power.
Saudi Arabia and Iran: The struggle to shape the Middle East provides a detailed exploration of the rivalry between Riyadh and Tehran across the Middle East. As one of the most compelling rivalries in international politics, the Saudi–Iranian competition for regional influence has impacted on a number of different locales. After the onset of the Arab Uprisings and the fragmentation of regime–society relations, communal relations have continued to degenerate, as societal actors retreat into sub-state identities, whilst difference becomes increasingly violent, spilling out beyond state borders. The power of religion – and the trans-state nature of religious linkages – thus provides the means for actors, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, to exert influence over a number of groups across the region. Given these issues, the contributions to this volume, and the collection as a whole, have two main aims: firstly, to explore the nature of the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran within the contemporary Middle East; and secondly, to consider the impact of this rivalry upon regional and domestic politics across the Middle East. This volume examines how the rivalry is perceived in both Saudi Arabia and Iran, as well as in the contestation over religious legitimacy. It also offers in-depth explorations of the impact of this rivalry upon five regional states: Iraq, Syria, Bahrain, Lebanon and Yemen, all sites of contestation between Riyadh and Tehran, albeit in different guises. In doing so, it highlights how the rivalry is shaped by the contingencies of time and space.
not necessarily the literal manifestation
of Agamben’s bare life, political meaning had been stripped from groups across the
region, wherein individuals are bound by the laws of the state yet not protected by such
laws. For Agamben, once in this position, there is no escape and one should accept the
position of ‘being thus’.2 Yet looking across the region in the early months of 2011, it
was difficult to view events as the acceptance of the status quo. Instead, what quickly
became known as the ArabUprisings was seen as the rejection of being thus and the
Houses built on sand
The crisis consists in the fact that the old [order] is dying and the new cannot be
born; in this interregnum a large variety of morbid symptoms appear.
Antonio Gramsci, Passato e presente
Ana wa akhi ala ibn ammi, ana wa ibn ammi ala algharib.
[My brother and I against our cousin, my cousin and I against a stranger.]
An old Beouin saying
In the fallout from the ArabUprisings, a number of parallels have been drawn with the
Thirty Years’ War across Europe in the seventeenth century.1 Take the opening lines of
an article by Richard
the protests emerged from state-building processes, which
facilitated the widespread repression that followed the uprisings. Although a number
of regimes created bare life in an attempt to end the protest movements, this was
not always successful. Instead, because of the existence of strong normative currents
across the region, further mechanisms of control were deemed necessary. This chapter
traces regime responses in the aftermath of the ArabUprisings, beginning with the
declaration of emergency powers before moving to consideration of securitising
increasingly difficult in such contexts, where the spread of identities and religious
groups provides opportunities for a range of actors to wield influence and highlights
the fragility of states across the region. It is this struggle to regulate life amid instances
of contested sovereignty across the Middle East that is the main focus of this book.
A growing body of work quickly emerged in the aftermath of the ArabUprisings,
the spate of protests that cut across the Middle East in early 2011. The literature on
the uprisings spans a range of different theoretical
Rekindling of Shia loyalty and Sunni fears in Bahrain
study were of the opinion that the political orientation of some Shia groups in Iraq and
Lebanon were compatible with those of Iran, and these groups consequently sought to intensify
sectarian tensions in Bahraini society during the 2011 crisis, as well as threatening state
sovereignty by interfering in local political life. 68
Re-framing regional sectarianism
The ArabUprisings in 2011 were of great significance
for Tehran in terms of maintaining its regional leverage and ideological goals. 69 In 2015, Khamenei stated that
achievable, is viewed by Tehran as the best
guarantee to ensure security. It is by letting the regional states develop modalities to
re-balance the distribution of power in the Middle East that peace can be restored. 11
This chapter primarily focuses on developments in Iranian–Saudi
relations after the ArabUprisings in 2011. This is a period in which relations between the
two states have arguably reached their lowest ebb since the Iranian Revolution and so
provides us with a critical time period in which to analyse the
use of religious difference.
This book aims to offer further nuance to understanding
and explaining the relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia by considering the implications
of the rivalry upon regional politics. Although both religion and geopolitics are important
for understanding the nature of the rivalry, reducing analysis to either approach is deeply
problematic. After the onset of the ArabUprisings and the fragmentation of
regime–society relations, communal relations have continued to degenerate, as
the ArabUprisings where violence was used to crush protest movements, seemingly
whatever the cost.
The fragmentation of sovereign borders and retreat into communal identities
collapsed domestic and regional politics into new spaces of the political that placed
regime survival above human security, albeit not curtailed by territorial borders.
Following regime responses to the uprisings, intractable conflicts have emerged,
becoming all-encompassing, dividing societies and communities along political lines.
Socio-economic contexts add additional