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In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran are two countries that claim to leadership in the region. With a powerful resources and political potential these countries are the...

Topic: Regional rivalry in the Middle East.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011 - 09:16

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran are two countries that claim to leadership in the region. With a powerful resources and political potential these countries are the undisputed leaders, possessing about 60% of world oil reserves for two. The basis of the economies is oil and gas industry. Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran are located in a strategically important part of the world, linking Europe, Africa, Asia and the Pacific.
Countries’ Economics
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the leading Arab countries, with very significant political and economic potential, both regionally and globally, the main energy supplier of the Persian Gulf to the world market. The advantages of Saudi Arabia are huge oil and gas reserves, a well-developed manufacturing industry, and annual revenue from pilgrims visiting the holy places of Islam. Weaknesses of Saudi Arabia are the sphere of education (professional education is not developed), the social standard of living (unemployment), imports of the most consumer goods and industrial raw materials.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is the fifteenth largest in the world in terms of GDP and the largest among the countries of the Middle East and OPEC. Iran has the second largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia's. Weaknesses of Iran are sanctions imposed on it in 1979 that restrict contacts and access to new technologies, high unemployment and inflation.
Iran's oil and gas industry is slightly inferior to the one in Saudi Arabia. As for the social status of the country, Iran is the leader, as the orientation of the system of social welfare depends on the traditions and internal political events to a large extent. Economic expansion in England in the 20th century caused various social welfare systems of the country. In turn, Saudi Arabia limited social level by its tough conservative theological policy. Islamic Republic of Iran is more temporal country than Saudi Arabia.
Domestic Policy
The domestic policy of these countries is very complex and interesting because both countries, being the Islamic Republics and "colleagues" on oil exports, have different institutes of policy and international relations. The difference between Iran and Saudi Arabia is that it seems that Iran is the united and solid country, but it has a number of contradictions. Supreme power belongs to a supreme religious leader - Rahbar, Ali Khamenei. Ayatollah has the widest range of powers (according to the Article.110 of the Constitution of Iran, Rahbar is granted unprecedented rights in the legislative, executive and judicial powers, in matters of war and peace, the appointment of individuals and their removal, the approval of a presidential candidate, etc.). The President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the second official in the country after the spiritual leader, and he presents the republic as the chief executive authority. So the authority of the religious leader is spread to practically everything, and the scope of the activity of the president is limited to the approval and guidance of the Cabinet Office, the budget approval and signing contracts and agreements of the Iranian government with other nations. There is unpublished struggle between the two directions: the struggle of reformists and conservatives. The Supreme Leader and the president are deep-rooted conservatives, the supporters of the Islamic revolution. And therefore there are a lot of conflicts and disagreements in the government, as the reformists support the restoration of dialogue with the West, which is absolutely contrary to the Constitution of Iran.
In Saudi Arabia the situation is different, the country is an absolute monarchy, and it is managed by sons and grandsons of the first King Abdul-Aziz ibn Saud. In contrast to Iran the full power belongs to the King of Saudi Arabia (King subordinates all branches of government; there are no political parties in the country). Saudi King is a moderate reformist, a man who, while controlling the state, gradually upgrades the country's politics, holds reforms, and tries to keep the society with the help of radical Islam. Despite the conservative structure of the society and the full establishment of Islamic law, the king tries to balance between the American pressure and the Arab regional interests.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are Muslim. Iran is Shiite and Saudi Arabia is Sunni. So this splits the unity of the Muslim world. The emergence of Shiism is connected with religious and political opposition against the authority of the Arab Caliphate, from a struggle for power between the successors of the Prophet Muhammad. The main feature of Shiism is the belief that the legitimate successors of the Prophet, Imams, may only be his relatives or descendants, but "selected" by the community Caliphs are illegal. In this regard, the Shiites reject the Sunnah, compiled in the first caliphs’ presence from the legends about the prophet. The position of the Shiites is against Sunnis position. In Iran in 16th century Shiite Islam became the state religion, and in the 20th century it gave rise to the Islamic Republic. The confrontation between the two currents exists up to today.
Saudi Arabia is the center of the Islamic world because are the most important shrines of Islam (birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and the cradle of Islam) are situated on its territory. Saudis profess traditional Islam, especially Wahhabism, which calls on Muslims to return to the sources of pure Islam is practiced (promoted) in the kingdom. The Sunni (90%) prevails in the Muslim world, and therefore the leaders in this fight are the Saudis. Paradoxically, Iran (where the head of the country is elected by nation-wide voting) in their model of governance fits Shariah more, and in Saudi Arabia, ruled by the royal family, Shariah prohibits the monarchy. Attempts of Iran to export Islamic revolution throughout the Muslim world were not successful; we can’t say the same about the export of Saudi Wahhabism (Algeria, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Caucasus, Chechnya). Close cooperation with the U.S.A. helped the Saudis in this regard to come forward. Unpublished mission of Iran is to overthrow the Saudi regime and to become a political religious leader in the Islamic society, to support actively Shiite groups in neighboring countries in order to increase the supporters of Shiism. The main argument of Iran against Saudi Arabia is its "betrayal" of the interests of the Muslim world for making profits.
Foreign Policy
The leading country in the world, the USA, of course plays an important role in international relations in the world arena. Iran is opposed to this powerful country. Naturally, America does not like it. But Iran is not going to kiss the "master hands". Accordingly, it’s hard for Iran to maintain leadership in the Middle East without the support of the USA. As for Saudi Arabia, this country is an important strategic partner of the USA in this region. International relations between the two countries began from the Cold War. On the one hand Saudi Arabia is the largest supplier of oil and gas, and on the other hand, it received military support from the U.S. The foreign policy of Saudi Arabia aims to preserve priority positions of the kingdom in the Arabian Peninsula, among the Islamic States and oil-exporting countries. Close international relations with the West gained an advantage to become a regional leader in the Middle East. This caused the severance of relations with Iran, because Iran refused point-blank to cooperate with the leading country in the world. The confrontation between Iran and the United States from 1979 to the present showed America and the world that Iran is able to pursue an independent foreign policy, free from pressure of superpowers. Confrontation of these countries cost Iran great losses in economic development: Iran deprived himself, perhaps the most important source of technology that is particularly required for the development of the oil industry, but this is the price Iran paid for its independence from the U.S. policy. Main geopolitical ambitions of Iran are an ambition for regional leadership and for a limitation of the global players’ presence in the region. Because of rising tensions with the West, primarily with the United States, Iran found support on the side of Russia. Iran's foreign policy focuses on cooperation with the Russian Federation as a strategic ally. Russia is the largest supplier of arms and nuclear technology to Iran and the effective economic partner (for example, the construction of the Bushehr nuclear plant.). From a geopolitical point of view, Iran and Russia share a common interest - to control Central Asia without U.S. participation. A strategic alliance between the two countries and their cooperation (even including nuclear and military sectors) is hugely beneficial for both Russia and Iran.
Middle East is one of the most dangerous regions of the world on concentration of threats to spread nuclear weapons. This is reflected in the fact that the conditions of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons were already breached. This caused a lot of unsolved conflicts in the Middle East, the central place of which is occupied by the Arab-Israeli conflict. Israel's nuclear capabilities is endangering for a number of Muslim countries. In turn, Iranian nuclear capability, which is directed to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, does not exclude the possibility of creating nuclear weapons, which can serve as a deterrent to Israel's ambitions, but it can also become a platform for entry into the ranks of countries possessing nuclear weapons.
Despite the numerous sanctions imposed by the international community against Iran's nuclear program, which is accused of violation of the Convention on the Non-Proliferation of nuclear weapons, Iran declared itself a nuclear power in February 2010. This statement was made to the anniversary of Islamic revolution in 1979, and the West warned Iran that it would soon strike a regime in the form of new sanctions.
Saudi Arabia, which does not officially have a nuclear bomb, but which actively sponsored nuclear program in Pakistan for creation a nuclear bomb, in fact, is not considered a nuclear-dangerous objects, and it is not on the lists of "international pariah" along with Iran and Iraq. It’s all because it is a good support of a great empire in the Middle-East Region.
Actual weight of Saudi Arabia and Iran in the Muslim world is determined by the fact that the position of Saudi Arabia differs by its stable authority in the formal political systems of Arab countries that share different political and economic interests. However, its role as a U.S. ally has a negative impact on its religious and political authority in the Middle East. In turn, Iran's policy contradicts the position of the Saudis, and it doesn’t have broad support at the state regimes of the Arab countries. Nonetheless, its stubborn policy of resistance to American pressure in the internal affairs of the region, and the uncompromising position concerning many issues of regional relations, promote the growth of political authority as the only country that actually defends the rights of Muslims in the region.
The above analysis suggests that the struggle for leadership, which started between Iran and Saudi Arabia, can not end in the nearest future by apparent victory of one of them. This circumstance makes the political consolidation of the Muslim world necessary. The situation in the region, suggests the possible merging of interests based on the principles of Islamic solidarity. Now this course of events has all the prerequisites for implementation.

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