The Middle East: Saudi Arabia and Iran compared

Course Material 2020/21

Iran and Saudi Arabia have much in common. They are both major powers – the two largest countries by area – of the eastern Middle East. They are significant oil-producers, and have two of the largest oil reserves in the world. Islam plays an important role in political and social arenas, with an embedded role for the clerical class in public affairs in both countries. Both are countries within which the rights of women have been significantly curtailed over many decades by their governments. And yet these are countries that have become fierce rivals across the Persian Gulf, each portraying the other’s government as illegitimate. They have had no diplomatic relations since 2016, and sponsor rival groups in civil conflicts elsewhere in the Middle East. Both accuse the other of sponsoring and directing groups that seek to undermine regional and international security. The prospect of a direct war between them in the near future is far from implausible.

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