Saudi Arabia adopted a cautious policy following the formation of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In simpler terms, the Kingdom took on a wait-and-see approach as it gave time for the formation of Iranian policies. It was not too long before a high-ranking diplomatic delegation led by the OIC’s (Organization of the Islamic Conference) secretary general was sent by King Khalid to congratulate the new government and the new state. The crown prince at the time, Fahd expressed his respect for Iran and its leadership as did the King by describing Iran as a pioneer. Although the gestures of acceptance and the political welcome showed by Saudi Arabia, Iran’s response was aggressive. The Iranian government took on several actions that escalated the concern of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. For instance, statements against the Hejaz region and the Saudi Royal family were made by Iranian officials. Moreover, protests by Iranians were organized during Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage which happens in Saudi Arabia in 1980 which sought to oppose the Israeli and American policies.
Hajj is the season during which Muslims from around the world gather in Saudi Arabia to peacefully pay their religious duties. Therefore, demonstrations during this time would pose challenges for both the Saudi government and religious leaders as well. 1980 also saw the gathering of liberation movement groups which attracted Saudi Shiites and led to the formation of the Saudi Liberation Front in Tehran, Iran. Further concerns by the Saudi government took root following the seizure of the Holy Mosque in 1979 by Salafis, and also through the Saudi Shiites uprising in 1980 ((Sadeghi & Amhadian, 2011). Ayatollah Khomeini described the attacks on the Holy Mosque as having received support from America and Zionists (New York Times, 1979 as cited in Sadeghi & Amhadian, 2011). Despite this condemnation of the mosques’ seizures, the Saudi Government did not loosen up its concerns over the new nation (Fuller &Francke, 1999).
Sanctions by the U.S on Iran led to a loss of $12 billion during the reign of Khomeini, but the state was able to sell its oil to non-American buyers and to some American companies that bought from them and sold to non-American customers. Iran would have benefitted from the lost income especially during its warring times with Iraq and the subsequent drop in oil prices increased further the harm done by the U.S sanctions. The Iranian economy suffered when oil prices fell to $10 a barrel in 1986, from $40 a barrel in 1981 and also due to the cost of war with Iran whereby Iranian infrastructure was greatly crippled. Sanctions from the U.S cost Iran $1 billion annually while the cost of war and the loss from reduced oil prices ran into the hundreds of billions.
The first post-war revolution saw Khomeini’s creation of a system dependent on oil and an ineffectual system of bureaucracy which had direct influence over the now increasing levels of unemployment, corruption, and inflation. The Iranian economy faced further strain when Khomeini called for increased population which resulted in a 4% increase in population. This means that the population was increased by twenty million in a period of ten years.
During Khomeini’s rule, labor laws were tough on employers, entrepreneurs and even the business owners who avoided expansion of their enterprises to escape the Iranian labor laws that prohibited elimination. To work around this law, business owners hired Iranian to work for them on a contract basis instead of full-time employment. Khomeini delivered on his social promises whereby citizens were afforded access to better healthcare systems and a right to education. Improvements in Iran reached a record high with the provision of clean water, Healthcare, as well as vaccinations. Increased levels of literacy between the youth and women resulted from the education system while poverty levels dropped from 40% to 20% which reflected positive progress (International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, 2013).
Actions and statements made during the infancy of Iran shaped the manner in which the Saudis perceived the Iranians, which contributed greatly towards the formation of foreign policies between the two countries. In 1980, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia supported Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, but it remained neutral when making public statements about the war that lasted eight years. Saudi Arabia is believed to have had a hand in the war because Saddam Hussein, president of Iraq at the time had flown to Riyadh with the aim of discussing and confirming plans of action (Sadeghi & Amhadian, 2011). All Gulf States sent delegations to the meeting held in Riyadh whereby Iraqi’s President was confident of his capability to demolish Iran’s government in a matter of weeks. Given that Iran’s capacity to face war was not too strong; the prediction to last several weeks was not only Iraq’s estimation. In this matter, the CIA also predicted that the war would last several weeks while the U.S Defense Secretary, Harold Brown pointed out that the war was not major. A military action plan was set up which involved not participating in the war unless Khomeini’s troops reached the Straits of Hormuz. Having announced its neutrality in the Iraq-Iran war, the U.S received a request for military support along the Saudi Arabian borders to protect the kingdom in case Iran decided to retaliate.
The fear of retaliation was a result of Iraq’s intent to use other Gulf States to launch strikes against Iran. Four Airborne Warning and Control Systems were flown to Saudi as a gesture of protection from the Soviet and Iran which was explained as the U.S’s protection of a friendly state. Saudi Arabia was pro-war and therefore receiving support from the U.S translated to indirect support of the same. This fact would be supported by the fact that Iran-U.S relations were strained because of the hostage incidents (Tarock, 1998). As a response to the worries about Iran, six Gulf States met in Riyadh to formalize the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) in May 1981. The meeting resulted in the choosing of a midway approach towards the issue, but it emerged that Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were the only two nations supporting Iraq with political, economic and military aide (Sadeghi & Amhadian, 2011). During the twelfth Arab League Summit, King Fahd wished for a peaceful resolution and a discontinuation of the war which would ultimately lead to peaceful relations and stability between the two nations (Al-Fadhil Zeid, 2000). Prince Fahd’s eight-point plan recognized Israel as a state in 1981 in a move aimed at bringing peace to the Middle East but instead increased tension in Iranian-Saudi relations (ALkawaz, 2007).
The goal of GCC’s establishment in 1981 was to strengthen the military, political and economic ties among the Gulf States which also translated as a move to unite the region against Iran. While this was happening, Iran was planning on exporting the Islamic revolution through claiming Bahrain as well as other Gulf regions. Iran’s position on its relations with Saudi Arabia was made known when Khomeini, in a public speech threatened to take the war to the Gulf States when and if he confirmed of their involvement in the war. Efforts to resolve the emerging conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia were noted in the years 1985-1986 whereby diplomatic relations between the two countries were seen to improve. For example, the Saudi Foreign Minister at the time, Prince Saud Alfaisal made a visit to Tehran to hold talks over unresolved issues between Saudi and Iran.
The Prince met with the Iranian Foreign Minister, Ali Velayati where they discussed Iranian’s role in the demonstrations held during Hajj, OPEC and even the Iraq-Iranian war. Additionally, when Iran’s Foreign Minister visited Riyadh, the meeting focused on ending the war, which would translate to an end of the spread of the Iranian revolution in the region. This meeting however, did not bear much fruit as no developing point was reached (Alkawaz, 2007). The controversial topics in the discussion brought the two countries further apart instead of assisting in finding the root cause and solution to their dispute (Sadeghi & Amhadian, 2011). Following the failed talks, Saudi Arabia adopted a new radical strategy by supporting Iraq fully. This was done through a daily sale of 280,000 barrels of oil to Iraq from Saudi Arabia, the Iraq government was allowed to use the Kingdom’s ports to transport their equipment and also they were provided intelligence data from Saudi’s intelligence agencies. The dispute did not stop with that as Saudi Arabia continued to pressure Iran by dropping oil prices while increasing production which the Iranian Prime Minister, Mir Hossein Mousavi stated as unreasonable. He explained that the increased production was the reason for the collapse in oil prices and the move was closely threatening action from Iran. Additionally, the Iranian speaker of parliament Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani threatened to seize all oil exports from Iran and investigate the reason for the drop in oil prices whereby the Islamic Republic of Iran would take action against Saudi Arabia if proven to be responsible (Alkawaz, 2007).
In the years after the Iranian revolution, Iran named Saudi Arabia as the American brand of Islam and began spreading propaganda against the Kingdom. The 1980s were highlighted by continued demonstrations in Saudi by Iranian Hajjis and the riots escalated when an uprising led to the death of 400 pilgrims. The Saudi government was accused by Iranians as being responsible for the attacks and Khomeini demanded that both mosques be under the Islamic Republic. It was after this event that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia reduced considerably the issuance of visas to Iranian pilgrims. Relations between Tehran and Riyadh improved only after the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 whereby Rafsanjani and Khatami took leadership of the Islamic Republic and Khatami, in 1999 became the first Iranian leader to visit Riyadh. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is not under the control of the Iranian president, but the commander in chief who happens to be the Iranian Supreme Leader. For this reason, both Rafsanjani and Khatami had no way of stopping the IRGC from military action especially towards the neighboring nations, Saudi Arabia included. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei became the Supreme Leader of Iran in 1989. The United States’ pressure on Gulf nations to reject and eliminate Iranian influence was the reason why Rafsanjani and Khatami reached out to Saudi Arabia to strengthen the relations between the two countries. According to Terrill (2001), the sanctions on Iran by the U.S were as a result of Iran’s association with terrorism as well as the nuclear program in place.
Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran were marred by hostility and tension in the period between the second Gulf War in 1991 and the Islamic revolution. As accusations of Iran’s exportation of the revolution via the Middle East began to fade, so did the hostility between the two nations as was shown by the calmer diplomatic relations. Kuwait and other Gulf States received the support of Iran in 1990 despite their position on the Iran-Iraqi war as was the intent of both Khatami and Rafsanjani to create strong relations with neighboring countries. The introduction of ‘Dialogue among Civilizations’ was pioneered by Khatami who supported openness to the rest of the world and stability in foreign relations with Arab nations. His ideas and policies won him a second presidential term whereby he aimed to focus on the rule of law, understanding public opinion, respect for Iranian rights as well as those of women and the youth. It was also through these policies that freedoms not previously enjoyed during the Islamic Revolution became a reality. For instance, the ministries of interior and Culture both offered licenses for the formation of a dynamic press, and freedom to form political and civic associations. Khatami also demanded the stepping down of two intelligence ministers and simultaneously cut back on extravagances enjoyed by the ministry. According to Bakhash (2010), President Khatami executed a constitutional article which led to the start of local elections that were non-existent before his time.
Iranian investment was reduced as a result of decline in oil prices and Khatami has to divide the state’s resources between state control and economic liberalization. However, President Khatami’s second term was easier to govern than the first as his government adopted a more logical approach to save the Iranian economy. Import regulations and the tax code were simplified while he also invited foreign insurance companies and banks to invest in the local economy, a first since the formation of the Islamic Republic. Additionally, the government took on to saving some of its oil revenues to provide funding for government investments and also to act as a cushion in case Iran faced further economic hardship. Bakhash (2010) explained that while this was happening, privatization of state-owned industries continued. On the other hand, Khatami reached out to the U.S with the hope of improving relations between Iran and the West. Iran, through President Khatami was determined in ending the conflict created by its position on Israel and was willing to engage in a pro-Arab Israel process of peace. Iran was also willing to temporarily disable its nuclear program in order to focus on foreign relations with Western nations. President Khatami’s efforts were controversial in the eyes of the supreme leader as well as the IRG and his actions were met with harsh consequences. For example, the mayor of Tehran, Karbaschi who was influential in the development plans of Iran was accused of corruption and was later jailed. A failed assassination attempt on Sa’jdhajjarian, the president’s chief political strategist rendered him disabled according to Bakhash (2010).
On the other hand, Rafsanjani’s rule took a more practical approach by allowing both foreign and local investors to liberate the Iranian economy from state control. Cultural and social freedoms were afforded to the women, youth as well as the middle class as women became visible in the streets wearing makeup and bright colors. Art galleries and the illegal sale of American movies were ignored by the government, allowing individuals to improve their living standards. In Rafsanjani’s reign, the Ministry of Culture transformed dramatically as Iran witnessed adoption of liberal policies such as production of movies, journalism and widespread reading of books. Bakhas (2010) pointed out that it was due to the policies adopted during Rafsanjani’s rule that led to the international recognition of Iran’s film industry which later on won several international prizes. A debatable foreign development plan was implemented by President Rafsanjani which entailed foreign borrowing and allowing the private sector to participate more freely. Exchange rates reduced drastically, the government provided relief on import and foreign currency limitations, state-owned industries began privatization and price controls were among some of the changes implemented by the Iranian government. This plan led to the growth of debt and inflation due to relaxed foreign exchange controls, increased government spending and the import policy. However, the plan was modified between 1994 and 1995 when the private sector faced several restrictions and a reoccurrence of control over credit and prices which infuriated the public and led to the eruption of riots. Despite Clinton’s ban on American investment in Iran’s oil, President Rafsanjani signed a deal with Conoco and American Oil Company worth $1 billion (Bakhash, 2010).
Iran’s close ally, Hezbollah benefited from the withdrawal of troops from Southern Lebanon in 2000 and the victory was shared by Iran and Syria. Following this success, different Arab speaking nations as well as individuals expressed their support for Hezbollah and Nasrallah, their leader. Due to increased pressure to support Hezbollah Saudi Arabia had no choice but to offer its support. Following the withdrawal of Israel from Lebanon and the increasing Hezbollah popularity, what worried Saudi Arabia was the increased spread of Saudi Shiites. A new phase in the Gulf Region broke ground when both Iran and Saudi Arabia signed a security agreement. According to Alkhateb (2010), the security deal went beyond diplomatic protocols to the formation of a relationship on both social and diplomatic levels; wherein Riyadh, the accord was signed by Iran’s Minister of Interior AbdulwahidMusaviLari and the Kingdom’s Minister of Interior, Prince Nayef. In accordance with their individual laws and regulations, both countries agreed and signed on a number of articles. The accord was founded on three different pillars which were; science, youth, cultural and sports exchange, economic exchange as well as the general ruling.
To broaden the idea of the accord’s main part on security, the following points are worth taking note. The accord called for;
• Cooperation between the two nations in fighting organized crime, illicit enrichment, money laundering and international terrorism.
• Participation in the exchange of intelligence and experiences and also in the training of security forces.
• The formation of a security forum aimed at allowing dialogue between the two nations as well as monitoring the common dangers that would threaten the safety of both Iran and Saudi Arabia.
• The lift on the ban of Iranian pilgrims to perform Hajj as well as making the process of visiting Saudi easier. It also allowed citizens of GCC nations to travel to Iran without visas but only if their visit would not exceed three months.
• A boost in trade relations whereby exchanged visits of technical, economic and trade professionals was encouraged to provide insight and increase trading prospects.
• Avoid and prevent any aspect that would threaten the economic relationship afforded to the two nations.
• Formation of a ministerial committee that would meet on an annual basis which was mandated with working on progressing the development projects between Saudi and Iran.
• Cooperation especially on culture and youth whereby exchange programs which would be accomplished through exchange programs ()Altoraifi, 2012)
As a result, highly sophisticated coordination between both nations led to numerous visits by top officials. Iraq’s new government in 2003 was not recognized by Saudi Arabia mainly because of the Shiite opposition yet Iran did not agree with Saudi Arabia. However, in Saudi Arabia’s defense, the new Iraqi government was under occupation. With respect to the Iraqi situation Saudi’s criticism put Iran in a progressive position and the public hatred of Shiites by Saudi clergies only widened the gap between the two nations. It was not long before the kingdom realized the harm done by the escalated conflict between the Shiites and the Sunnis. As a result, the formation of a national dialogue forum aimed at engaging the Sunnis and the Shiites through their religious figures.
President Ahmadinejad ushered in a new era in the diplomatic relations between Saudi and Iran when he was elected president in 2006. Hostility between the two nations was on a new high where Saudi media headlined accusations launched against Iran. The Islamic Republic was accused of reactivating its nuclear plans, exporting the Islamic revolution, allowing America troops in the Gulf region and its involvement in Palestine, Syria and Lebanon. According to Alkawaz (2007), these reasons were seen to threaten the relations between the Kingdom and the Islamic Republic. Iran’s strategic influence in the Middle East region was rooted in the 1908 discovery of oil during Shah’s reign. At the time, oil production in Iran was done by the government through the Anglo-Persian company which in 1935 was renamed Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC). As the company underwent ownership and developmental phases, it was renamed again to British Petroleum in 1954, despite the numerous attempts by Mohammed Mossadegh the Iranian prime minister to nationalize AIOC. A UK oil embargo befell Iranian exports following the efforts of Mohammed Mossadegh to nationalize Iranian oil. The government faced increased pressure when the UK tried to preclude Iran’s sale of oil to foreign nations. After the removal of Mohammed Mossadegh from office, Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi took over after his return from exile and this changed the oil policies for Iran. Shah’s government signed deals with a number of western companies such as BP, CFP (of France), and Dutch Shell as well as several American companies. The agreement was that NIOC would receive 50% of Iranian Oil’s net profit. This agreement allowed foreign companies to be responsible for oil production in Iran until the Shah made another agreement in 1973 that led to the nationalization of their resources.
Although oil production control was eventually given to NIOC, foreign companies (British, French and American) were allowed to stay for twenty years through NIOC visas whereby they received privileged treatment during their stay. After the Islamic Revolution removed Shah from power in 1979, the agreement with foreign companies was rendered null and void and so were the agreements and contracts. The new constitution was revolutionary as it banned all foreign investment into Iran’s natural resources and as a result, the major areas of Iranian economy were put under the control of the state. Iran reached its production peak during this time when it began to produce 6 million barrels per day from the previous 2 million. After the Islamic Revolution took power in Iran, the political changes which included the Iran-Iraqi war and the lack of international and local investments created an unstable environment which affected oil production which reached 3 million barrels per day by 2007. In the 1990s, the Iranian government held talks with foreign investors appealing to them to invest in the gas and oil sector and even offered buyback schemes. This move allowed foreign companies to do business with the government in relation to natural resources but avoid the possibility of violating the constitution. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit Limited (2012), the terms offered to the foreign companies were not enticing enough as Eni, Total and Statoil discontinued investing in Iran as European companies.
It was during Carter’s presidency that Iran faced its first sanction which was a reaction to Iran following the Hostage situation involving US citizens in the American Embassy in Iran. Iranian assets and investments in the U.S worth about $12 billion were frozen and through the directive of President Carter, the United States stopped importing Iranian oil. Further down the line, the United States forbade all travel and trade between the American government and that of Iran and these sanctions were only removed following the release of all American hostages. President Reagan’s reign in 1983 and 1987 also witnessed new restraints on the Islamic Republic on civilian commodities that could be used for military action. This sanction was however placed as a confirmation of the U.S’s claims of Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism.
President Clinton’s reign was no better as further restraints were made on Iran as it was still considered a sponsor of terrorism. Iran’s development of WMDs was also a reason to place sanctions on Iran. Prior to 1997, sanctions on Iran included complete exclusion of Americans from investing in Iran’s oil but President Clinton severed all kinds of investment with the Islamic Republic. During George W. Bush’s Presidency, all businesses and foreign assets that would by any means support Iranian terrorism were frozen as well as anything that was deemed a threat towards the stabilization of Iraq, or working towards the sponsorship of the Iranian weapons program. “U-Turns” financial transfers were also stopped during Bush’s administration when they were determined to be related to Iran. Despite prudent Obama’s acute position on the matter, Congress agreed to push the sanctions even further by banning food and carpets imported from Iran. According to Jones (2013), Congress also allowed the CISADA (Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability Divestment). More sanctions were added to Iran by CISADA especially with matters relating to energy because that sector connected directly to the nuclear program. The United Stated Department of State (2011) explained that the increased sanctions to Iran were aimed at pressuring the Iranian government to hold diplomatic talks with the international community as their non-compliance and actions were seen to raise international concern.
Obama’s sanctions spread their reach to Venezuela and their oil trade with Iran in May 2001 and by June 2011, further sanctions had been placed on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. A defense bill was passed by Obama’s administration which allowed the U.S government to terminate any business linked with Iran’s central bank (S. Jones, 2013). The initial intent for sanctioning Iran was to coerce the Islamic Republic to withdraw its support for terrorism and also to try and limit the growing influence the Republic was enjoying in the Middle East. In the 1990s, the objective shifted to trying to limit Iran’s nuclear usage, restricting it to civilian usage only. Katzaman (2014) indicated that from the year 2006, sanctions on Iran became a global concern and many nations joined the U.S in supporting the sanctions in place.
A 2007 economic report showed that although the Iranian economy was facing many hardships, it had not reached catastrophic levels. On the contrary, the economy had shown significant growth in the past fifteen years. From 2004 to 2006, the World Bank (2014) recorded an average of 5.8% growth and as a result of the Iranian government’s projects, poverty levels dropped significantly in the 1990s. However, the issue of unemployment still challenges the Iranian government because it does not meet the job creation target for the unemployed. The government creates an average of 400,000 jobs while there’s an estimated 700,000 new job seekers every year. The average waiting period for fresh graduates is at least two years in their job search despite their credentials. Rafsanjani and Khatami initiated political and economic development for Iran which President Ahmadinejad did not honor by delaying political and economic progress. Instead of focusing on economic development in Iran, the president invested more in the nuclear program and even exploited the annual budget to fund projects that were not listed. Iranians are well educated and skilled and this has seen the continued rise in sectors of the economy such as agriculture, manufacturing and the service industry. The non-energy sectors are solidly founded for economic growth, and the country has enough manpower to ensure progressive economic development. This development, however, is hindered by the consistent political issues that come up about the Iranian economic reform. For instance, Campbell (2007) indicated that the government needed to become more transparent and also lift some pressure off the private sector. Further economic sanctions were enforced in 2012 by the European Union which also targeted the energy sector in Iran. These sanctions were not aimed at affecting the Iranian people but to limit the government’s and the Revolutionary Guard’s sources of funding. The oil industry is mainly controlled by the Revolutionary Guard and is the mainspring of Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s oil reserves are the fourth largest in the world while the gas reserves are the second biggest, which makes the energy sector Iran’s breadwinner. In 2011, Iran exported 92.4 % of oil and related materials which represented 80% of the European Union’s exports.
Sanctions imposed by the European Union were backed by two reasons. The first was that the Union would purchase 18% of the Republic’s crude oil export and the second was to ban the activities of Iranian central bank. To ensure that Iran did not seek out other markets in Japan, India, China and South Korea, the EU put out a ban on Iranian oil. However, China traded 12 super tankers with Iran in 2012 to aid in the transportation of oil from Iran to China. India came by later and offered $50 million to cover oil shipment costs from Iran to India, further increasing the market for Iranian oil. Japan on the other hand offered to cover Iranian oil exported to Japan by guaranteeing sovereignties whereas South Korea used a policy very similar to China’s to ferry oil to South Korea on Iranian ships. Although Iran made several efforts to recover from the losses incurred as a result of sanctions by the EU, the Republic was not able to recover from the damages caused by the loss of the EU. For example, the tankers provided by China were not able to fully satisfy the demand required by China and South Korea while the guarantee provided by India worth $50 million would not match the $1 billion previously furnished by the EU. This therefore meant that Indian refiners were facing concerns when buying Iranian oil. Following the first year of sanctions on Iran, the effect averaged 25% less the exports to other nations (India, Japan, China and South Korea).
Losses incurred from the sanctions affected Iran’s income given that it dropped by 50%. In 2011, Iran received $100 billion in revenues from the sale of crude oil, and this figure fell to $50 billion the following year. Other aspects that affected the Iranian economy included the sanctions placed on Iran’s Central Bank as well as the government’s ignorance on economic reform. These two elements affected Iran’s population greatly to the extent that by 2012, unemployment rates had reached 20% while inflation hit a new high at 30%, escalating the prices of goods and services which citizens could barely afford (Blockman & Waizer, 2013). Further sanctions against Iran were put in place in August 2012 when the U.S disagreed with Iran’s decision to support Syria which violated the Human Rights Act. A ban on energy-related services was set which crippled the oil, gas, insurance and shipping projects. Towards October the same year, the EU placed increased pressure on Iran by banning all transactions between Iran and European banks. However, certain operations were permitted only if they were purposed to have humanitarian effects. The Economist Intelligence Unit (2012) highlighted further sanctions placed on Iran’s oil storage and shipbuilding fields whereby the entire European Union community was banned from importing gas from Iran.
Efforts by President Obama’s administration, coupled with the economic sanctions by the EU effectively cramped Iran’s buildup towards nuclear militarization. However, in November 2013, in a meeting that took three days in Geneva, Iran and the P5+1 nation signed an agreement. The meeting was the first step of a six-month plan that would take effect beginning January 2014. This agreement stipulated that sanctions on Iran would be lifted on the condition that the Islamic Republic would limit its production of Uranium while the final agreement was still being formulated. Iran’s limitation of nuclear production meant that the nation would find it difficult to produce a weapon of mass destruction which alternately left the international community not too worried about Iran’s growing power (Sciutto & Carter, 2013). The agreement stipulated that;
1. Iran would receive a $7 billion relief for the sanctions placed on it.
2. The Islamic Republic would limit Uranium production to 5% which would be sufficient for producing energy to power the nation.
3. Iran would seize its 20% production of enriched Uranium and further neutralizing this percentage within the following six month period.
4. The Islamic Republic would offer transparency on the progress of nuclear activity to international inspectors who would pay the country a visit (Karimi, 2014).
Joshi (2013) pointed out that this agreement was not received well by Israel and Saudi Arabia who insisted that Iran would continue to have the capability to make a weapon of mass destruction if allowed to continue with their nuclear program.
Iran and Saudi Arabia’s View on the Arab Spring
Many Arab nations experienced instances of protests and riots and Iran was careful to monitor the consequences that might have befallen it as a result. Iran was among the first notable nations in the region to welcome the so-called first waves of the revolutions. The revolutions spread and even reached Syria, Iran’s ally in the region and at this time, it was unclear how Iran perceived the revolutions.
The revolutions were an indication of the failure of U.S policies in the Middle East which supported Iran’s ideologies. Iran affirmed its blessings on nations such as Tunisia and Egypt which were facing the same revolutions which were understood as a sign of Islamic awakening inspired by the revolution in Iran. On February 4, 2011, Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader pointed out in his sermon that the overthrow of Mubarak by the Egyptians would coincide with the 32nd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. This move was to signify the impact the Iranian Revolution had in the region. A unit in the Revolutionary Guard known as the Quds Force Commander stated that the revolutions spreading through Arab nations like Egypt would create new ‘Irans’ that were united through their hate for the United States. The Islamic Republic also believed that the revolutions were continually putting pressure on their regional enemies like Israel who had Mubarak as their strategic ally. Through such losses, Iran was able to gain more power in the region which in turn would reduce their opponent’s efforts to put more pressure on Iran’s politics and economy. Iran found a great opportunity to intervene when the revolution reached Bahrain and this allowed Iran to gain more hegemony. The new found power by Iran would empower the Islamic Republic considerably against other nations that were against its nuclear program like Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia was criticized by the American government because of its involvement in the Bahraini revolution as they were offering to offer a solution to the dispute. As a result, differences emerged between the Saudi government and that if the U.S especially on regional issues such as the crisis in Syria.
The revolutions in Iran contributed to two distinct developments which Iran was swift to take advantage. The initial development saw increased local demand for the reactivation of Iranian opposition and rejecting presidential elections. This allowed the opposition to make use of the Arab Spring as well as the government’s stand towards the revolutions as their demands were similar to those causing the protests. The Arabs demanded transparency within the government, an end to inflation rates, poverty, provision of social freedoms and job creation. The new requirements would create pressure and danger for the Republic, and so the leaders took to repressing protestors and placing their leaders (Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi) under house arrest and controlled internet communication which effectively ended the protests. Since the movements seemed opportunistic and lacked inner strength to put up a sustainable fight, the Iranian government was able to control the protests. Protestors took to the streets with signs demanding the government to its cease support for international organizations like Hezbollah and focus more on nationalism. This criticism of Iranian policies allowed the movement to campaign for their political agendas following the changes in the region.
The second development involved the split of Iran’s political system whereby the Supreme Leaders and the clergies took to one side and gained tremendous influence while President Ahmadinejad was on the other which was commonly described as the perversion side. During this time, the president was trying to achieve two goals. His first aim was to give the presidency more power by being the sole representative of executive authority in the republic’s political arena. The second intent would follow a more nationalistic approach which would limit the powers of the Supreme Leader and the clergies by being more open to the Western nations and disassociation with Syria as an Iranian ally.
In his bid to give the presidency more power, the president went ahead and tried to manage state affairs and in the process removed some officials who held state offices and were against his ideologies. The officials withdrawn from the office included those loyal to the supreme leader who thought it impossible for the president to take over the control of their offices. For instance, in April 2011, the Supreme Leader dismissed the firing of Heidar Moslehi, the Iranian Minister of Intelligence at the time which rendered the president’s intent a huge loss for him. Despite President Ahmedinejad’s appearance of being religious in his speeches, he continued his fight with the Supreme Leader through a more pragmatic approach. The Supreme leader and his group understood the president’s intent and later, the Supreme leader indicated that it was possible for the Islamic Republic to go back to a parliamentary system which would invalidate the president’s position in Iran’s politics (Naji, 2013). Iran’s position on the Arab spring remains controversial especially with its support for Syria and its explanation that the protests were only a continuation of a 30 year revolution that began in the Islamic Republic.
Officially, Iran supported the Arab Spring which was concluded by both the president and Supreme Leader’s support for the nations that were protesting. Both Khamenei and Ahmedinejad believed that the power transformation in the region was an extension of the 1978 Iranian Revolution which resulted in the removal of Shah from power. The revolution, modeled by the Iranians was renamed the Islamic awakening. According to the Iranian government, the Islamic awakening would be credited to Egypt’s overthrow of Mubarak who was a known ally of the West. Iran’s position in the conflicts was unclear mainly because they explained the power shifts and the revolutions to be propelled by the might of the Islamic religion which strengthened their political influence with the new administrations dubbed as religious authorities. However, neither the Egyptian nor the Tunisian revolution was based on religion although the parties that took up leadership roles had Islamic backgrounds. Revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia were both seeking economic and social reform and in the case of Egypt, the Islamic Brotherhood declined to engage with other parties, yet it became the party influencing the leadership of the president.
The comparison between Iran’s support of the Middle East’s political change as a result of the Islamic Awakening (in Tunisia and Egypt) with the revolution in Syria afforded Iran a controversial situation as it was in support of opposing reactions. The Islamic Republic’s decision to support Al Assad positioned Iran against the uprisings that had gripped the Middle East and other Arabic nations. Such contradictions framed Iran for its actions yet it claimed that the revolution did not have any direct effect on regional security or its Iran’s political alliances. However, Iran was seen to support individual countries where it had vested interest or those whose political outcome would not affect Iran negatively (“TanagudIraniHival,” 2013). Iran’s decision to support Al-Assad when the Syrian people were making demands revealed Iran’s hypocrisy in their support of the oppressed people of Bahrain, Tunisia, Yemen, and Egypt.
Iran’s actions were described as chasing an expedient policy that would safeguard its interests in these nations while ignoring the Islamic Revolution’s ideological frame. Since 1980 when political relations between Iran and Egypt were broken, the new Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi became the first Egyptian head of state to visit the Islamic Republic. President Morsi was scheduled to attend the Non-Aligned Movement Summit and no further meetings were held between him and Iranian authority members. The spokesman for the Egyptian convoy stated that under the new leadership, Egypt would strive to strengthen its relations with all nations. The meeting however, did not please the U.S and concerns over Egypt’s engagement with Iran began to gain ground. Egyptian relations with Iran signaled a change in the North African country’s foreign policies whereby the concerns of the U.S have been entirely ignored (Londoño, 2012).
Hossein Amor Abdollahian was the Deputy Minister of Iranian Foreign Affairs in the Middle East and his projections in 2013 were clear that the Islamic Republic would stay clear of Egyptian foreign policies and politics. However, as evidenced by FARS, Iran’s news agency, President Morsi received a letter from the Supreme Leader advising him on how to establish and run an Islamic state yet according to Gulhane (2013), the Egyptians denied the existence of such a letter. President Morsi, according to political analysts, lost popularity among the Egyptians because of his relationship with the Islamic Republic. For example, the Egyptians did not receive President Ahmedinejad with the respect deserving a state leader as instances of shoe throwing highlighted his visits in certain places within Cairo. According to Greenfield (2013), the relationship between President Morsi and General Sisi was fragile following the visit of Iran’s president to Egypt.
The Islamic Republic insisted that Israel was not in favor of economic, political or social progress and that the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia were only as a result of failed relations with the United States. Ersoy (2013) wrote that the Iranian government implied that the revolutions were part of the Islamic Awakening that had begun in Iran. The Supreme Leader’s New Year speech stressed that Iran was in favor of all revolutions regardless of the Sunni and Shiite population in those nations. The speech cited Iran’s support for Palestine as the same support provided to Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, and Egypt yet barely two years into Morsi’s presidency, he was being accused of providing top government secrets to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and had to face the Egyptian Justice system.
Tunisia celebrated a new constitution on January 26, 2014 whereby Ali Larijani, Iran’s speaker of parliament was in attendance to represent the Islamic Republic. It was during the ceremony that Larijani accused Israel and the United States of interfering with democracy by eliminating the region’s democratized revolutions (“U.S. Walks out of Tunisia,” 2014). Only weeks after the launch of a new Tunisian constitution, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran attended a meeting with a Tunisian envoy where he described Tunisia as Middle East’s democracy pioneers.
The Islamic Council took slow steps in recognizing Libya’s transitional government NTC (National Transitional Council) but the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Iran released a statement congratulating the Iranian people for removing Qaddafi from power. The Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister, Ali Akbar explained that Iran offered humanitarian help to the NTC s a gesture of Iran’s support for the rebels. The minister later traveled to meet Mustafa Abdeljalil the former NTC chairperson as a show of Iran’s intent to build strong relations with Libya by providing further aid to assist in the rebuilding of Libya’s infrastructure. However, relations between the two nations have remained sour following Iran’s support for Al Assad and Libya’s support for the Syrian National Council.
Yemen and Iran have not had the best of relations primarily because the Yemenis blamed the widening gaps among sects on Iran who also provided arms for the Houthis who live in Northern Yemen and are a group of the Shiites. Houthis have always been anti-government. Despite harsh criticism of Iran on the Bahrain government’s position on its rebels, the Bahraini government went ahead and encouraged the Islamic Republic to work towards stabilizing the Middle East by taking thoughtful action in the Geneva talks. Iran’s foreign policy would be affected directly by the revolutions in Syria, yet political figures were failing to mention it in public but chose to speak about other revolutions. Syria, being an Iranian ally had benefited from financial and military aid from the Islamic Republic. Their good relations had been established during the Iran-Iraqi war when Syrian President Hafiz Al-Assad had been the only Arabic nation to offer support to Iran. According to Zarrabi-Kashani (2014), Iran’s support of Syria was aimed at maintaining the Hezbollah, Syria and Iran triangle.
Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the Middle East’s revolutions was unclear as the kingdom sometimes provided military help to some countries while providing strategic intervention in some. For example, Saudi Arabia provided direct military assistance to Bahrain while in Damascus; the kingdom shut down the embassy and withdrew all staff including the ambassador. Additionally, Saudi Arabia was the only nation to host Zine EL Abidine Ben Ali the ousted Tunisian president. Despite close ally relations between Saudi and former president Mubarak, the kingdom offered its cooperation through financial aid to the Egyptian military. Berlin’s director of the Centre for Modern Oriental Studies, Ulrike Freitag pointed out that the various positions taken by Saudi Arabia about the Arab Spring were fueled mainly by the interests of the kingdom in the region. The director also insisted that understanding the problems between Iran and Saudi Arabia would go a long way in explaining the policies adopted by the two nations. Dr.Mohammed Alzulfa, on the other hand, had a different point of view. A former Shoura Council member, Dr. Alzulfa noted that stability in the Middle East would be greatly influenced by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He further explained that that Saudi’s position to remain committed to non-interference in other nations’ international affairs. Concerning Bahrain, Dr. Alzulfa justified Saudi’s involvement by citing the agreement signed by the GCC member states. The agreement stipulated that military interference would be allowed but on the condition that the state in question had its stability and state security threatened. He also referenced Saudi’s involvement in Kuwait in the 1990s during the Kuwait-Iraqi War (Karami, 2011).
Jamal Khashoggi explained the position held by Saudi Arabia on the Tunisian Revolution by stating that Bin Ali would be hosted in Saudi Arabia not as a president, but as a political refugee. The former president would not be allowed to conduct political business or engage in communications aimed at straightening matters in Tunisia during his stay in Saudi. These privileges were denied on the account that the kingdom’s position was that of supporting the Tunisian people (“Bin Ali YumdiYawmahu,” 2011). Saudi’s position continued to be unclear especially when Prince Turki Al faisal launched criticism on Mubarak’s regime on January 26 2011, barely two days after the Egyptian revolution. He insisted that the Egyptian leaders needed to understand grievances of the Egyptian people who were rioting so that the presidency of the nation could be secured. On the other hand, When Mubarak found himself in need of an ally; Saudi’s King Abdullah offered his assistance. The king’s help went so far as warning the Obama Administration that unless the U.S stopped applying pressure on President Mubarak to step down, the Kingdom would gladly offer financial assistance to Egypt. On the other hand, following Mubarak’s overthrow Saudi Arabia accepted the peaceful transfer of power having realized its position. Salamah (2011) noted that the Saudi government continued to offer financial aid to the new caretaker government in aid of the economic crisis. General Sisi ousted President Morsi in July 2013 and the Chief General of the Egyptian Army was congratulated by King Abdullah, barely two hours after the official announcement was made. The new President Adly Mansour was put in power by the military and President Abdullah publicly extended his invitation to General Sisi (Riedel, 2013). The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates provided financial assistance to the tune of $14 billion and a promise to provide further funding to the recovering nation (Neriah, 2013).
Regarding the Yemeni case, collaboration among GCC countries led to the sit-down between Yemeni President Saleh and leaders of the opposition in Riyadh whereby a deal between the two parties was negotiated and signed. According to Sharqieh (2013), the agreement stated that in exchange for not facing legal prosecution, President Saleh would step down for his deputy. With the ongoing demonstrations in Yemen at the time; King Abdullah hosted former president Saleh for three months in Riyadh where he was receiving medical attention. Saudi’s hospitality to the former president was not received well by the Yemeni people. However, following the end of Saleh’s reign, Saudi’s policy towards Yemen changed drastically as the Kingdom was willing to offer more financial aid to strengthen the country. In 2012, for instance, in a move to stabilize the Yemeni currency, Saudi Arabia gave a total of $4.2 billion but on two separate occasions. Stensile (2013) indicated that the continued dependence of Yemen on Saudi Arabia after the removal of Saleh increased the Kingdom’s influence in the region. On the other hand, upon request from the Bahraini government, Saudi Arabia sent more than 1000 troops while the United Arab Emirates provided more troops. As per the GCC agreement, member states providing troops had to offer cooperation with other troops as the purpose of these forces was to secure Bahraini gas and financial facilities (“Gulf States,” 2011). Bahraini opposition was keen to denounce the military support provided by Saudi Arabia mainly because Bahrain’s ruling family were of Sunni descent while the opposition (consisting mostly of Shiites) saw the uprising as a means to oust Sunni government leaders. In order to protect their own interests, other Gulf States were not too eager to upset the political balance in Bahrain. The reluctance was the result of Iran’s increasing influence in the nation especially because of the support Iran would have if the Shiites majority took over power. Such influence would provide a base point for the Islamic Republic to attack Saudi Arabia, its biggest rival through the causeway which Murphy &Khalifa (2011) describe as the connection between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
Saudi’s involvement in Syria on the other hand is quite different from that of Bahrain. The alliance between the Kingdom and Syria is reasoned to prevent a repeat of Saudi’s involvement in Afghanistan and was thus aimed at terminating the Iranian-Syrian coalition. Saudi youth in particular were encouraged to participate in the revolution through jihad as the Saudi Clerics explained that the war in Syria was against Alawite ruling power and the Shiites (Wagner &Cafiero, 2013). According to Barnard (2012), a conference of Friends of Syria was held in Istanbul where Saudi Arabia was in attendance and in favor of arming the Syrian rebels. The Wall Street Journal also pointed out that the Jordanian government was under pressure from Saudi Arabia to allow its arms aid to reach Syria through its borders, although according to Barnard (2012) the Jordanian government denied the existence of such a request. King Abdullah, in 2014 issued a decree of a 20 year jail sentence for any citizen found guilty of participation if war in foreign nations. The decree further threatened imprisonment of up to 30 years for any Saudi citizen found guilty of supporting or joining a terrorist group. The issuance of the decree was a result of the government’s fears of radicalizing its youth by allowing them to take part in such wars (“Saudi Arabia: Decree Lays out Penalties,” 2014).