The news last week that Saudi Arabia and Iran will restore diplomatic relations (a deal brokered by China, which fact raised eyebrows among American observers) is quite significant for the Mideast. Although both are Islamic-law countries, they are serious rivals–and part of the rivalry stems from religion. Saudi is a majority Sunni country and Iran a majority Shia one. But religion makes up only part of the story of their rivalry, as a new book from Cambridge, The Struggle for Supremacy in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia and Iran, points out. The author is Simon Mabon (International Politics) at Lancaster University. Here’s the description from the Cambridge website:
Since 1979, few rivalries have affected Middle Eastern politics as much as the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. However, too often the rivalry has been framed purely in terms of ‘proxy wars’, sectarian difference or the associated conflicts that have broken out in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen. In this book, Simon Mabon presents a more nuanced assessment of the rivalry, outlining its history and demonstrating its impact across the Middle East. Highlighting the significance of local groups, Mabon shows how regional politics have shaped and been shaped by the rivalry. The book draws from social theory and the work of Pierre Bourdieu to challenge problematic assumptions about ‘proxy wars’, the role of religion, and sectarianism. Exploring the changing political landscape of the Middle East as a whole and the implications for regional and international security, Mabon paints a complex picture of this frequently discussed but oft-misunderstood rivalry.