'Not From Here,' stories by Nathan Deuel

Why it matters that Saudis and Iranians can't make nice

Vue satellite du Golfe Persique

Image via Wikipedia

The ongoing rift is heating up between the biggest Arab player in the Gulf and the mighty Persian neighbor across the waters. What’s at stake is hard to describe — and parsing out what is bluster and what is real is always difficult — but the latest fires actually concern water.

According to news reports, the second annual Islamic Solidarity Games — scheduled for April in Tehran — are being called off after commemorative medals prepared by Iran for the games referred to the “Persian Gulf,” which Saudis and other Gulf Arabs strenuously insist is the “Arabian Gulf.” Seriously.
A more intense issue is the alleged mistreatment last year of Shiite pilgrims while at Saudi holy sites. The AFP reports that in response to what it calls systematic harassment, Tehran has suspended travel for Iranians headed to Mecca, Medina, and other Saudi points. Iranian officials told the AFP this move isn’t political, it is religious.

But around here, that’s not necessarily a good thing. (After all, whether you’re Sunni or not is a lot more important than how much you do or do not love whatever ruling regime you call home. Episcopalian Democrats versus Baptist Republicans this is not.) Look for the issue of Iranian pilgrims to Saudi to surface again, and again — especially as next year’s hajj and Shiite holy days approach.

So what does all this really mean? What seems like trifling name games over the Persian/Arab gulf is actually connected to moves on the larger regional chessboard. One prevailing theory suggests that the mighty Sunni powers of Saudi Arabia and Egypt are feeling vulnerable, seen by the Islamic world to be too close to Israel (and the U.S.) to continue proudly bearing the Muslim banner. This weakening, as the thinking goes, is opening up the chance for Iran to take the lead. Read the rest of this entry »

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Filed under: Al Qaeda, Hajj, Iran, Islam, Middle East, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Shiites, Sunnis, , , , , , ,

Will you care about Yemen in a week?

Saudi security forces on parade

Saudi military might. (Image by Al Jazeera English via Flickr)

Stories datelined Sana are flying over the wires. The U.S. Embassy shut down. Then France and Britain closed their offices. Evidence links the suspected airline bomber to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is allegedly based out of Yemen and Saudi Arabia. And individuals traveling from those two countries to the U.S. are now among the countries the TSA flags for immediate screening.

I’m currently winding down a trip to the States. But I can’t wait to get back to Riyadh, where my wife and I will be following this story closely.

How long will the average American care? Most likely, the intense scrutiny will only last a few more days. (I’ve seen CNN repeat the same vague story five times in the last couple hours; without fresh news, the eyes of viewers will roam.)

For now and for the newly interested, below is a reposting of a primer piece I posted last month. My points concern the war between Saudi Arabia and rebels in the north of Yemen. No attempt to understand Yemen and the future of western efforts to quell violence there are complete without looking at Saudi foreign policy. How long will your attention last?

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Al Qaeda, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, , , , ,