Top 10 Saudi Arabia - Iran Conflict Facts - WMNews Ep. 58

Script written by Sean Harris Moving into 2016, the political tension in the Middle East shows no sign of subsiding. Welcome to WatchMojo News, the weekly series where we break down news stories that might be on your radar. In this instalment, we're counting down 10 crucial facts you should know about the Saudi Arabia crisis. What did you think of this video? Got an idea for our next top 10? Head over to our suggest page at WatchMojo.comsuggest to submit your ideas today.
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Script written by Sean Harris

Top 10 Saudi Arabia Crisis Facts


Moving into 2016, the political tension in the Middle East shows no sign of subsiding. Welcome to WatchMojo News, the weekly series where we break down news stories that might be on your radar. In this installment, we’re counting down 10 crucial facts you should know about the Saudi Arabia crisis.

#10: What Are the Origins of Saudi Arabia’s Prosperity?
The Economic Boom

Saudi Arabia’s oil-based economy is one of the most prominent in the world. The country holds at least 18% of global petroleum reserves and is the planet’s largest oil exporter; the petroleum sector accounts for over 90% of Saudi budget revenues. The foundations for these figures were first laid in the early 20th century, when Saudi Arabia struck oil for the first time in 1938. Around the mid-1970s, as a founding member of OPEC and a chief benefactor from rising oil prices post-Arab/Israeli War, Saudi Arabia further established itself as a leading oil producer, and as one of the most prosperous Middle-Eastern countries. However, that wealth is not spread evenly throughout the country’s population; it is instead concentrated within a few super rich families, while a possible 20 percent of the population lives well below the poverty line.

#9: What Is At the Root of the Region’s Political Conflict?
The Conflict

Oil has historically proven to be the fuel for political problems in the region, especially between Saudi Arabia and Iran, another major oil producer. The 1979 Iranian Revolution was in part triggered by the early ‘70s oil boom, with Iran seeking to end U.S. and British influence on its oil industry. The revolution ended with governmental overthrow and the establishment of a new regime under the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Once-productive links with the USA were severed, and for Middle-Eastern nations, including Saudi Arabia, Iran became an alarming influence.

#8: What Is the Religious Divide Between Saudi Arabia & Iran?
The Tension

The BBC describes the divide between Sunnis and Shia as ‘the largest and oldest in the history of Islam,’ and it is a major component in the current crisis. The vast majority of the world’s Muslim population is Sunni, including between 75-90% of the Saudi populace. However, Iran is majority Shia, and often cites its need to protect other Shia minorities as reason for various political stances. In modern times, the Sunni/Shia divide can be felt across the Middle East, and is often considered the primary spark for conflict. However, some commentators believe that the religious split operates as a mask, deflecting attention from other reasons for war.

#7: Is Saudi Arabia in a Period of Change?
The Oil

After years of prosperity, Saudi Arabia now looks to be headed into a potentially dangerous downturn. The problem is that the Saudi economy relies too heavily on its oil industry, and oil is gradually becoming less lucrative. Unlike Dubai for example, which has developed into an international center for business and commerce, Saudi Arabia has little else to fall back on; the country has placed all of its proverbial eggs into one basket. There is an ever-increasing focus on the renewable energies market, but until comparable success can be achievedSaudi residents are likely to see their quality of life decrease while they begin to be taxed for the first time.

#6: What Is the Current State of the Middle East?
The Proxy Wars

With conflicts raging and tensions rising, the situation in the Middle East seems to get more complex with each week. Saudi Arabia and Iran are perhaps the most influential nations involved, as they have come to represent Sunni and Shia Muslims respectively. The Syrian Civil War is one of a series of ‘proxy wars’ being fought between the two countries, with Yemen, Iraq and Bahrain all playing host to similar problems. In late 2015, Iran and Saudi Arabia entered into early negotiations for peace, but events in January 2016 antagonized the situation further, and made peace a near-impossibility.

#5: What Sparked the Recent Conflict Between Iran & Saudi Arabia?
The Executions

On January 2nd, Saudi Arabia announced that it had executed 47 people, at 12 different sites across the country. While many of those executed were known criminals and terrorists, one name inspired outrage in Iran: Nimr al-Nimr was a prominent Shia cleric in Saudi Arabia; a significant leader within the country’s Shia minority. He was handed a death sentence for “seeking ‘foreign meddling’ in [Saudi Arabia], ‘disobeying’ its rulers and taking up arms against the security forces.” His killing was seen as an attack against the Shia population in general, and against Iran by association. The executions have also been labeled as a ‘distraction’, made to draw attention away from the weakening Saudi economy. The Iranian response, which included violent protests against the Saudiembassy in Tehran, has helped further divert attention. However, Saudi Arabian actions have drawn widespread criticism from around the world regardless.

#4: What Is the Future of Oil?
The Economy

Where once Saudi Arabia was unquestionably among the richest and most powerful Middle Eastern states, their position and influence is now under considerable threat. Oil is not as valuable as it was, mostly because of oversupply and a slowdown of economic growth in China and Europe. Prices fell to below $35 a barrel in January – the lowest in 12 years. Historically, SaudiArabia has cut production to balance declining prices, but it is refusing to do so this time. OPEC forecasts that prices will recover to around $70 a barrel by 2020, believing that the U.S. will suffer more in the meantime than the Middle East. With at least a little economic hardship on the horizon though, the Saudigovernment may struggle to fund various conflicts in which it’s involved.

#3: What Does This Mean for Syria?
The Agreement

In October 2015, the first steps toward finding some form of Saudi/Iranian resolution in the Syrian Civil War were made, with diplomats from both countries meeting in Vienna. While Iran, alongside Russia, supports the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Saudi Arabia, along with the U.S., backs the opposition. The Saudi government is said to be concerned about growing Iranian influence in the conflict, both on the battleground and at the negotiation table. For Iran, Nimr al-Nimr’s execution alongside convicted Al-Qaeda and ISIS terrorists sends a clear and provocative signal, and it doesn’t offer much hope for peace in the near future.

#2: How Will This Impact Sunni & Shia Tensions?
The Divide

The execution of Nimr al-Nimr will only have entrenched the Sunni/Shia divide further. The war in Syria is an example of how complicated international relations in the region have become, and the focus on a ‘religious divide’ is likely to continue for as long as political power-struggles and unstable economies persist. Saudi Arabia itself is predominantly Sunni Muslim, so it might be expected that al-Nimr’s execution would cause few problems within the nation itself. But, because it has been shaped as an attack on religion, rather than as a matter of domestic policy, repercussions spread across all borders, into all regional conflicts, and all future negotiations.

#1: How Will This Impact Relations With the United States?
The Future

The U.S. finds itself in an especially precarious position. While it remains an ally of sorts of Saudi Arabia, the relationship between Washington and Riyadh has grown more and more fraught ever since 9/11; al-Nimr’s execution is another cause of what Hillary Clinton calls ‘serious questions’. Traditionally, U.S./Iranian relations have been less positive, but the link between the two has greatly improved during Barack Obama’s time in the White House, especially on the back of Iran’s nuclear deal. The Saudi/Iranian cold war represents a balancing act for America, and a real problem for whichever party wins the 2016 election.

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