Chotiner: Some analysts have suggested that Saudi Arabia and Iran are in a sense seeking out this crisis because it is helpful for hard-liners in both countries. Do you agree with that analysis?
Sadjadpour: I sometimes think we ascribe too much strategic forethought to governments in the Middle East. I don’t share the view that Saudi Arabia had a sophisticated regional strategy in executing Sheikh Nimr. They were executing about four dozen Sunni radicals, which was going to alienate some segment of society. So they executed a few prominent Shia at the same time.
So there was no broader strategic thinking? It was a pretty big decision.
I think when you look at the arenas where Saudi Arabia and Iran are in conflict, whether Syria or Bahrain or Lebanon or Yemen or Iraq, Iran has an upper hand. When you look at it in a broader regional context, the increasing prevalence of sectarianism benefits Saudi Arabia because they have more numbers. Eighty-five percent of the region’s Muslims are Sunni. For the Saudis, if sectarian politics outweigh anti-imperialist politics, that is beneficial. But at the same time, we are not talking about a Saudi government run by Wahhabi Kissingers or Brzezinskis. This government does not have a deep bench of strategic thinkers. They are not playing a game of chess. [Continue reading…]