Old myths perpetuate poor analysis of Saudi Arabia

Hassan Hassan writes: Economic sanctions on Iran have been lifted. The removal of sanctions, which will release billions of dollars worth of frozen assets and bring Iran in from the cold, comes exactly two weeks after a diplomatic spat with Saudi Arabia brought the region to boiling point.

Both of these events could have profound international implications for Saudi Arabia. After the diplomatic row, the kingdom came under fierce media attack and was generally portrayed as an irresponsible regional player that deliberately provoked Iran by executing the Saudi religious cleric Nimr Al Nimr. Such depictions do not bode well for the kingdom as it prepares for the entry of a regional rival into the international arena.

Broadly speaking, much of the punditry about Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states at large tends to rely on old facts and myths – mostly dating back to the 1990s.

Perpetuating old stereotypes about Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy ignores the progress –and indeed the drastic changes – that have taken place over the past decade. More importantly, they also reduce Iran’s role in the neighbourhood to a geopolitical rivalry with its neighbours, rather than casting this role in its true light, as an aggressive sectarian agenda that claimed the lives of thousands of people and perpetuated conflict and civil strife.

To better understand Iran’s behaviour, consider the policies of the two countries since the eruption of the Arab uprisings five years ago. [Continue reading…]

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