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Saudi Arabia versus Iran

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Iran with a population of over 77 million is the leading Shiite Muslim state. Despite its oil Iran, partly as a result of Western sanctions, remains relatively poor with an annual GDP per person of under $5,000.

Saudi Arabia with a population of just under 30 million is predominantly Sunni. It is a wealthy country because of its huge oil reserves. Its annual GDP per person is over five times that of Iran. It includes within its borders the holy places of Mecca and Medina.

There are many more Sunni adherents than there are Shiites in the world today. Sunnis include many different types of believers such as proponents of puritanical Wahhabism and Sufism, which developed in Saudi Arabia. Both Sunnis and Shiites have varying attitudes to the modern world. Some are ascetics and some intolerant extremists with a medieval mindset, but there are moderate Sunnis and Shiites who support democratic ways and institutions,

Both Iran and Saudi Arabia have bad human rights records and persecute critics and opponents of their regimes. In terms of women’s rights, Iran and Saudi Arabia come near the bottom in international comparisons. In Saudi Arabia, women can’t even drive.

Both countries retain capital punishment. According to Amnesty International, Iran carried out in 2014 more than 289 executions and Saudi Arabia over 90. Neither country executed as many people as China, but no statistics were available for executions in China as these “are regarded as state secrets.”

In Saudi Arabia, executions are usually held in public and involve the head of the victim being cut off. Crucifixions are also sometimes carried out. Under Shariah law (as applied in Islamic countries) brutal and inhumane punishments including death by stoning for adultery, amputations, and vicious and prolonged flogging can be ordered and carried out.

In Iran, stoning and flogging are also legally approved punishments. The treatment of “alleged criminals” in both countries is often brutal and cruel, and judicial procedures operated in both countries do not give reasonable rights to the accused.

Homosexual behavior among men is regarded in both countries as heinous and subject to extreme penalties.

Both Iran and Saudi Arabia claim to have democratic institutions and elections, but neither country is in a Western sense a democracy.

The February elections in Iran were relatively free, women were allowed to vote and a significant number of women were elected to the Majlis, which now has a majority of moderates, but all candidates had to be approved in advance as suitable to stand for election and many who wished to stand were disbarred. In Western terms the election results cannot be regarded as democratic. Iran under the aegis of the supreme leader Ali Khamenei is a theocracy, which is controlled by anti-Western clerics who do not believe in religious or political tolerance.

Saudi Arabia is an autocracy based on the Saud family. It has a consultative assembly and various local councils to which women can now be elected. But the Saud family have shown no inclination to cede powers to any kind of elected body.

Relations between Iran, which leads the Shiite minority in Islam, and Saudi Arabia as the wealthiest Sunni power are rancorous and hostile. The two powers have instigated armed clashes in the Yemen, where there is a significant Shiite community. In Bahrain, the Saudis have backed the Sunni ruler of the state in his oppression of the Shiite majority there.

Iran backs the Shiite majority in Iraq and opposes compromises with the Sunni minority there, some of whom as a result have backed the Islamic State group and extremists in and around Mosul and northern Iraq.

In the Syrian civil war, the government of Iran has supported Syrian President Bashar Assad and his tyrannical regime. Iranian aid for Assad and his army has to a significant extent been provided through Hezbollah, the political and guerilla organization that has undermined government in Lebanon and which makes Israel its other main target.

Iran no longer publicly calls for the extermination of Israel, but Israelis still regard Iran as posing the greatest threat to its existence in the Middle East.

Despite strong Israeli disapproval and some skepticism among expert observers, U.S. President Barack Obama regards the recent international agreement with Iran to limit its atomic research and development as one of his most important foreign policy achievements and considers it a major contribution toward peace in the area. The agreement has led to the ending of some sanctions against Iran and has opened the way toward expansion of trade with Iran, which should in due course lead to a rise in living standards.

As a major oil producer, Iran wants to increase its oil exports significantly but this has not proved easy. As a result of decreased demand from China and the development of fracking in the United States and of alternative sources of energy, the price of oil has fallen. Although there have been signs that the price may stabilize, oil has become yet another bone of contention between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Saudi Arabia remains a major market, particularly for defense equipment. This means that there is a powerful lobby opposed to any measures that might jeopardize sales.

A further significant factor for Western governments is that Saudi Arabian intelligence, particularly about Islamic State and its contacts in Europe and North America, is highly valued. The Saudi regime condemns IS, although the extremist attitudes propounded by some Saudi imams have provided ideological inspiration for terrorism.

Our governments have to deal with both the Iranian and Saudi governments. But for economic and security reasons they are inhibited from condemning as strongly as many democrats would wish the appalling human rights records of Iran and Saudi Arabia. Those who trade with “the devil” would be wise, as the saying goes, “to sup with a long spoon.”

Hugh Cortazzi served as Britain’s ambassador to Japan from 1980-1984.

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBsvzKshKCw R. Arandas

    Which side should we support?

  • Humanperson

    I am embarrassed by this very poor analysis by the ex British ambassador in Japan.

    If this is the quality of advice coming out of the foreign office no wonder we in the west, have made such huge blunders in Iraq, Syria and Libya.

    Today there is a fight in the Middle East between those who want to join the modern world socially, scientifically and industrially but are being hampered by entrenched corrupt and narrow power basis which don’t want to allow it.

    The main culprit in all this is Saudi Arabia which unlike Iran is our supposed Allie and friend. This country single handedly has exported it’s Wahhabis ideology through religious schools and petro dollars across the world and has worked hard to kill any democratic and modern impulses in the Arab and Muslim world.

    There are 3 basic facts in all of the terrorism that we are now suffering.

    1- all the terrorists (Isis , Al Qaida, boco haram , the bombers in London- Madrid- new York Brussels- Bali- Paris) are all Sunni Muslims in religion and Whahabbi in sect ( same as Saudi Arabia)
    2- 15 out of 19, 9-11 hijackers were Saudis, as are many of the top commanders of Isis and al qaida( Osama Ben Ladan for one)- and we won’t even talk about the funding!
    3- none of these terrorists were shitte Muslim or from Iran.

    If we are going to help the moderate and humane forces of the Middle East and protect ourselves against terrorism, the first thing we need to do is tell the truth, rather than write confusing articles designed to mislead the reader and make everyone look equally guilty.

    I have no idea what this persons commercial or personal connections to the ME are ( Saudi Arabia / israel etc) but there is something fishy about this article.

    The bias in the article is clear, as I would at a minimum expect an ex diplomat to be a good communicator and have the basic ability to write an intelligible piece which is informative!

    You do have to ask yourself this sad question, with diplomats like this and friends like Saudi Arabia who needs enemies!

  • Humanperson

    I am embarrassed by this very poor analysis by the ex British ambassador in Japan.

    If this is the quality of advice coming out of the foreign office no wonder we in the west, have made such huge blunders in Iraq, Syria and Libya.

    Today there is a fight in the Middle East between those who want to join the modern world socially, scientifically and industrially but are being hampered by entrenched corrupt and narrow power basis which don’t want to allow it.

    The main culprit in all this is Saudi Arabia which unlike Iran is our supposed Allie and friend. This country single handedly has exported it’s Wahhabis ideology through religious schools and petro dollars across the world and has worked hard to kill any democratic and modern impulses in the Arab and Muslim world.

    There are 3 basic facts in all of the terrorism that we are now suffering.

    1- all the terrorists (Isis , Al Qaida, boco haram , the bombers in London- Madrid- new York Brussels- Bali- Paris) are all Sunni Muslims in religion and Whahabbi in sect ( same as Saudi Arabia)
    2- 15 out of 19, 9-11 hijackers were Saudis, as are many of the top commanders of Isis and al qaida( Osama Ben Ladan for one)- and we won’t even talk about the funding!
    3- none of these terrorists were shitte Muslim or from Iran.

    If we are going to help the moderate and humane forces of the Middle East and protect ourselves against terrorism, the first thing we need to do is tell the truth, rather than write confusing articles designed to mislead the reader and make everyone look equally guilty.

    I have no idea what this persons commercial or personal connections to the ME are ( Saudi Arabia / israel etc) but there is something fishy about this article.

    The bias in the article is clear, as I would at a minimum expect an ex diplomat to be a good communicator and have the basic ability to write an intelligible piece which is informative!

    You do have to ask yourself this sad question, with diplomats like this and friends like Saudi Arabia who needs enemies!

  • Steve Jobs

    How much this so called ambassador been paid off? The last time i read the news it was former Malaysian president who has been paid off 60 millions by saudi government. isis, al qade, Taliban all extremist around the world and middle east all are Sunni vahabist, the official religion of saudi arabia. 9/11 attackers and all other extremist they are all sunni vahabist or salafist and unfortunately some influential officials like this ambassador are been paid off by rich saudi monarchs.

  • Jason821

    Terrible article – written by a dinosaur who seems to have been paid to neutralize the actual threat of Saudi/Wahabism. Shame on the Japanese for publishing this – if Japan feels this strongly about Iran, then please stop having your businessmen flying in droves into Tehran trying to get a piece of the newly opened market.

  • Khalid

    America with Bush administration had made huge mistake by handing Iraq to Iran through it’s Saddam removal which Saudi Arabia warned of, America with Obama is committing a bigger mistake by allowing Iran to continue its Nuclear program, it is only matter of time before America and the whole world would find out. America’s involvement mistake in Iraq made her reluctant to go into war with Iran or at least progressively pressure Iran to stop its program,…. In Saudi Arabia we are getting ready for Nuclear Iran. Iran Nuclear program is the start of spread of nuclear power around the world and thus the start of Armageddon

  • Khalid

    America with Bush administration had made huge mistake by handing Iraq to Iran through it’s Saddam removal which Saudi Arabia warned of, America with Obama is committing a bigger mistake by allowing Iran to continue its Nuclear program, it is only matter of time before America and the whole world would find out. America’s involvement mistake in Iraq made her reluctant to go into war with Iran or at least progressively pressure Iran to stop its program,…. In Saudi Arabia we are getting ready for Nuclear Iran. Iran Nuclear program is the start of spread of nuclear power around the world and thus the start of Armageddon

    • John Smith

      Wrong, Khalid, in so many levels!
      (a) Its not Iran’s program that is the start of the “spread” and “Armageddon” – that belongs to the U.S. world wise and Israel in ME, (b) POTUS stopped Iran’s nuclear weapons program, hence stopping “Armageddon”, (c) the U.S. and five other world powers did find out and stopped Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and (d) in SA you are not getting ready for nuclear Iran but awaiting its ascendancy and that is what scares you!
      You should tell your despotic and barbaric country to stop its terrorism around the world by its Wahhabi b.s. and bombing innocent civilians in sovereign countries and stop building madrasahs around the world. Your b.s. propaganda is pathetic!!!

    • ahuraman

      You should get ready for a nuclear Iran in Saudi Arabia: ride up your camels, load the women and hoards of children, ask the Wahabi sheikhs to clean the lice and……run!

    • Humanperson

      Interestingly you don’t find the real and actual nuclear capabilities of Israel, which includes a submarine and second strike capacity a problem! Whilst Iran with no nuclear weapons is one!

      Also Israel is a country which for decades has been occupying 5 million Palestinians Arabs ( in totality) along with parts of Syria and Lebanon (Sheba farms). This doesn’t seem to bother you either?

      So why don’t Saudis like you at least tell the truth to your Arab brothers the Palestinians that you not only don’t care for them but that actually you prefer to help Israeli foreign policy to gain even more traction in the region, by destroying any country or group which effectively stands up to them.

      The problem in Saudi Arabia is that you don’t create anything, make anything or show any abilities in scientific research.

      That’s not because your people are not capable or clever enough, but it’s because of your very poor leadership and the unstable, structure of your society, which lacks free speech, is full of corruption and encourages bigotry towards minorities, women and other religions.

      For the above reasons you are doomed to remain a consumer society with a poorly educated young population which is, ill equipped for the modern world at the time of falling oil prices.

      Maybe that is why so many of your young men are such easy prey to Isis and al Qaeda and are happy to blow themselves up in the prime of their youth! How tragic!

      Maybe it’s time for you and your friends, to put aside your racism and work for your own national good by stopping your current bankrupt, devicive and sectarian policy which makes everyone in your neighbourhood your enemy.

      Remember the world is getting tired of Saudi Arabian bad behavior and even if the next president of the USA, is not Donald Trump, the one after that maybe someone even more islamophobic and hateful towards arabs!

      Food for thought maybe?

    • ahuraman

      Get ready for a nuclear Iran in Saudi Arabia: ride up your camels, load the women and hoards of children, delice the Wahabi sheikh and ……run!

    • ahuraman

      Get ready for a nuclear Iran in Saudi Arabia: ride up your camels, load the women and hoards of children, delice the Wahabi sheikh and ……run!

  • Khalid

    America with Bush administration had made huge mistake by handing Iraq to Iran through it’s Saddam removal which Saudi Arabia warned of, America with Obama is committing a bigger mistake by allowing Iran to continue its Nuclear program, it is only matter of time before America and the whole world would find out. America’s involvement mistake in Iraq made her reluctant to go into war with Iran or at least progressively pressure Iran to stop its program,…. In Saudi Arabia we are getting ready for Nuclear Iran. Iran Nuclear program is the start of spread of nuclear power around the world and thus the start of Armageddon

  • Khalid

    America with Bush administration had made huge mistake by handing Iraq to Iran through it’s Saddam removal which Saudi Arabia warned of, America with Obama is committing a bigger mistake by allowing Iran to continue its Nuclear program, it is only matter of time before America and the whole world would find out. America’s involvement mistake in Iraq made her reluctant to go into war with Iran or at least progressively pressure Iran to stop its program,…. In Saudi Arabia we are getting ready for Nuclear Iran. Iran Nuclear program is the start of spread of nuclear power around the world and thus the start of Armageddon

  • Khalid

    America with Bush administration had made huge mistake by handing Iraq to Iran through it’s Saddam removal which Saudi Arabia warned of, America with Obama is committing a bigger mistake by allowing Iran to continue its Nuclear program, it is only matter of time before America and the whole world would find out. America’s involvement mistake in Iraq made her reluctant to go into war with Iran or at least progressively pressure Iran to stop its program,…. In Saudi Arabia we are getting ready for Nuclear Iran. Iran Nuclear program is the start of spread of nuclear power around the world and thus the start of Armageddon

  • Khalid

    America with Bush administration had made huge mistake by handing Iraq to Iran through it’s Saddam removal which Saudi Arabia warned of, America with Obama is committing a bigger mistake by allowing Iran to continue its Nuclear program, it is only matter of time before America and the whole world would find out. America’s involvement mistake in Iraq made her reluctant to go into war with Iran or at least progressively pressure Iran to stop its program,…. In Saudi Arabia we are getting ready for Nuclear Iran. Iran Nuclear program is the start of spread of nuclear power around the world and thus the start of Armageddon

  • Khalid

    America with Bush administration had made huge mistake by handing Iraq to Iran through it’s Saddam removal which Saudi Arabia warned of, America with Obama is committing a bigger mistake by allowing Iran to continue its Nuclear program, it is only matter of time before America and the whole world would find out. America’s involvement mistake in Iraq made her reluctant to go into war with Iran or at least progressively pressure Iran to stop its program,…. In Saudi Arabia we are getting ready for Nuclear Iran. Iran Nuclear program is the start of spread of nuclear power around the world and thus the start of Armageddon

  • Khalid

    America with Bush administration had made huge mistake by handing Iraq to Iran through it’s Saddam removal which Saudi Arabia warned of, America with Obama is committing a bigger mistake by allowing Iran to continue its Nuclear program, it is only matter of time before America and the whole world would find out. America’s involvement mistake in Iraq made her reluctant to go into war with Iran or at least progressively pressure Iran to stop its program,…. In Saudi Arabia we are getting ready for Nuclear Iran. Iran Nuclear program is the start of spread of nuclear power around the world and thus the start of Armageddon

  • Khalid

    America with Bush administration had made huge mistake by handing Iraq to Iran through it’s Saddam removal which Saudi Arabia warned of, America with Obama is committing a bigger mistake by allowing Iran to continue its Nuclear program, it is only matter of time before America and the whole world would find out. America’s involvement mistake in Iraq made her reluctant to go into war with Iran or at least progressively pressure Iran to stop its program,…. In Saudi Arabia we are getting ready for Nuclear Iran. Iran Nuclear program is the start of spread of nuclear power around the world and thus the start of Armageddon

  • Khalid

    America with Bush administration had made huge mistake by handing Iraq to Iran through it’s Saddam removal which Saudi Arabia warned of, America with Obama is committing a bigger mistake by allowing Iran to continue its Nuclear program, it is only matter of time before America and the whole world would find out. America’s involvement mistake in Iraq made her reluctant to go into war with Iran or at least progressively pressure Iran to stop its program,…. In Saudi Arabia we are getting ready for Nuclear Iran. Iran Nuclear program is the start of spread of nuclear power around the world and thus the start of Armageddon

  • Khalid

    America with Bush administration had made huge mistake by handing Iraq to Iran through it’s Saddam removal which Saudi Arabia warned of, America with Obama is committing a bigger mistake by allowing Iran to continue its Nuclear program, it is only matter of time before America and the whole world would find out. America’s involvement mistake in Iraq made her reluctant to go into war with Iran or at least progressively pressure Iran to stop its program,…. In Saudi Arabia we are getting ready for Nuclear Iran. Iran Nuclear program is the start of spread of nuclear power around the world and thus the start of Armageddon

  • ahuraman

    Mr ex-Ambassador,
    You need to google a little before writing about things you don’t have any idea about, or that’s the least you can do ,I wonder why should you should comment about everything?!

  • truthteller

    Filled with incorrect information. Saudi Arabia is SALAFI also known as Wahabi. They are a fringe sect within Islam. They are NOT sunni like the vast majority all over the world. They do not even call themselves that. It’s like saying British are all Catholics or Americans are all Orthodox. Facts needs be corrected.

  • truthteller

    Filled with incorrect information. Saudi Arabia is SALAFI also known as Wahabi. They are a fringe sect within Islam. They are NOT sunni like the vast majority all over the world. They do not even call themselves that. It’s like saying British are all Catholics or Americans are all Orthodox. Facts needs be corrected.

  • truthteller

    Filled with incorrect information. Saudi Arabia is SALAFI also known as Wahabi. They are a fringe sect within Islam. They are NOT sunni like the vast majority all over the world. They do not even call themselves that. It’s like saying British are all Catholics or Americans are all Orthodox. Facts needs be corrected.

  • truthteller

    Filled with incorrect information. Saudi Arabia is SALAFI also known as Wahabi. They are a fringe sect within Islam. They are NOT sunni like the vast majority all over the world. They do not even call themselves that. It’s like saying British are all Catholics or Americans are all Orthodox. Facts needs be corrected.

  • truthteller

    Filled with incorrect information. Saudi Arabia is SALAFI also known as Wahabi. They are a fringe sect within Islam. They are NOT sunni like the vast majority all over the world. They do not even call themselves that. It’s like saying British are all Catholics or Americans are all Orthodox. Facts needs be corrected.

  • truthteller

    Filled with incorrect information. Saudi Arabia is SALAFI also known as Wahabi. They are a fringe sect within Islam. They are NOT sunni like the vast majority all over the world. They do not even call themselves that. It’s like saying British are all Catholics or Americans are all Orthodox. Facts needs be corrected.

  • truthteller

    Filled with incorrect information. Saudi Arabia is SALAFI also known as Wahabi. They are a fringe sect within Islam. They are NOT sunni like the vast majority all over the world. They do not even call themselves that. It’s like saying British are all Catholics or Americans are all Orthodox. Facts needs be corrected.

  • truthteller

    Filled with incorrect information. Saudi Arabia is SALAFI also known as Wahabi. They are a fringe sect within Islam. They are NOT sunni like the vast majority all over the world. They do not even call themselves that. It’s like saying British are all Catholics or Americans are all Orthodox. Facts needs be corrected.

  • spring12

    very poor analogy. one need to take a trip to Iran to actually see that women are much more involved in societies than most other countries . there some 69% of college graduate who are women and many hold high executive positions. the society in general is very educated and proud. this is just pure junk for analysis. Makes you wonder about the authors agenda.

  • Robert Rabraham

    This is just a dumb analysis.
    Just one point. Iranian women were allowed to vote from day one of revolution, not just at the last election. It because such a man that British Empire dwindled to just what it is.

  • Procivic

    What a self-serving analysis.

    But what can readers expect after David Cameron sponsored Saudi Arabia to head the UN Human Rights Council and even lowered the flag when a Saudi “royal ” died while Francois Holland pinned the Legion d’Honneur on a Saudi “prince” ?

    And these are two leading European nations that lecture the world on democracy.

  • bsteel2000

    Britain is an island in the North Sea.

    Germany is a country in Europe.

    British people have bad teeth.

    Germans make nice cars.

    Britain invaded many countries.

    Germany also invaded some countries.

    Which country should we side with?