On Monday, a most intriguing photograph started circulating in print and on social media, raising eyebrows, stoking conspiracy theories, and simultaneously stirring worries and anticipation. The picture featured the firebrand Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, dour-faced and black-turbaned, sitting across from a relaxed and smiling Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the young royal who is steadily emerging as the de facto leader of the Sunni kingdom.
The picture revealed their unlikely meeting a day earlier in the Saudi city of Jeddah, and it testified to the fact that the two men wanted to make sure their encounter became known to the entire world. The Hezbollah-linked Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar called the visit a “political bomb,” saying it brought out in the open what the paper claimed was a long-standing, secret relationship.
Undoubtedly, a meeting between a powerful, activist Sunni leader and a charismatic, influential Shiite cleric is a remarkable event. In this case, the fact that the Shiite cleric is al-Sadr and the Sunni leader is Prince Mohammed is of particular interest—and grave concern—to the Iranian leadership.