Saudi-Iranian Tensions Widening Into Sunni-Shiite Cold War

Saudi-Iranian Tensions Widening Into Sunni-Shiite Cold War

The Saudi intervention in Bahrain has upped the ante in the Saudi-Iranian cold war, crystallizing it into a wider Sunni-Shiite schism in the Muslim world. Saudi Arabia has reportedly invoked a treaty with Sunni-dominated Pakistan to secure troops to stabilize both Bahrain and its own oil-rich eastern provinces. Riyadh has also asked Turkey to make it clear to Iran that interference in the Gulf states will not be tolerated. At the other end of the spectrum, Shiites worldwide are enraged at what they see as Western duplicity in not stopping Saudi heavy-handedness in Bahrain, while showing solidarity with anti-regime protestors elsewhere in the Middle East.

The situation is particularly wrenching for Turkey, which had been courting Iran for some time and has arrived at common positions on issues as diverse as the Kurdish question and the establishment of a joint visa regime. However, pressure from Saudi Arabia and the Shiite population in southern Turkey are forcing Ankara to re-evaluate its ties with Tehran.

The same dilemma is also confronting Egypt, which had a history of opposition to Iran under ousted President Hosni Mubarak. Cairo's new leadership has made overtures to Tehran, but is trying its best to suggest that future ties will not be to the detriment of the wider Arab world, while also avoiding any mention of ideological fault lines.

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