Increasing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran have not only created a deeper divide between the two countries, but also resulted in the murder of a Shiite cleric and a cut in diplomatic ties.
The strain between the two countries has come to affect more than just those in the Middle East; this issue connects to others around the world, including Seattle University.
Sophomore biology major Abdulaziz Alnasri came to the U.S. in 2012. He explained that though he may not currently be personally affected by what is happening, in the long run, the scholarship which he is receiving from his government may experience the strain which is occurring within both Saudi Arabia and Iran.
“As they keep going down, my scholarship that I am enrolled in might be affected. They already stopped upgrading and accepting new students. In a few years I don’t think the program will be as active as it is now. It keeps getting difficult to join.” Alnasri said.
Nova Robinson, a professor at Seattle U who holds a doctorate in women’s history in the Middle East, stressed the importance of Seattle U students making themselves aware of the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
“I do think that it is imperative for students to be aware of the part of the world that we are currently invading and occupying, and I think that as a conscious and engaged citizen of the United States, it is important to be aware of what our government is doing outside of our borders,” said Robinson.
The already tension filled relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran was intensified after Saudi Arabia proceeded to behead Nemer al-Nemer, a Shiite cleric who represented and was a voice for the Shiite community.
Nemer advocated for equal rights and criticized the Saudi Arabian Sunni rulers. Nemer was originally arrested in July of 2012, and later after being found guilty of opposing the country’s ruler and encouraging sectarian strife, or violence encouraged in different sects of the same religion, was later given the sanction of execution in October of 2014. Nemer, along with 46 others, was executed on
Sunday, Jan. 3.
The death of Nemer was met with outrage throughout the Shiite Muslim community in multiple cities ranging from Tehran to Beirut. Protests that started out peacefully escalated into violent uproars as Iranians reacted to the execution of Nemer by attacking the Saudi embassy in Tehran. These attacks consisted of Shiites setting fire to some parts of the embassy. This not only deepened the strife between the two countries, but also resulted in an official cut in diplomatic ties. This is the second time that diplomatic relations have been severed, the first being after a Saudi embassy was attacked by protesters in Iran in 1988, fatally wounding a diplomat.
“When Saudi [Arabia] executes an important Shiite cleric who has been living in Saudi [Arabia], that’s considered an affront to the people of Iran, who are inherent followers of the Shiite tradition,” Robinson said. The role of the cleric in the Shiite tradition is to to help one understand the Quran and how they should be operating in daily life, Robinson said.
“Those religious clerics are important because they are interpreting religious doctrine, and that tradition is very important in the Shiite tradition. It is not as prevalent in the contemporary moment in the Sunni tradition. There is a difference there, so when you kill an active clergy member that’s considered an act of aggression by the believers in Iran,” Robinson said.
While pointing out that the tensions that Saudi Arabia and Iran are experiencing are associated with religion, Robinson also emphasized that this is mainly driven by political stances and a fight for power.
“A lot this has to do with access to resources, access to powers in the region… it has to do with one trying to gain power and win over the hearts and minds of the populations of the region. It doesn’t go back to the prophet of Muhammad but it is a modern incarnation of a desire of a nation state to gain political power and leverage in a region,” Robinson said.
Alnasri shared similar viewpoints to those of Robinson, expressing that both countries are attempting to gain power in some way.
“That is the bigger reason I think, conflict of interest. Basically, Saudi Arabia represents the Sunnis and Iran represents the Shiites so, each one of them are trying to take control as much as possible. It will take awhile to get this things straight,” Alnasri said.
Gina Lopardo, the director of the education abroad office, confirmed that no student had expressed interest in going to either Saudi Arabia or Iran. The closest a student has gotten has been doing an internship on the Gaza strip.
“We have never had a student wanting to study in Iran or even Saudi Arabia. Last year we did have a student do an internship on the Gaza strip… because of the way his internship was being conducted, he was eventually awarded permission to have that experience,” Lopardo said.
According to Robinson, long-term implications of this conflict could be global.
“What’s happening now is utmost importance because it is going to shape the future and further American relations with the region,” Robinson said. “Understanding what’s happening internationally is very important for students. I think that the way we treat population in the Middle East has long term implications for our nation and our future.”
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Alexa McConville is a Senior studying Strategic Communications. She loves dancing, theater and America!