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HomeGlobal Perspective & Critical ResearchStructural Sources of Saudi–Iran Rivalry and Competition for the Sphere of Influence

Structural Sources of Saudi–Iran Rivalry and Competition for the Sphere of Influence

Authors: Muhammad Nadeem Mirza, Hussain Abbas, and Irfan Hasnain Qaisrani

Affiliation: Quaid-i-Azam University (Islamabad, Pakistan), The Islamia University of Bahawalpur (Pakistan),  Bahria University (Islamabad, Pakistan)

Organization/Publisher: SAGE Journals 

Date/Place: September 2021

Type of Literature: Research

Number of Pages: 9


Keywords: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Middle East, Sphere of Influence, proxy warfare


Iran’s successful strategy to protect and expand its sphere of influence in the Middle East (ME) has made Saudi Arabia adopt a proactive policy to counter Iranian moves in the region. The competition between the two states is political in nature, but sectarianism provides fodder to their hostility. Competition between the two states has existed for a long time, but the fall of Saddam (2003) and the Arab Spring (2011) brought the competition to the surface. As sectarianism has been weaponized between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the states have been enticing their proxies against each other in different places in the ME. In the last two decades, the competition between both antithetical systems has projected proxy conflict in Yemen, Iraq and Syria. Each state seeks to build, expand and protect its sphere of influence at the expense of the other state, with repercussions including shifting alliances. The apprehension of Saudi Arabia as a regional Sunni power in the region has compelled Gulf monarchies to normalize with Israel for their survival. The increasing capabilities of some of Iran’s proxies (Houthis in Yemen) and the role of Saudi Arabia—with its proxies—in balancing Iran would not be favorable for the ME nor the world as a whole.


By: Imad Atoui, CIGA Research Associate



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