The Growing Tension Between Saudi Arabia and the West

March 24 2022

On Wednesday, two out of three British-Iranian hostages were released by Iran, following Britain’s payment to it of a $530 million debt. Their release, as Nigel Farage writes, is wonderful news for the prisoners and their families, but the manner in which it was arranged should cause great alarm. The former U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo called the debt repayment “blood money” and predicted that Iran will use the funds to “terrorize Israel, the UK, and the U.S.” Farage explains the context of the hostage negotiation and suggests that it might further damage Western relations with Saudi Arabia, a key regional rival to Iran.

At the very least, the timing of the hostages’ release prompts serious questions. Why has Britain chosen this moment to repay Iran the money? It could have done so at any time since Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was first imprisoned in 2016. The answer is that the British government is hoping to repair relations with Iran. It shares Joe Biden’s enthusiasm for rebooting the Iran nuclear deal. . . .

On the same day the aforementioned British hostages were released, Boris Johnson visited Saudi Arabia and held talks with Mohammed bin Salman and the UAE’s Mohammed bin Zayed. The purpose of this trip was to persuade bin Salman and bin Zayed to commit to increasing energy exports from the Middle East so that the West can cut its reliance on Russian oil.

Things did not go well.

First, three executions were carried out in Saudi Arabia shortly after Johnson landed in Riyadh. They followed the 81 executions which took place there last weekend. The Saudis would not have ordered these killings while a visiting foreign premier was on their soil unless they wanted to send a message to the West. Second, Saudi Arabia announced that day that it is close to agreeing with Beijing to price some of its oil sales to China in yuan and not dollars, thereby damaging the U.S. dollar’s dominance of the global petroleum market. If nothing else, this is hugely symbolic and shows deep unease with Biden’s administration. Johnson left the Middle East emptyhanded. He got precisely nothing in return for his visit.

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Read more at Newsweek

More about: Iran, Oil, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy

Iran, America, and the Future of Democracy in the Middle East

Nov. 23 2022

Sixty-two days after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Islamic Republic’s police, the regime has failed to quash the protest movement. But it is impossible to know if the tide will turn, and what the outcome of the government’s collapse might be. Reuel Marc Gerecht considers the very real possibility that a democratic Iran will emerge, and considers the aftershocks that might follow. (Free registration required.)

American political and intellectual elites remain uneasy with democracy promotion everywhere primarily because it has failed so far in the Middle East, the epicenter of our attention the last twenty years. (Iraq’s democracy isn’t dead, but it didn’t meet American expectations.) Might our dictatorial exception for Middle Eastern Muslims change if Iran were to set in motion insurrections elsewhere in the Islamic world, in much the same way that America’s response to 9/11 probably helped to produce the rebellions against dictatorship that started in Tunisia in 2010? The failure of the so-called Arab Spring to establish one functioning democracy, the retreat of secular democracy in Turkey, and the implosion of large parts of the Arab world have left many wondering whether Middle Eastern Muslims can sustain representative government.

In 1979 the Islamic revolution shook the Middle East, putting religious militancy into overdrive and tempting Saddam Hussein to unleash his bloodiest war. The collapse of Iran’s theocracy might be similarly seismic. Washington’s dictatorial preference could fade as the contradictions between Arab tyranny and Persian democracy grow.

Washington isn’t yet invested in democracy in Iran. Yet, as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has often noted, American hostility toward the Islamic Republic has been damaging. If the theocracy falls, Iranians will surely give America credit—vastly more credit that they will give to the European political class, who have been trying to make nice, and make money, with the clerical regime since the early 1990s—for this lasting enmity. We may well get more credit than we deserve. Both Democrats and Republicans who have dismissed the possibilities of democratic revolutions among the Muslim peoples of the Middle East will still, surely, claim it eagerly.

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Arab democracy, Democracy, Iran, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy