A divide down the Middle East


david koroma

Tensions are escalating between two major powers in the Middle East.

Sunni-run Saudi Arabia and Shia-run Iran have been experiencing a kind of cold war for decades, but in recent weeks it’s heated up. But instead of capitalism versus communism, this war is between Sunni and Shia — the two major sects of Islam.

The latest flashpoint came when Saudi Arabia went through with the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a Shia religious leader within Saudi Arabia — where Shiites are an oppressed minority. Amnesty International called the execution politically motivated, as Nimr al-Nimr was a non-violent activist who often spoke out against the Saudi regime.

In response to this execution, many Iranian Shiites ransacked the Saudi Arabian embassy in Iran’s capitol city of Tehran. Iranian officials were accused of purposely failing to protect the embassy, and as a result Saudi Arabia and a few of their allies cut all diplomatic ties with Iran.

Meanwhile, Iran’s government has arrested nearly 60 people who were involved with the riot, and they accuse Saudi Arabia of only cutting diplomatic ties to distract from their controversial executions.

Iran continues to condemn Saudi Arabia’s execution of Nimr al-Nimr, with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei saying there will be “divine vengeance” against the regime.

All of this has led to every major power in the world — including the United States, China and Russia — calling for calm. With the region embroiled in a war against ISIL, the last thing anybody wants is a full-blown war between two of the Middle East’s largest countries.

Yet, the Iran-Saudi tension is hard to separate from the ongoing extremism throughout the Muslim world. After all, every extremist organization will adhere to either Shia or Sunni while violently killing those who do not share their ideology.

The reality is that this division between Sunni and Shia has accounted for most of the turmoil in Iraq, both before and after George Bush’s war. And by extension it has brought us to our current struggle against ISIL.

The Iran-Saudi Arabia — Shia-Sunni — divide is really at the heart of so much violence in the Muslim World. And it will take these two countries coming together to heal this divide before any lasting peace can truly exist in the Middle East.

David Koroma has experience working in government and political communications.

He is interested in the role citizens play in creating positive change on Canadian stage.

Follow David on Twitter @D_A_Koroma.