Shia-Sunni crisis in Middle East sparks global concern

RSTV Bureau
Tehran protest against Saudi

Tehran : Iranian women attend a rally to protest the execution by Saudi Arabia last week of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent opposition Shiite cleric, shown in the posters, in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016. Allies of Saudi Arabia followed the kingdom’s lead and began scaling back diplomatic ties to Iran on Monday after the ransacking of Saudi diplomatic missions in the Islamic Republic, violence sparked by the Saudi execution of al-Nimr.

A day after tension escalated between Saudi Arabia and Iran, world leaders have expressed concern on the crisis. Saudi Arabia along with Sunni Arab allies like Bahrain, Sudan and UAE have called off ties with Iran.

The controversy began after Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shiite cleric and activist Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, much to Iran’s dislike. An angry exchange of words followed between the two countries which has now escalated to a full-blown diplomatic crisis and has sparked a global concern.

The crisis has also raised fears of an increase in sectarian violence in the Middle East, including in Iraq where two Sunni mosques were blown up late Monday and two people were killed.

The US and UN called for calm and de-escalation of tension, whereas as Russia offered to act as an intermediary in resolving the matter.

The UN envoy to Syria is headed to Riyadh and Tehran to defuse tensions, and Washington urged “calm and de-escalation” even as US Secretary of State John Kerry called his Iranian and Saudi counterparts.

“We do continue to be concerned about the need for both the Iranians and the Saudis to de-escalate the situation in the Middle East,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said.

London, Paris and Berlin also expressed concern, amid fears that the dispute could derail efforts to resolve conflicts across the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iran late on Sunday, giving its diplomats 48 hours to leave Iran after protesters set fire to the Saudi embassies and consulates in Tehran and Mashhad. Both these acts of violence were strongly condemned by the UN Security Council.

On Monday, Bahrain and Sudan also called off ties with Iran. UAE too downgraded its ties, recalling its envoy.

According to sources, 80 Saudis, including diplomats and their families, arrived in Dubai from Tehran on Monday.

Sunni Arab nations are accusing Tehran of repeatedly meddling in their affairs.

“Iran’s history is full of negative interference and hostility in Arab issues,” said Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.

The Saudi Civil Aviation Authority has also decided to suspend all flights to and from Iran.

Bahrain accused Iran of “increasing flagrant and dangerous meddling” in Gulf and Arab states, while the UAE said Iranian interference had reached “unprecedented levels”.

Meanwhile, Iranian officials denounced the Saudi moves as tactics that would inflame regional tensions.

“Saudi Arabia sees not only its interests but also its existence in pursuing crises and confrontations and (it) attempts to resolve its internal problems by exporting them to the outside,” alleged Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are on opposite ends on a range of crucial issues in the Middle East, including the war in Syria. In Syria, Tehran backs President Bashar al-Assad’s regime whereas Riyadh supports rebel forces.

However, Saudi Arabia has assured the UN that the row will not affect efforts to resolve conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

“From our side, it should have no effect because we will continue to work very hard to support the peace efforts in Syria and Yemen,” Abdallah al-Mouallimi, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UN, told reporters.

But Abdallah al-Mouallimi did take a swipe at Iran’s role in resolving the war in Syria.

“They have been taking provocative and negative positions… and I don’t think the break in relations is going to dissuade them from such behavior,” alleged al-Mouallimi.

(With inputs from PTI)