Middle East – the birth place of the world’s second largest religion. A house designed by Europeans but sitting on the foundations of the Ottoman Empire, and once considered to be the centre for trade and business. There was a time when its monarchies and militaries defeated those of Europe and provided stability for decades but “the worst and best thing about time is that it never remains the same.”
21st century’s Middle East will certainly not be remembered the way it was before. It houses one of the world’s biggest conflicts, violence, unrest and war-torn countries. But all of these conflicts, whether it involves Iraq, Lebanon, Syria or Yemen, share a common factor. The rivalry for power and influence between the two ideologically different giants of the region, Saudi Arabia and Iran. The relationship they hold is full of tension and hostility, and both have become the cause of destruction of their financially less fortunate neighbouring countries, that frequently become the victim of their proxy wars. Both of them back opposing sides in the Syrian civil war and many other conflicts over the Middle East.
The situation in Syria was where it all started as a peaceful protest against pro-Iran Bashar-ul-Asad regime, but things quickly escalated after the use of chemical weapons. To get rid of the regime, US intervened but had no plans to send ground troops this time (a lesson from Iraq). Seeing Iran backed regime, United States’ old friend Saudi Arabia couldn’t have resisted helping them fuel up the rebels to fight against the government. Not to mention the rise of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) which may or may not have some backing of Saudi Arabia, fingers crossed!
Although the situation in Syria was not really pushed by Saudi Arabia but it surely played a big role in mounting it. On the other hand, a weak and struggling Sunni who led the government’s decade-long fight against the Shiite elite group Houthis, gave up. After groups’ uprising due to Iran’s backing, the start of a new civil war was inevitable in a poorly governed Yemen. Having a border with the Kingdom, it could serve as a good friendly base for Iran’s operations in KSA. This is exactly the reason why Saudi Arabia went overboard and made coalitions with nine Middle Eastern countries hammering the rebels from the sky and killing millions of innocents as collateral damage. Of course, Iran has denied the allegations made regarding their support of the Houthis but they have been caught red-handed many a time i.e. Iranian marked weapons seized from a ship off the coast of Yemen allegedly was to be delivered to Houthis – Reported by CNN.
The two countries use religion as a tool in their rivalry as Iran is a Shiite majority region while Saudi Arabia a Sunni/Wahabi majority country. They are often caught in a war of words accusing each other of not being the true Muslims. Such statements from either side can trigger an outrage in the countries like Lebanon or Pakistan which constitutes both the Sunnis and Shiites, and both sides do not tolerate anyone saying anything against their respective sect. Pakistan’s foreign policy relating to KSA and Iran has therefore remained admirable over the years as they have been smart enough not to pick any sides between the two. We all witnessed a recent instance of it when the Saudis were gearing up for the “Coalitions Army” for Yemen and asked Pakistan to join the coalition force, which later in Islamabad was refused to on the basis of unanimous vote held in the parliament. Though Pakistan faced backlash from the Saudi Arabia and its Middle Eastern allies like United Arab Emirates but it was a decision worth applause.
According to Syrian Centre for Policy Research, there have been more than 470,000 casualties over the period 2011 and 2016. In Yemen, the estimated death toll is of at least 10,000 in one year according to the United Nations. And these figures were only taken from different hospitals/health centres. It does not account for those who get killed and are buried before any official record is made. Normally when two boxers fight, the audience enjoys the match. But this is a different kind of match with a somewhat different set of rules; here the audience suffers instead. A match they didn’t opted to be a part of, is being played. A match between two rich countries seeking power and control over the Middle East by putting millions in harm’s way, who don’t have anything to do with their rich agendas.
Written by: Hyder Saleem