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Saudi Arabia and Iran's Fight to Control the Middle East
The fighting in Yemen continued this week, escalating what many view as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. A group of Shia rebels, known as the Houthis and backed by Iran, continued to advance in Yemen. At the same time, Saudi Arabia continued to lead a military coalition of Arab states, deploying massive airstrikes for nine nights in a row. The Saudis want to restore Yemen's president to power. The Houthis, though, captured a presidential palace in the strategic sourthern porty city of Aden, in addition to killing a Saudi soldier and wounding five others in a skirmish at the Yemeni border.
As this episode explores, the fighting between Saudi Arabia and Iran in Yemen of today is just the latest chapter in the tense, often violent, relationship between the two countries. In 1929, the future looked relatively peaceful for the two countries, symbolized by the signed "Saudi-Iranian Friendship Treaty". However, the counties began evolving in different ways, as Iran's leader of the time, the Shah, pushed the country toward westernization. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, found itself on a more conservative path. In addition, the countries are largely split on their predominant sects of Islam. Saudis follow Wahhabism, a very conservative sect of the Sunni faith, while Iranians are largely "Twelvers" of the Shia faith. To this day, the two countries jockey for influence and power in the Middle East, drawing on religious and political divisions.
Saudi Arabia, Iran and the 'Great Game' in Yemen (Al Jazeera)
"It would be an understatement to say that the internal power politics at play in Yemen are among the oldest, most complex and most dynamic in the Middle East."
Sunnis and Shia: Islam's ancient schism (BBC)
"Muslims are split into two main branches, the Sunnis and Shia. "
Rivals - Iran vs. Saudi Arabia (Carnegie Endowment)
"There are fears that the upheaval in the Middle East will exacerbate the deep rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran."