Stop trying to make a Saudi-Iran war happen. It’s not going to happen.

Or actually it might. But just stop trying to make it happen. Looking at you United States.

By Maya Reus, MA Near and Middle Eastern Studies with Intensive Language

Remember when in the movie Mean Girls, a bunch of girls wrote this ‘burn book’? The book was filled with rumours, stories and gossip about all the girls in their high school. One of the writers of the book, Regina George, photocopied all the pages of the book and distributed them around the school. Following this, the school was in mayhem, with girls fighting with each other over all the backstabbing and trash-talking that had been revealed.

The United States is totally being Regina right now. They are encouraging mayhem in the Middle East by not-so-gently pouring oil on the fire that is the tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. With the United States’ bellicose language directed against Iran, their deployment of more and more troops to Saudi Arabia, and of course, their sanctions against Iran, they are making the situation increasingly flammable. 

A quick recap of the recent tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran: On September 14th, there was an attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil fields, for which both Saudi Arabia and the United States named Iran as the culprit, even though Houthi rebels claimed the attack. Then, on October 11th, Iran claimed that two missiles struck one of its oil tankers in the Red Sea, largely interpreted by news agencies as blaming Saudi Arabia. But asymmetrical warfare between the two has been going on for much longer. This has been the case at least since 2011, with their forces fighting against each other in the civil war in Syria, among other places. 

Roots of this animosity go way back. When in 1979, the Iranian Islamic revolution took place, the Islamic Republic became a threat to the model of the Sunni monarchy, most greatly manifested in the Saudi state. The fear of Iran ‘exporting its revolution’ has been ever prominent in the Arab world. This was actually one of the reasons behind the devastating Gulf war between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s. Both Iran and Saudi have been competing for power over the region ever since, with Saudi supporting Sunni monarchies and Iran supporting Shia groups such as Hizb’ullah in Lebanon and the Syrian ‘Alawi regime.

Iran is basically Lindsay Lohan’s character in Mean Girls who has to eat lunch alone on the toilet because she does not have any friends.

Still, to merely see this problem as a Middle Eastern one, or a Sunni-Shia one, would be reductive. Foreign powers are complicit, with the United States on the forefront. Next to the semi-colonisation and further meddling of foreign powers in Iran, the United States actually engaged in the 1953 coup d’etat which quite literally ended democracy in Iran.

Since the revolution in 1979, Iran has had no allies. Iran is basically Lindsay Lohan’s character in Mean Girls who has to eat lunch alone on the toilet because she does not have any friends. Not  only was it alone, but it also has had a problematic relationship with the West, especially the United States, as we all know. The latter actually has military bases all around Iran. It is not surprising that the idea of Iran as alone, surrounded and humiliated is deeply ingrained into the psyche of the state. 

At the moment, the United States is making the situation even worse. After the attack on the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, they were the first to point their finger at Iran. Trump has moreover made a sport out of using the harshest language against Iran as possible. In June, he said that the United States would ‘obliterate’ Iran when they condemned US sanctions. Then, on the 11th of October, the United States decided to deploy thousands of extra troops to Saudi Arabia. Of course their arms deal to Saudi Arabia in 2017 was not helping either. And it seems like I am forgetting something… Of course, sanctions! These are hitting Iran’s citizens hard, making basic necessities more inaccessible, especially to vulnerable groups. 

In Mean Girls, Lindsay Lohan’s character is being bullied by Regina George. She wants revenge and embarks on a plan to destroy Regina and her reputation. Just like Lindsay Lohan’s character, Iran is vengeant. This explains Iran’s not-so-friendly tactics such as their nuclear programme and bellicose language. For instance, foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who is not known for sugarcoating his statements, has said that any attack by the US or Saudi Arabia on Iran would result in an ‘all-out-war’ and that Iran ‘won’t blink to defend [it’s] territory.’ 

In spite of media claiming World War 3 is looming, some analysts claim that the US is rather reluctant to start a war. Another good sign is the fact that Iran and Saudi Arabia seem open to talk about defusing tensions. But recent news of the extra deployment of US troops to Saudi Arabia and the attack on Iran’s oil tankers, both announced on October 11th, are still alarming. 

If the United States would just drop the sanctions already, and stop the intimidation and bullying, Iran would feel less threatened and vengeant. Still, Iran (and Saudi Arabia) could follow LiLo’s advice: ‘Calling somebody else fat won’t make you any skinnier. Calling someone stupid doesn’t make you any smarter. And ruining Regina George’s life definitely didn’t make me any happier. All you can do in life is try to solve the problem in front of you.’ If it works for girl world, it might work for the Middle East as well.

Post Author: SOAS Spirit

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