Sep 13, 2022 in Political

Iran and Saudi Arabia Political Ideology

Nowadays, the Middle East witnesses a serious conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. These states have different political ideologies that led to the beginning of the conflict long ago. Both states strongly rely on religious values. Nonetheless, the main distinction is that Saudi Arabia complies with Sunni doctrines, while Iran follows Shia doctrines. The difference in the Islam direction was provoked by opposite political aims. The main goal of Saudi Arabia was to maintain a strong monarchy and to reach hegemony in the Arab World and worldwide. At the same time, the main goal of Iran was to reach influence by promoting the Islamic revolution among Muslims. The ideological divergence leads both states to participate in proxy wars. Saudi Arabia and Iran support different extremist groups to reach their goals. A bright example can be the conflicts in Yemen and Syria. Therefore, while the political ideology of Saudi Arabia is led by Sunni doctrines, the political ideology of Iran is dominated by Shia doctrines, which led to different political goals, particularly global dominance for Saudi Arabia and the Islamic revolution for Iran.

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Both Saudi Arabia and Iran have a critical role in the Middle East. Their leaders have their own regional goals and strategies. In the end, both countries have competed for regional hegemony since the end of the 1970s. The rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran gained the high tension at the beginning of January 2016. Several cases involving execution of Nimr al-Nimr, Shia cleric, in Saudi Arabia and the attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran led to challenging bilateral relations (Shirazi, 2015). Moreover, they provoked the complete severance of diplomatic relations between Tehran and Riyadh. Relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia are characterized by religious, ideological antagonism and regional influence competition. One of the outcomes of current Middle East turmoil is the hostility between two countries. Both states have two different political systems and approaches to foreign policy. Both political systems are grounded in Islamic values. Nonetheless, the main difference is opposite interpretation of main Islamic principles. Therefore, while the political ideology of Saudi Arabia is led by Sunni doctrines, the political ideology of Iran is dominated by Shia doctrines, that led to different political goals, particularly global dominance for Saudi Arabia and Islamic revolution for Iran.

Political Ideology of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is a monarchy state with the main goal to reach political hegemony, where clerics have only advisory role. The Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy is based on several elements. One of them is Islam and its main provisions from the Saudi politics basis. The core values in politics are taken from the Islamic professional and social principles, and main elements in the organizational philosophy, and involve the values in employees and organizational units at all levels (Karim, 2017). Specifically, the policies are grounded in such values as creativity, transparency, tolerance and openness for other religions and cultures representatives, loyalty to God and then to the King. Hence, the ancient religion influences the definition of the modern state. Also, Saudi Arabia poses itself as the Sunni Muslims protector and critical representative in the region (Karim, 2017). Such an approach is material and symbolic because the state is the guardian of the holy shrines in Medina and Mecca. Kings of Saud Arabia are officially named the custodians of two Holy Mosques. Moreover, the state promotes regional stability grounded in own hegemony as the main foreign policy line.

Another ideological pattern is named Wahhabism. Such ideology is grounded in Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab ideas (Majin, 2017). He lived in the 18th century and promoted simple and strict ways of life. The political ideas involve his anti-Persian and anti-Turkish rhetoric. Wahhab emphasized the need for the Arab unity and proposed that only Arabs can enjoy the equal rights (Majin, 2017). He reduced the Persians’ or Turks’ social status. His ideas are in a strong relation to the political ideas of the state and approach toward Iran. Wahhabism is the Sunny Islam conservative branch. In his teachings, Wahhab outlined popular Islamic practices and emphasized the concept of oneness of God. Saudi Arabia has been promoting missionaries to spread Wahhabism throughout the Muslim world. The ideology spawned extremists, involving different versions of Salafism, who applied the lifestyle of the Prophet who lived 1400 years ago (Karim, 2017). The other extremist groups were ISIS, Al-Qaida, and Taliban.

In the political system, King is the supreme political figure. Nonetheless, he does not have religious associations in the same great amount as the Supreme Leader in Iran. King has a great power, but the unique position of the House of Saud was the outcome of ethnic and social rivalry in the past (Karim, 2017). Politics of Saudi Arabia are strongly related to the local tribalism. It remains one of the strongest forces and its outcomes on region’s politics cannot be overlooked. Tribal identity is a significant role in the heritage and history of the region.

Political Ideology of Iran

The Iranian political system is grounded in Shiism. The split between Shiites and Sunnis is related to the Prophet Mohammad’s death in the 17th century (Djalili & Kellner, 2015). Shiites believed that the Prophet’s son-in-law had to become the immediate successor, while Sunnis wanted the Muslim community to select the new leader. Iranians practice Twelver Shiism and believe that twelfth imam, who disappeared in 874 A.D., will return as the promised one or Mahdi (Osiewicz, 2014). From this perspective, a cleric can substitute the authority of Mahdi. When Mahdi will return, the Supreme Leader has to transfer and reassign power to the Imam (Djalili & Kellner, 2015). This is one of the most critical ideological differences between Shia and Sunnis Muslims. Sunnis stand against such approach. The Iranian statehood is one of the critical patterns that separate Iran from Arab states in the Persian Gulf, involving Saudi Arabia. The situation in Iran changed with the Iranian revolution in 1979 (Djalili & Kellner, 2015). In the result, Ruhollah Khomeini became the main leader from the political and spiritual perspectives. He sees himself as Marj’a, the emulation source for many Shi’i in Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, and other places (Djalili & Kellner, 2015). Hence, the leader in Iran represent a powerful political and religious figure.

Since 1979, Saudi Arabians have been afraid of the negative impact of Iranian ideology on Shia minor communities in the regions involving Saudi Arabia minority group. Khomeini promoted all Muslims to cast away such discounters as the mercenary akhunds and nationalists who have no knowledge about Islam and the interests of Muslims (Deshiri & Majidi, 2009). Additionally, he insisted that monarchy idea is the Islamic law breach and such claims have posted the indirect ideological threat to Saudi rulers. Khomeini stated what became the defining element of early Iranian policy, specifically, revolution export (Deshiri & Majidi, 2009). He regarded Iranian Muslims and himself, despite denomination, as being chosen by God to reinstate Islam’s worldwide significance (Deshiri & Majidi, 2009). Even if Iran does not promote revolution export anymore, it continues trying to promote the revolution main principles in the Arab world.

The political system image represented by Khomeini kept prevailing as ideological regime pivot involving the need to set the Islamic global order, the illegitimacy of the status quo, the Islamic Republic as the vanguard of the oppressed and their path to salvation, and oppression of the Muslim and non-Muslim masses by the dominated powers (Osiewicz, 2014). Iranian leaders have interpreted and invoked their own principles and they were designated as eternal. By the end of the presidency of Khatam, Khamenei shaped main six principles of the Iranian political system. They are social justice, national unity maintenance, khomeinism, especially adherence to Islamic jurist guardianship, Islamic philosophy priority in international relations, religious democracy and isolationism or Neither East nor West (Ramazani, 2010). Hence, Iranian policy is grounded on the kind of non-alignment.

Comparison of Political Ideology of Iran and Saudi Arabia

Both Saudi Arabia and Iran have different political ideologies that led to the rivalry between these states. Their foreign principles are grounded in divergent principles and their goals are mutually exclusive. Both Saudi King and current Supreme Leader have the last word on all critical issues. Nonetheless, the Iranian system is grounded in the assumption that the supreme leader is also the national spiritual leader who enacts on his own during the Twelfth Imam absence (Thompson, 2015). Hence, his political position is metaphysical. Political ideologies are different in Saudi Arabia and Iran due to divergent social hierarchy and organization eventual policy aims. Additionally, differences are present in perception of political greatness and distinctive essence. Specifically, in choice of worship places and the right to represent Islamic community. Also, divergence is evident in legitimization and power sources of critical policy makers, especially supreme leaders in Iran and kings in Saudi Arabia. Moreover, differences can be seen in social approaches to the rulers and power and historical experience. The role of religion within the fabric of each country is great and it is stemming from the 1979 resolution and the Iranian theocracy emergence, in addition to the Wahhabism position within the Saudi state (Thompson, 2015). Additionally, both states have sought to export their Islamic beliefs across both Gulf and greater Middle East regions. Therefore, both states apply different means to reach their economic and political goals. Nonetheless, mostly they refer to ideology, especially to religious values and perspective in order to justify own actions (Thompson, 2015). In doing so, they aim at getting a global political support of either Shiites or Sunnis.

In both political ideologies, the support of extremist groups is acceptable. Both states were accused of supporting different radical movements and organizations. In both cases, such support was ideologically motivated. Specifically, Iran is often related to Hamas and Hezbollah, while Saudi Arabia has indirect relations with Wahhabi extremist or even ISIS (Mumford, 2013). Iran is more focused on the development of its own Islamic model of government, while Saudi Arabia refers to Wahhabi extremes from the global perspective. Due to the ideological difference, the Iranian assistance to Sunni Hamas proves that sometimes-common interests are more critical than sectarian division lines. Hence, despite the support of extremist groups present in both political ideologies, the goals of such support are different. While Saudi Arabia aims to reach the hegemony, Iran tries to push Islamic revolution among Shia Muslims (Mumford, 2013). Saudi Arabia perceives Iranian steps to reintegrate and reassert itself in a pragmatic way as the indirect additional threat. Iranian reinvention of winning Islamic focused foreign policy through Islamic movement causes and international institutions support were symbolic acts to compete for leadership.

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The mutually negative approach between these states led to the misunderstandings and serious conflicts. Additionally, their different ideological approaches led to the political disputes and proxy wars in the region. Moreover, the ideological differences between states can lead to even more serious conflicts and risks due to the nuclear weapon (Mumford, 2013). Current Saudi-Iranian tensions led to two proxy wars, in Syria and Yemen. Both states compete for political influence in other states like Lebanon, Bahrain, and Iraq. Nonetheless, the most challenging situation is in Syria. Syrian conflict became the proxy war between Shia and Sunnis Muslims in general and between Saudi Arabia and Iran in particular (Shirazi, 2015). In Syria, the conflict started as the political tension between the regime of Assad and different opposition groups. President decided not to finish like dictators in another Arab state, like Libya or Egypt, and applied force to defend own power (Shirazi, 2015). In the end, the internal situation modulated in the full-fledged conflict with further internationalization. Saudi policy developed toward the direct and open attempt to set the regime with the Sunni-led regime which would be friendlier to Saudi Arabia (Hokayem, 2014). Nonetheless, victory in Syria was claimed on Asaad’s side. Thus, nowadays they are trying to damage Iran position as much as possible in this conflict to weaken Shiites in the region in general and Iranians in particular. Syria is a critical ally in the Arab world due to the previous long-term economic, political and strategic cooperation. Hence, Iran tries not to lose the previously strong partner in foreign relations.


Overall, political ideologies of Saudi Arabia and Iran represent two opposite systems, ruled by Sunni Islam and Shiism Islam respectively. In proxy conflicts, Iran represents itself as the nucleus of the Muslim world and the resistance leader against Western impact. At the same time, the Saudi monarchy poses itself as the dominant Arab nation and the veritable custodian of Islam and its holy places in Medina and Mecca. Differences between the political-ideological system are reflected in the foreign policies of both states. Specifically, the main political goal of Saudi Arabia it to become the hegemony in the Arab world and be the dominating power from the global perspective. At the same time, Iran’s main goal is reaching the great influence among Muslims through the promotion of the Islamic revolution. Both states have a strong impact of Islam on the political systems. Nonetheless, while the ideological system in Saudi Arabia leads to the development of strong monarchy, ideology in Iran led to the shape of theocratic and the democratic common political system. Both states have been involved in the proxy war. The bright example can be Syria. While the political ideology of Saudi Arabia in this conflict promoted the state not to allow the spread of Iranian Shiism impact, Iranian ideology implied the maintenance of the main ally and promotion of Islamic ideology and revolution. Nowadays, these ideological differences only escalate the relations between states. In this conflict, Saudi Arabia feels threatened by the Islamist ideology encouraged by the Islamic Republic that appeals to many religious Muslims. Iran promotes the Islamic Awakening that could be adapted to specific conditions in a different Muslim state. Another source of a great concern for Saudi Arabia is the ability of Iran to project its own impact in the region through proxy policies. Hence, differences in Shia and Sunni Islam led to different political aims in Saudi Arabia and Iran that provoked their participation is proxy wars as enemies.

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