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Comparing Saudi Arabia and Iran to "the sleepwalkers of 1914 . . . inexorably advancing toward the abyss of war," Le Monde (Paris) sounded an alarm Monday in an editorial translated below.[1]  --  "[E]ach of these two powers, already shaken by the spectacular drop in the price of oil since 2014, feels besieged and threatened.  --  Tehran, which thinks it made an unprecedented gesture by renouncing its nuclear program last July, sees the threat of the Islamic State organization to the west and of the Taliban to the east as a Sunni trap ready to close on it.  --  Riyadh is convinced that its rival, whose allies are already dominant in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and half of Yemen, is engaged in a vast undertaking to weaken Sunnis and encircle the Arab world.  --  The resolution of the Iran nuclear dispute has only heightened the Saudi leaders' fears, persuaded as they are that Tehran, which has preserved its installations, will resume its march toward the bomb at the first opportunity."  --  Complicating their regional rivalry are their pretensions to religious authority:  "[B]oth . . . have pretensions with respect to global Islam.  --  Saudi Arabia because it is the 'protector' of the two holiest sites in Islam, Mecca and Medina, and therefore of the annual pilgrimage that draws nearly two million believers.  --  And Iran because its Islamist revolution, the first and the only one to have succeeded in creating a durable political system, has been accompanied since its onset in 1979 by appeals for a global uprising against the 'imperialism' of the United States, the principal support of the Al Saud regime." ...
1.

[Translation]

Ideas

Le Monde editorial

BETWEEN IRAN AND SAUDI ARABIA, A NEEDED DE-ESCALATION

Le Monde (Paris)
January 4, 2016

http://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2016/01/04/entre-teheran-et-riyad-une-necessaire-desescalade_4841327_3232.html

Like the sleepwalkers of 1914, Saudi Arabia and Iran seem to be inexorably advancing toward the abyss of war.  Every action of one summons a reaction by the other, and no one, so far, is contemplating not having the last word in the ongoing escalation.  What is happening is only the logical consequence of the rise of tensions in recent years that culminated all throughout 2015.  Today the entire Near East is shot through with the antagonism between Riyadh and Tehran, which is hastily and falsely summed up as a sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites. 

The religious dimension is obviously not absent from the confrontation of these two theocratic powers, both of whom have pretensions with respect to global Islam.  Saudi Arabia because it is the "protector" of the two holiest sites in Islam, Mecca and Medina, and therefore of the annual pilgrimage that draws nearly two million believers.  And Iran because its Islamist revolution, the first and the only one to have succeeded in creating a durable political system, has been accompanied since its onset in 1979 by appeals for a global uprising against the "imperialism" of the United States, the principal support of the Al Saud regime.

Even more than religion, what is in play here is a political model -- republic versus absolute monarchy -- and the shock of two wills aiming at regional dominance, against a background of the historical clash of Arabs and Persians.  Both Tehran and Riyadh are champions of a network of alliances, which gives every local conflict -- from Lebanon through Syria to Yemen -- the appearance of a bloc-versus-bloc clash.

THE WEST HAS ITS ROLE TO PLAY

If Saudi Arabia and Iran are reacting so violently to what each country sees as the provocations of the other, it's because each of these two powers, already shaken by the spectacular drop in the price of oil since 2014, feels besieged and threatened.  Tehran, which thinks it made an unprecedented gesture by renouncing its nuclear program last July, sees the threat of the Islamic State organization to the west and of the Taliban to the east as a Sunni trap ready to close on it.  Riyadh is convinced that its rival, whose allies are already dominant in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and half of Yemen, is engaged in a vast undertaking to weaken Sunnis and encircle the Arab world.  The resolution of the Iran nuclear dispute has only heightened the Saudi leaders' fears, persuaded as they are that Tehran, which has preserved its [nuclear] installations, will resume its march toward the bomb at the first opportunity.

In an overarmed region that continues to furnish most of the world's oil, an Iran-Saudi Arabia conflict would be the worst of outcomes.  To avoid this, the West has its role to play.  France is a privileged ally of Saudi Arabia, selling that country masses of arms and supporting the regime diplomatically.  What's more, France is preparing to welcome the Iranian president, the moderate Hassan Rohani, whose visit was delayed because of the November 13 attacks.  For the moment, France has limited herself to a laconic communiqué, published Sunday and oddly backdated to Saturday, Jan. 2, "deploring" the executions in Saudi Arabia, including that of the Shiite dignitary al-Nimr, who was not even mentioned.  It is time for Paris to undertake a peace initiative, or at least to encourage dialogue.  The struggle against the Islamic State depends on a de-escalation between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

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Translated by Mark K. Jensen
Associate Professor of French
Department of Languages and Literatures
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, WA 98407
Phone: 253-535-7219
Webpage: www.plu.edu/~jensenmk/
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