Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and the ensuing alteration of the regional balance of power in favor of Iran, Saudi Arabia has looked at the world through an Iranian and Shiite prism. This prism affects the way it views its neighbor across the Gulf, its position in the Arab and Islamic world, and its own Shiite population.
Saudi Arabia’s current regional political troubles are nearly entirely connected to the rise of Iran and the Shiites in the region. Saudi Arabian involvement in the West Bank and Gaza—and in particular in the agreement to establish a national unity government, signed on February 8, 2007 by Fatah and Hamas—was meant to lower the flames in the region in order to limit Iran’s influence. Saudi involvement in Lebanon also stems from this desire to check Iran, as do several meetings between Saudi and Israeli officials and the revival of the Saudi initiative for a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.1
As the Saudis move to restrain the rising strength of Iran and the Shiites outside the kingdom, they keep an ever-watchful eye over their own Shiite population. The ascendancy of the Shiites in Iraq and Lebanon has given rise to a feeling of empowerment amongst the Shiites of Saudi Arabia. They are proud of the accomplishments of their brethren. At the same time, they are cautious in what they hope for and how they express themselves, because much of the Wahhabi ulama in Saudi Arabia fears the rise of Shiism, and vocally opposes it. The Saudi Shiites expect the government to condemn anti-Shiite fatwas, and act as a protector, but the government has not done so.