If week-long anti-government protests in Iran exposed the Islamic republic’s deep-seated economic and political problems, they also laid bare Saudi Arabia’s structural inability to establish itself as the leader of the Sunni Muslim world.
The responses to the protests of major Sunni Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa demonstrated that none of the contenders for regional dominance and leadership that include Turkey and Egypt were willing to follow the Saudi lead.
In fact, the responses appeared to confirm that regional leadership was likely to be shared between Turkey, Iran, and Egypt rather than decided in a debilitating power struggle between Saudi Arabia and the Islamic republic that has wreaked havoc across the Middle East and North Africa and that the kingdom has so far lost on points.
Uncharacteristically, Saudi Arabia under the rule of King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has refrained from commenting on the protests. The kingdom has also been silent in the walk-up to US President Donald J. Trump’s decision what to do with American adherence to the 2015 international nuclear agreement with Iran.