Victoria Chen

Bound Volume Number


Degree Type

Honors Capstone Project

Date of Submission

Summer 8-10-2017

Capstone Advisor

Hossein Bashiriyeh

Honors Reader

Mehrzad Boroujerdi

Capstone Major

International Relations

Capstone College

Arts and Science

Audio/Visual Component



Saudi Arabia, Iran, secular

Capstone Prize Winner


Won Capstone Funding


Honors Categories

Social Sciences

Subject Categories

International Relations


Saudi Arabia and Iran are two of the most influential countries in the Middle East. They have often clashed with each other for a number of reasons. Although Riyadh and Tehran frequently espouse their sectarian differences as an explanation and justification for their regional confrontations, sectarianism is only one variable of the complex relationship between the two countries. Therefore the main question for this research concerns the non-sectarian sources of contention between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and the ways in which Saudi and Iranian leaderships frame this confrontation around sectarianism. As the first step, using constructivist framework, this paper analyzes the social and historical construction of Saudi Arabia and Iran to understand the main reasons for their confrontation in terms of sectarian differences and beyond. Based on a close examination of Saudi and Iranian history and contemporary policies, the paper then uses the examples of proxy wars in Bahrain and Yemen after the Arab Spring to focus on the contemporary geopolitical strategies of Saudi Arabia and Iran. Saudi Arabia and Iran have opposing political discourses; the Saudis tend to use realpolitik while the Iranians often base decisions on ideological considerations. Findings from this research suggest that events like the Arab Spring Revolutions have deeply intimidated Saudi Arabia. As a result, the country has implemented aggressive policies they perceive to be defensive in order to prevent Iranian aggression and subversion. Saudis now routinely disparage Shia movements and parties who are seen as representing Iran. On the other hand Iran, in its efforts to unite all Muslims against imperialist forces, continues to condemn the Saudis as lackeys of American imperialism. Thus the confrontation between the two nations has three dimensions: sectarianism, a quest for regional hegemony, and international alignments.

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Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.



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