Back in August, it seemed like the strained ties between Shi’ite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia were warming, despite fundamental disagreements over Islam, terrorism and leadership of the Middle East.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he would be ready to welcome the Saudi foreign minister to Tehran, as well as visit Riyadh himself. He also hailed Saudi Arabia’s stature and influence in the Islamic world.
But the tension between the two countries became apparent again this month, when Tehran summoned the Saudi charge d’affaires over the beheading of an Iranian man in Saudi Arabia on drug trafficking charges.
Iran’s deputy foreign minister said the execution was “unacceptable,” with Saudi Arabia retorting that it was carried out on judicial rather than political grounds. Iran, for its part, protested that the execution of a foreign national was different from the execution of a Saudi national.
Let’s just try to get our heads around that: Iran, who is said to have the second-highest execution rate in the world (after China), and who has executed people at a staggering rate since Rouhani won the presidency in 2013, is lashing out at Saudi Arabia over the execution of a man Tehran would have probably executed anyway. And that’s without getting into Iran’s own mistreatment of foreign nationals, including journalists.
So is this about human rights at all, or is it merely another manifestation of the power struggle between Tehran and Riyadh? Considering Iran recently issued five new amputation sentences, we wouldn’t bank on it being the former.
That being said, Zarif has recently said Tehran would be “ready” to discuss human rights. Hopefully the discussion will focus on Iran’s (mis)treatment of Iranian citizens. We do hope it won’t be in the vein of “capital punishment is wrong… if it’s a foreign national you’re hanging.”