In the wake of the beheading of Ayatullah Baqir al-Nimr, the Middle East has quickly reshaped its political landscape. In response to the execution, Iranian protesters stormed Saudi embassies in Tehran and Mashhad, setting ablaze the office in its capital. While Iran arrested sixty individuals involved and even sacked its Tehran commander of special forces, Foreign Ministers from the Gulf Cooperation Council met in Riyadh to issue a joint statement condemning the attacks as “terrorism” and accused Iran of “blatant interventions in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” Saudi Arabia immediately announced the severing of diplomatic ties giving Iranian staff 48 hours to leave. Five days later, a Saudi airstrike struck Iran’s embassy in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa injuring several staff.
Whilst the violence and rhetoric between Riyadh and Tehran may have been a predictable outcome, what has been surprising is the response from countries without direct involvement in the latest Saudi-Iranian confrontation. First came the announcement from Bahrain, expeditious in following their closest Gulf ally by cutting diplomatic relations. This was swiftly followed by the UAE in downgrading its diplomatic representation. While Qatar and Kuwait recalled their ambassadors, Jordan summoned Iran’s ambassador to condemn the attack and “Iranian interference.”
Even more curious, however, was the reaction of several African states. Sudan, Somalia and the tiny Horn of Africa nation, Djibouti, also cut ties with Iran citing “solidarity with Saudi Arabia.” This unprecedented trans-continental “solidarity” has drawn distinctly little attention from political commentators, almost establishing its normalcy in the political world. Few questions have been raised such as ‘what reason do these countries have to involve themselves in the Saudi-Iranian dispute’ or ‘why was there no such reprimand against the Saudis after airstrikes on the Iranian embassy?’ The silence is deafening. And it’s not the first time in recent weeks a trans-continental alliance with Saudi Arabia as its pivot has been formed.