Saudi Arabia and Iran, highlighting the domestic drivers of mounting tension that threatens to deepen and complicate sectarian and multiple other regional conflicts, have taken their fierce tit-for-tat battle from the realm of traditional diplomacy to the world of public diplomacy.
Following a dizzying sequence of events, including the Saudi execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr together with 46 others, the storming of the Saudi embassy in Tehran and the breaking off by the kingdom of diplomatic and commercial relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iran have expanded their fight to the soccer pitch.
Several Saudi clubs, including Al-Ahli FC, Al-Hilal FC, Al-Ittihad FC and Al-Nasr FC, issued statements on their websites in the wake of the ransacking of the embassy demanding that they play Asian championship matches against Iranian squads scheduled for February in neutral venues.
The clubs were expected to ask the Saudi Arabian Football Federation to officially request the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to move the games away from Iran.
Soccer pitches have long been flashpoints in relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran on which not only tensions between the two countries but also domestic issues related to their strained relations manifest themselves.
Pitches have also served as barometers and early warning signs of mounting tensions between the kingdom and the Islamic republic, which by its very nature challenges the ruling Al Saud family because it constitutes an alternative form of Islamic government that despite being a theocracy also recognizes some degree of popular sovereignty.
Iranian officials saw Saudi Arabia’s hand last April in clashes between soccer fans and security forces in the Iranian city of Ahvaz, home to Iran’s Arab minority and the capital of oil-rich but impoverished Khuzestan province. Ethnic Arabs have long complained that the government has failed to reinvest profits to raise the region’s standards of living.
The Iranian assertions were fuelled by Arab pundits who called for the liberation of the five million Arabs in Khuzestan. Some pundits described the Iranian province as Arabistan.
The Saudi soccer clubs’ demand for moving matches away from Iranian venues in effect amounts to support for the government’s escalating confrontation with the Islamic republic. That comes hardly as a surprise with two of the four Saudi clubs that put forward the demand being headed by members of the kingdom’s ruling family. ...
A Princeton PhD, was a US diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. For the Open World Leadership Center, he speaks with
its delegates from Europe/Eurasia on the topic, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United." Affiliated with Georgetown University for over ten years, he shares ideas with students about public diplomacy.
The papers of his deceased father -- poet and diplomat John L. Brown -- are stored at Georgetown University Special Collections at the Lauinger Library. They are manuscript materials valuable to scholars interested in post-WWII U.S.-European cultural relations.
This blog is dedicated to him, Dr. John L. Brown, a remarkable linguist/humanist who wrote in the Foreign Service Journal (1964) -- years before "soft power" was ever coined -- that "The CAO [Cultural Affairs Officer] soon comes to realize that his job is really a form of love-making and that making love is never really successful unless both partners are participating."