Saudi Arabia and Iran: Friends or Foes?
Frequently Asked Questions

Which country do you like more, Saudi Arabia or Iran?

I know  both countries well and care for them. But as an American, I have also enjoyed the latitude of observing the two countries from a detached point of view. I think all these perspectives were critical in writing the book.

Did you share parts of the book with policy makers before it was published?

I shared the first three critical chapters of the book with the White House and the U.S. State Department, and with colleagues in Saudi Arabia, over a year and a half before the book was published. This was before President Obama discussed his theory of "equilibrium" between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the same theory which I had elaborated on in detail in the chapters I sent to the White House and the State Department. I offered to share the same chapters with Iran’s authorities, but received a request once the book had entered publication and was under copyright controls. Since I could not share the chapters then, I gave an interview on the Saudi-Iranian relations to the political reform journal, Iran-e Farda.

Who funded the book project?

The book project was entirely self-funded. 

Are differences and conflicts between Shias and Sunnis the main cause of the Saudi-Iranian rivalry?

No. The Shia-Sunni divide is a driver of the Saudi-Iranian policy roles, but it is not the primary motive. The primary motive of those roles is to preserve stability and security for the Saudi and Iranian states. Once that goal is ensured, Riyadh and Tehran have throughout their shared history shown a great deal of ability to reign in the ideological undertones of their foreign policy behavior.

Have you been asked to help build bridges between Saudi Arabia and Iran?

I was asked informally by one party to serve as a mediator with the understanding that the party would remain committed to my efforts even if the mediation took several years. The other party did not respond to the offer formally, but it sought my assistance informally after relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran broke down in January 2016. By then, it was too late to help in my capacity as an informal mediator.

Did events inspire the writing of this book?

Yes. I am a product of the violence that erupted in Iran after the 1979 revolution and the 1980-1989 Iran-Iraq War. Two of my relatives were imprisoned each for four years after the revolution, and I lost friends and family during the war. My family and I fled our home dozens of times to find safe shelter with friends, family or in abandoned warehouses or shops across Iran during the war. These lessons inspired me to understand and analyze Iran’s events, and I aspired to find an answer to the unresolved conflicts in Iran’s regional foreign policy.

How many policy and decision makers did you interview for the book?

I conducted over 110 interviews with senior Saudi and Iranian policy and decision makers, and included 96 interviews in the book. 

Who are the people you dedicated the book to, and why?

The book is dedicated to my paternal grandparents and my father. My grandmother Effat  shares a name with Saudi Arabia's most beloved queen, Effat Al Thunayan. My grandfather was a charitable man who handled the downfall of his fortunes after the 1979 Iranian revolution with the same grace that he carried when he seemed to be on top of the world before the revolution. My father taught me to be impartial in analyzing political events. 

Was it difficult to travel to Saudi Arabia and Iran?

I was fortunate to be able to travel to Saudi Arabia and Iran multiple times, despite the usual hurdles of field work.

How do you view the Saudi-Iranian relationship?

I see it as a great love story, and like any epic love story, it is filled with bad blood (and sometimes real blood). Saudi Arabia and Iran admire each other as neighbors, and yet they talk past each other.

Are Saudi Arabia and Iran friends or foes?

I won't do justice by offering a quick response to this critical question, but I can say that they are neither friends nor foes. To appreciate the answer fully, please enjoy the book, available at: http://www.palgrave.com/br/book/9781137576279, and in Arabic at: http://www.daralsaqi.com. The Persian edition of the book is available at Zarir Publishing and soon online.