Saudis strongly back severing ties with Iran

Friday 15/01/2016
Saudi Interior Ministry’s spokesman Mansur al-Turki

LONDON - A sense of weariness, anger and frustration dominates Saudi sen­timent on the dispute with Iran, with a ma­jority of the kingdom’s populace endorsing severing diplomatic ties and embracing a boycott of Iranian products.
The latest chapter in the feud between the two countries began after Saudi Arabia on January 2nd executed 47 men, including radical Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, on terror­ism-related charges. Later the same day, protesters attacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran and its consu­late in Mashhad.
Chain letters and text messag­es calling for a boycott of Iranian products spread rapidly across Saudi Arabia and the Saudi media backed the cutting of ties with Iran.
“The general impressions you get from social media is a sense of general confusion with regards to the political and religious dimen­sions of the dispute with Iran,” Jassim al-Ghamdi, a Jeddah-based journalist and analyst, told The Arab Weekly.
“I had hoped that public aware­ness would transcend the sectarian aspects of the dispute,” Ghamdi said, highlighting that some social media reactions carried a sectarian tone.
“The Shias in the kingdom are Saudi nationals with the same privileges as all Saudis and some of these online attacks should not have included our Saudi Shia brethren,” he added.
Ghamdi said cutting diplomatic ties was “welcomed, timely and a last resort. The geopolitical cir­cumstances today are challenging and Saudi Arabia had to set param­eters.”
A quick look at Saudi reaction on social media underscores the range of opinions from the angry to hos­tile.
On his Twitter account Saudi journalist Naif al-Osaymi wrote: “Yesterday, we beheaded the ter­rorists and today we are cutting ties with a sponsor of terror.”
Another Saudi Twitter user, known as Alsuhaib22, went further calling for the kingdom to cut ties with Iraq as well. “If Saudi Arabia really cut its ties with Iran, it should also cut ties with Iraq. The Safavid government in Baghdad is just an­other image of [Iranian Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei,” Alsuhaib22 tweeted.
The term Safavid refers to the early 16th-century Persian Shia dy­nasty, which rivalled the Ottoman Empire. Today, the term is used in a derogatory way to describe Iranian leaders, because of the shared view of the Shia expansionism activities.
Another user, Saeed Salah al- Ghamidi wrote: “I ask that the Saudi people also boycott Iranian goods.”
The fallout from cutting eco­nomic ties was also prevalent, with the Saudi business community uni­formly backing the move. Business figures across the country, through various chambers of commerce, have spearheaded the boycott, with chamber leaders telling Saudi businesses to replace Iranian goods with goods from other Arab and Is­lamic countries.
On a grass-roots level, consumer activist group Mogatah posted pic­tures of Iranian products that it says businesses should remove from their shelves and cease selling.
The group blasted Swedish re­tailer Ikea for selling a Persian car­pet with a “Made in Iran” label at its stores in Saudi Arabia and ap­plauded a Riyadh-based carpet shop chain for halting sales of Ira­nian rugs.
Saudi Arabia’s biggest food pro­ducer, Savola, saw its shares plunge 9.7% on the Saudi stock index Tad­awul after a senior executive at the firm told Reuters of plans to main­tain its investments in the Islamic Republic despite the standoff.
“We knew the risks of doing business in Iran from the start,” the unnamed executive said. “For the long term, Savola will have a com­petitive advantage once sanctions have been lifted.”
Despite the plunge, analysts see the firm, which earns 13% of its gross revenue in Iran, weather­ing the economic storm in the long run.
The severing of economic ties will likely not affect either coun­try dramatically. According to in­telligence firm Euromonitor, the volume of Saudi exports to Iran totalled about $102 million at the end of 2014 whereas Saudi imports from Iran amounted to $181 mil­lion.
Prominent Saudi TV host and Islamic scholar Mohsin Shaikh al- Hassan has also called on all Arabs and Muslims to boycott Iranian products.
“I urge all Arabs and Muslims to boycott all Iranian products such as food, clothes, vegetables as well as services. Iran has been promoting terrorism,” Hassan said.
The diplomatic spat even spread to the football pitch. The Saudi Arabian Football Association stat­ed it would not participate in any international matches in Iran due to safety concerns. Teams from the two countries had been sched­uled to play each other in the Asian Champions League and the Asian Under-23 Championships.