The often-contentious relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran has become more strained in the aftermath of Saudi Arabia’s execution of Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Saudi Shiite cleric and critic of the Saudi government, on January 2, 2016.
News of Nimr’s execution brought an official condemnation from the Iranian government, and crowds of protesters attacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran and the Saudi consulate in Mashhad. Saudi Arabia responded to the attacks by breaking off diplomatic ties with Iran.
Two of its allies in the Gulf region, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, also broke off or downgraded their ties to Iran.
Saudi Arabia and Iran have been rivals since the Iranian Revolution toppled Iran’s Western-backed leader and installed a theocracy. Since then the two regional powers have often found themselves backing opposing forces in conflicts around the Middle East. The presence of a small Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia has also been a source of tension, since Saudi Shiites are often suspected of having ties to Iran.
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