The Middle East has been an integral part of global history since the beginning of the 20th century. That is, during this time, their economies have grown significantly, mainly due to vast oil reserves, making them of particular interest to countries that consume a lot of oil, such as the United States. Because of this, the US has gotten heavily involved in their economics and politics, which have helped create stronger ties with some of the nations, while pushing away others. Moreover, this region is characterized by deep seated divides between ideologies, which have often resulted in conflict in some form. While the whole region is affected by the above, perhaps the two greatest examples are the countries of Saudi Arabia and Iran, as they are often involved in any major event in the region. Therefore, what follows below is a brief look at these two countries over the last century, including their relationships with the US.
To begin, Saudi Arabia was historically governed by the Saud family, the most powerful tribe in the country, beginning in the mid 1700s. In 1744, the Saud family and the people they governed over converted to wahhabism, what they considered to be a purer form of Islam. For 150 or so years, they maintained order and were able to keep from becoming part of the Ottoman Empire. During World War 1, the Ottomans were allied with Germany, yet the Saudis made an alliance with the British to rise up against the Ottoman Turks. Today, this is known as the Arab Uprising. However, after World War 1, the Saudis began fighting against the British, although this only last a few years, as they made an alliance with the British in the 1920s. This led to the Saud family being officially recognized as the rulers of Saudi Arabia. In the 1930s, it was revealed that Arabian Peninsula was flush with oil, allowing them to rise up from being the poorest country in the world. Although oil production was relatively small, the demand for oil in World War 2, led to the US and the Saudis forming a close relationship.
That is, President Roosevelt offered to protect Saudi Arabia, in exchange for oil to help fight the war. This led to increased oil production, the profits of which flowed almost entirely to the Saud family. By the 1970s, the Saud family is one of the richest in the world, yet their population still lived in poverty. Because of this disparity, the Saud family faced intense criticism, especially after their wealth increased significantly, due to the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973. This resulted in the Saud family spreading their wealth around somewhat better, although many still believed they had strayed from their faith. Furthermore, in 1979 a group of people took over Mecca, with one person declaring himself the 12th Imam. This group was inspired by the success of a revolution in Iran. After this, the Saud government took the city back and killed the group of people, yet they realized that they had to change. Therefore, they increased their promotion of Wabbadism, gave their people free healthcare and college, and began to build mosques all over the world. However, it is still a restrictive society, as music, dancing, etc. are banned. They also tend to support radical groups like the Taliban, who took over Afghanistan.
Furthermore, it was in 1979 that Iran came to the attention of the international community. During this year, the people of Iran overthrew their last Shah and executed a significant amount of people that supported him. Instead, they created an Islamic state, with Ayatollah Khomeini as the head of the country, followed by Ayatollah Khamenei, who is still in power. However, this form of government was not necessarily the will of the people, as many wanted a more modern and liberal country. After this, the relationship between the US and Iran became worse over time, as the US opposed this new form of government and the Iranians became suspicious and hostile towards the US. That is, they labeled the US the “Great Satan,” yet the people may feel differently. Because of this, the region became less stable at a time when the US needed it the most. That is, in the early 1980s the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and the US needed allies in the region to oppose them. Many Arabs moved to the region to help fight the Soviets, including Osama Bin Laden. Because of this, the US sold Saudi Arabia significant amounts of weapons, who used them to oppose the Soviets and to help spread their faith. They also used these weapons to create a bulwark against Iranian intentions in the region. This tension between the Iranians and the Saudis continues to this day, often being a major consideration in policy making. This tension in the region was certainly tested when the US invaded Iraq to oppose their invasion of Kuwait in 1991 and again in 2003 in the aftermath of 9/11. This caused the downfall of Sadam Hussein, leaving a power vacuum in the region, which Iran took advantage of, making the Saudi nervous. Moreover, tension in the region was caused by the existence and the actions of Israel, who continued to expand their territory.
The situation described above continued on like this for many years until the Arab Spring in 2011, when the people of Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq tried to overthrow their governments. Egypt and Syria were thrown into turmoil, with Iran supporting the protesters, as many of them of Shiites, just as the majority of Iranians are. Syria and Iraq are still in turmoil, but Saudi Arabia was able to squash protesters in their country, as well as in other countries, with the motivation being that they are Sunnis. In the aftermath of this, Saudi Arabia became dominant in the region. Today, US and Saudi relations are excellent, yet the relationship between Iran and the US continues to struggle. One of the main points of contention is Iran’s nuclear program. Although this was partly started by the US before their revolution, Iran continues to enrich Uranium, with the likely intention of it being used as a nuclear weapon. Therefore, economic sanctions were put in place, beginning 12 years ago. A deal was made with the Irans, in which the sanctions would be relaxed for ceasing their nuclear program. However, this deal was scrapped by President Trump, and now their nuclear program continues. Tensions continue to rise, as the US navy has been positioned off the coast, Iran has attacked Saudi interests, etc. Surrounding countries such as Yemen are on the brink of collapse, in part because of Saudi Arabia bombing rebels, which could further destabilize the region. The Yemeni people are engaged in a vicious civil war, although both sides are backed by foreign powers that have an interest in one side winning. In turn, the Saudis were likely bombed by Yemen.
On the other hand, the region is changing quickly, as the Saudis are allowing more freedoms under their new king Mohammed Bin Salman. It is hard to say where the region will go from here, hopefully not erupting into war, which may be possible considering rising tensions with Iran.