The Islamic World in International Relations

by Sylwester Gardocki (Volume editor) Rafał Ożarowski (Volume editor) Rafał Ulatowski (Volume editor)
©2020 Edited Collection 290 Pages


The aim of the book is to present the issues of central importance to the Islamic World. This diverse area faces a lot of difficulties and challenges regarding ethnic and religious conflicts as well as political and economic instability. The authors of the book address the topic from the perspectives of international security, foreign policy, economy, energy policy and regional studies and aim to depict the most suitable examples of crucial dilemmas of the Islamic World in the 21st century. The authors represent the variety of academic institutions and scientific disciplines including political science, international relations, economics and sociology. They apply a wide-selection of qualitative and quantitative methods to perform their research. As a result of this work, this book contributes to the research on the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Part I – International Security
  • Geopolitical Rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the Middle East
  • Comparative Study of Post-9/11 and Post-Arab Spring Rise of Violent Religious Extremism in Pakistan
  • Part II – Foreign Policy
  • From Sanctions to War? Nothing New in the US’ Policy towards Iran since 1979
  • What Is the Other Side of the Coin? Re-imposition of US Sanctions on Iran
  • The Review of Stabilizing and Crisis Building of Iran and Saudi Arabia in Middle East
  • “Domestication” of the Middle Eastern Policy of Turkey
  • Russian Contemporary Policy towards Syria
  • EU Small States and Their Fight against IS
  • Sports Diplomacy of the State of Qatar and Its (Lack of) Success in the Czech Republic: Analysis of the Czech Nationwide Press in 2016
  • Part III – Economy and Energy Policy
  • The Paradox of the Shale Oil Market. The Middle East and the Global Oil Market
  • Success of Integration Initiatives in the Islamic World: The Case of D-8
  • Islamic Banking Development in GCC Region on the Examples of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates
  • China’s Risk-Averse Middle East Policy: Protecting Economic Interests While Staying Out of Conflicts
  • Part IV – Regional Studies
  • “Consociational Democracy”: The Model of the Democratization of Deeply Divided Arab Societies?
  • “Islamophobia without Muslims”: Anti-Muslim and anti-Arab Attitudes in Czech Society (Introductory Remarks)
  • Balkan Muslims – Origin, Structure, Identity
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Note of Authors


The Definition of Islamic World encompasses variable areas, basically inhabited by Muslims and represented by Muslims states. However, it also includes Muslims living in non-Muslim states considered religious minorities or refugees and even relates to processes and phenomena connected to Islamic World even if they are not a basic part of it. Thus the description ‘Islamic World’ is more complex and multidimensional and cannot be considered only in the terms of geographical area or Islam believers.

The presented book entitled Islamic World in International Relations edited by Sylwester Gardocki, Rafał Ożarowski, and Rafał Ulatowski is the effect of work of many scholars representing variable universities and research institutes. Thus, in the book, the perspective on Islamic World dilemmas is not homogenous but strongly diversified. It contributes a lot to understanding essence and specificity of analyzed problems and phenomena in the book.

The book has been divided into four parts which refer to the basic categories of research in international relations. First part consisting of two chapters relates to the international security; second is dedicated to the foreign policy issues and comprised of seven chapters and is the lengthiest part. The third part with four chapters refers to economy and energy policy, and the last one is devoted to the regional studies and consists of three chapters.

Chapters in the first part (1. Muzaffer Kural, Geopolitical Rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the Middle East; 2. Subtain Hussain Shah, Comparative Study of Post 9/11 and Post Arab Spring Rise of Violent Religious Extremism in Pakistan) refer to variable topics in the sphere of international security in the area of Islamic World, describing the issue of instability in the MENA region and reasons and consequences of geopolitical rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and finally the issue of religious extremism in Pakistan influenced by the events in the ‘Arab World’ named Arab Spring or ‘Arab Revolutions’. Consequently, authors of these chapters make us aware of huge instability in the whole Islamic World and emphasize the issue of international security which is not restricted to the selected areas but considered globally.

Chapters contained in the second part of the book (1. Radosław Fiedler, From Sanctions to War? Nothing New in the United States’ Policy Towards Iran Since 1979; 2. Rafał Ożarowski, Re-Imposition of U.S. Sanctions; 3. Hadi Ajili, Mohammed Oliaei, Javad Nori, The Review of Stabilizing and Crisis Building of Iran and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East; 4. Adam Szymański, “Domestication” of ←7 | 8→the Middle Eastern Policy of Turkey; 5. Sylwester Gardocki, Russian Contemporary Policy Towards Syria; 6. Hana, EU Small States and Their Fight Against IS; 7. Jiří Zákravský, Sports Diplomacy of the State of Qatar and Its (Lack of) Success in the Czech Republic: Analysis of the Czech Nationwide Press in 2016) regard a wide-range of topics. The biggest emphasis is put on the explanation of new era of sanctions imposed by the USA on Iran in 2018 (Fiedler, Ożarowski). However, the conflict in Syria take here also an important place in the terms of Russian Foreign Policy (Gardocki) or Turkish Foreign Policy (Szymański). The issue of “soft power” has been analyzed here in the case of Qatar (Zákravský) and the inadequately marginalized EU small states policy in relation to the Middle Eastern terrorist threat, what was equally explained (Hlaváčková).

Third part refers to economy and energy policy comprising of four chapters (1. Rafał Ulatowski, The Paradox of the Shale Oil Market. The Middle East and the Global Oil Market; 2. Fazli Doğan, Erdem Özlük, Success of Integration Initiatives in the Islamic World: The Case of D-8; 3. Iwona Sobol, Gabriela Mieczkowska, Islamic Banking Development in GCC Region on the Examples of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates; 4. Martina Ponížilová, China´s Risk-Averse Middle East Policy: Protecting Economic Interests while Staying Out of Conflicts). Complex issues taken up in all chapters show how multileveled and diverse is the sphere of economic relations including energy policy in the Islamic World. Much emphasis has been put on the issue of oil shale market which is a quite new challenge for the energy sector worldwide (Ulatowski).

The last part consists of three chapters (1. Yuriy Skorohod, “Consociational Democracy”: The Model of the Democratization of Deeply Divided Arab Societies? 2. Vladimír Naxera, “Islamophobia Without Muslims”: Anti-Muslim and anti-Arab Attitudes in Czech Society (Introductory Remarks); 3. Magdalena Ickiewicz-Sawicka, Balkan Muslims – Origin, Structure, Identity) devoted to regional studies in the context of Islamic issues – division of Arab society, Islamophobia, and the specificity of Muslims in the Balkan region particularly.

Editors would like to thank all contributors for the publication and all people engaged in work on this edition.

Muzaffer Kural

Geopolitical Rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the Middle East

Abstract: Iran and Saudi Arabia undoubtedly are two regional players in the Middle East. Both states have a long history of experience for competing. The geopolitical rivalry runs through the way of creating political, ideological, and economic influence in the region. Both sides have similar and different approaches. While geopolitically, Iran enlarges her sphere of influence over the demographic structure of region via Shia minorities mainly in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. By contrast, Saudi Arabia confronts via Sunni minorities in the region. Although, the rivalry between the two states dates back to the 1930s, this chapter aims to point out the effect of Islamic Revolution of Iran, Ousting Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and Arab uprisings to the rivalry between the two states.

Keywords: Geopolitics, ideology, sectarianism, sphere of influence, proxy wars


Until the 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution as a consequence of “twin pillar policy” of the USA, both countries were in harmony in the Middle East. Yet, with the collapse of Shah’s regime, which closed the era of twin pillar policy, due to Iran’s desires in the region leaded the rivalry, which runs multi-fronts, between Saudi Arabia and Iran. According to Islamic regime of Iran, protecting Iran requires to export regime of Islamic Revolution of Iran.

Exporting regime policy plays a significant role over the geopolitical rivalry. Iran’s desires for exporting regime provides Saudi Arabia a leading role in the region by bringing Gulf countries together under the umbrella of Saudi Arabia due to fears stemming from Iranian policy of exporting regime. Both countries confront via their regional allies. On this context, both internal and external policy of regional countries are affected from the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran compete for regional influence through dynamics, mainly ideology, of region. Both countries attempted to use ideology as a tool on their foreign policy. Presence of both Saudi Arabia and Iran in the region is pragmatic rather than ideologic. On this context, it is necessary to answer certain questions such as: What are the challenges for both states on the rivalry? Which regional factors facilitate competition for the rivalry? What kind of role do regional states play on the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran? ←11 | 12→Is the presence of both states in the region, particularly in Iraq, ideological or pragmatical?

The aims of this work are to explain three turning points that have changed the course of the rivalry between both states. The first one is Islamic Revolution of Iran, which sharply changed the foreign policy of Iran. When the Mollas gained power on administration of Iran, not only Saudi Arabia, but also other Sunni Arab states in the Middle East perceived threats of exporting Shia regime. Therefore, Saudi Arabia as a leading country got support from other Sunni Arab states, by establishing Gulf Cooperation Council in the framework of the rivalry. The second point is collapsing Saddam’s administration, which opened a new chapter for countries. It would not be wrong to state that Iraq became a battleground between both states while Saudi Arabia efforted to bring an anti-Iranian government to power, Iran extended her influence in Iraq via Shia population by forming pro-Iranian Shia government in Baghdad. Even though Iran had more influence in Iraq, Saudi Arabia kept her support for Sunni Groups so as to destabilize Iranian presence. The main reason for both countries to gain superiority in Iraq derives from importance of Gulf where Iraq plays a significant role due to her location. The third point is Arab uprising, which reshaped rivalry between both countries. With the following of Arab uprisings, the area for rivalry between both states has been expanded. In comparison to Iran, Saudi Arabia is able to keep her anti-Iranian administrations such as Egypt and Bahrain on power thanks to her Western allies. By contrast, Iran despite her influence on Shia, Hezbullah, Houthis, etc., needs to effort much more to keep her ally such as Syria on power.

Understanding the Case: Historical Background of Rivalry

To understand the current rivalry between the two states, it is necessary to look at the historical background of both Saudi Arabia and Iran. According to Axworthy, borders of Persia were extended from the eastern coast of Greece to the banks of Indus during the empires of Cyrus and Darius.1 1100 years after the Cyrus, Arabs came to Persia together with Islam and converted many to Sunnism. Later on, in the early 16th century, Shah Ismail changed the religion of Persia from Sunnism to Shia.2 Throughout the Middle Ages, Shia clergymen did ←12 | 13→not develop any consistent state theory. Shias refused caliphs by recognizing 12 Imams as a successor of Prophet. According to Shias, the Imam Ali, cousin and son-in-law of Prophet, was never assigned as a caliph after Prophet. The third Imam Hussein, son of Imam Ali, was martyred by Yazid in Karbala. This process ended with the 12th Imam Mahdi known as hidden Imam. During the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s secular administration, Islamic opposition movement gradually emerged. Under the leading of Khomeini it was empowered and toppled the Shah Reza Pahlavi. Khomeini transformed Iran from secularism to Shia’s Welayeti Faqih. According to Welayeti Faqih, which currently leads Iran since 1979 Revolution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Supreme leader rules country temporarily as representative of 12th Imam Mahdi, during his absence. Once he appears, at a time that has the highest level of chaos, supreme leader will transfer all authority to the Mahdi and he will rule the whole world.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia, which was established based on Wahhabism, has a different background. According to Wahhabism, those who do not follow Wahhabi principles are infidels and their lives and properties are legitimate to be looted. The first destructive effect of Abdulwahhab’s ideas occurred in Uyeyne, thanks to Ameer Othman bin Haddad. All yards, cemeteries, caves, and holy trees were leveled with the ground. But, Ahsa’s Ameer Suleiman expatriated Abdulwahhab from Uneyne in 1774 through menacing Hamad. Upon this, as Taştekin points out, Mohammad bin Saud became aware of Abdulwahhab’s ideological power. Abdulwahhab needed a sword and Saud needed an ideology. Thanks to this alliance many tribes in the region were taken under the control. The alliance of sword and ideology created Saudi Arabia.3 Wahhabis, even though, undertook a leading role in the establishment of Saudi dominance, due to becoming a troublemaker for Saudis during the process of being a state, were liquidated in 1929. Following the liquidation, Wahhabis left their military wing aside and institutionalized within the state. Furthermore, When Saudi Arabia gained independence, the alliance of Abdulwahab and Saud was reflected on the flag.4 On this context, historical heritage has an ideological influence on the policy of both states.

While the internal policy of both Saudi Arabia and Iran is based on religious values, their foreign policy has pragmatic approaches. Saudi Arabia’s relation with the USA and Great Britain mainly through arms deals reveals her pragmatic ←13 | 14→approach to the foreign policy. Recent signing of “typhoon jet deal” in March 2018 can be assessed within this context.5

Nevertheless, as Osiewicz points out, “Across the societies of the Arabian Peninsula, tribalism remains one of the strongest forces, and its consequences for the region’s foreign relations should not be overlooked. Tribal identity is deeply rooted in the region’s heritage and history and is often manipulated by the regional leaders for purposes of political legitimacy.”6

Similar to Saudi Arabia, Iran also displays the same approaches. For instance, it is a well-known fact that on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Iran prefers to take place on Armenian side rather than Azerbaijan which is Shia.

Furthermore, although, Iran and Syria have different languages, culture, ethnicity, and sectarian structure, they have formed one of the strongest alliances in the Middle East.7 Thanks to this alliance, during the Iran-Iraq war in 1980–1988, on the contrary to other Sunni Arab countries, Syria backed Iran. Likewise, Iran supported Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine against Israel through Syria.

Yoel Guzansky emphasizes the fact that “relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran are characterized by religious-ideological antagonism and competition for regional influence. One of the results of the current turmoil in the Middle East is that the hostility between the two states and their struggle over the character of the region has sharpened and intensified.”8 In the same way, Sewag expresses, the war of geopolitical supremacy between Saudi Arabia and Iran creates an undeniable influence on the region’s countries, particularly Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.9

←14 | 15→

Geopolitical Factors in Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry after 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution

With the following withdrawing British army from Persian Gulf, the USA, as a new gendarme of the Gulf, filled the power vacuum in the region. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran had become two pillars of the twin pillar policy of the USA.

Until the Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, both states had strong relations with West, and the USA was supporting both sides, relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran were based on mutual cooperation despite geopolitical rivalry.10 Yet, Islamic revolution of Iran in 1979 has changed the power balance in the Middle East, particularly in the Persian Gulf. Ousting Shah Reza Pahlavi affected not the only policy of regional countries but also the policy of superpowers namely the USA and Russia. As Arikan states, ideological dimension was added to the geopolitical rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia.11 As a result of Khomeini’s declaration both the USA and Soviet Russia as an enemy by describing the USA is big satan and Russia is small satan, the “twin pillar” policy of the USA ended.

According to Terril, Persian Gulf traditionally has been the most important arena of conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Saudi Arabia has had a higher level of influence on local states than Iran in the struggle for Gulf. On this context, Saudi Arabia established strong ties with Gulf monarchies and with Yemen to keep regional stability.12 The Saudi-Iranian rivalry on regional security clarifies itself over the naming of Gulf as well. Iran insists to call as the Persian Gulf with the references of historical appellation and dominance in the past. By contrast, Saudi Arabia calls as an Arabian Gulf since the1960s with reference of pan-Arabism and Arab nationalism. This controversy has become a symbol of rivalry for dominance in the region between two states.13

←15 | 16→

Iran accuses Saudi Arabia through three points that are perceived hostility. The first is about an Iranian nuclear scientist who was abducted by the CIA with the cooperation of Saudis. The second is Saudi Arabia cooperates with Israel on coordination that is against Iran’s nuclear program.14 The third is about that Jundullah, recognized by Iran as a terrorist, is supported by Saudi Arabia ideologically and financially.

On the other hand, three important developments caused Saudi Arabia to run her foreign policy based on rivalry. The first one that during the Israel-Lebanon war in 2006, Tehran supported Hezbollah and Hamas. What is more, Ahmadi Nejad tried to provoke Shias living in the Arab monarchies. The second is clashes between Hamas and Al-Fatih in Palestine. The third is the confrontation of Shia-Sunni-al-Qaida in Iraq.15 On this context, both Saudi Arabia and Iran compete for regional influence through dynamics, mainly ideology, of the region. Both countries attempted to use ideology as a tool in their foreign policy.

For instance, discovering petroleum in 1938 had facilitated Saudi Arabia’s spreading Wahhabi ideology as an instrument in foreign policy and creating influence in the Islamic world. During the Ibn Saud era, “Representative Office for Invitation” was established. First Madrasah was opened in Jakarta.16 Also Community of Hadith and Ensar’u Sunni al-Muhammadiyah Group in India, Izale Community in Nigeria, and Subbanu Movement in Mali and Muceydiri School in Mauritania were empowered through Saudi’s financial assistance.17 In the same way, Saudi Arabia attempted to spread her ideology in Egypt via Ensarus Sunni which represents Wahhabism. After the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, Saudi Arabia’s animosity towards Shias deepened hostility among Islamists. Saudi’s embassy in Cairo was struggling to prevent publications against Saudi Arabia and provoking hostility toward Iran.18

Another destination for Saudi Arabia’s spreading ideology is Afghanistan. While Iran has a closer historical, geographic, and cultural affinity with Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia has not stood idle. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran compete to shape Afghanistan’s internal politics in various ways. For instance, using ←16 | 17→their connections with religious and ethnic groups through propagating religious doctrines, attempting to create influence on potential insurgent groups, increasing economic ties, etc.19 The main goal of Saudi Arabia’s sending jihadists to Afghanistan was preventing Iranian exporting regime towards the Gulf Countries, which contains undeniable Shia population. On this way, the attention of those who were questioning the legitimacy of regimes in the Islamic world was turning to Afghanistan. Additionally, Saudi Arabia, describing herself as protector of two holy cities, was gaining popularity among Muslims, by providing the highest support to jihad in Afghanistan, and leading the Islamic world. Right after Taliban’s coming to power in Afghanistan, the life of people was turned to hell by serial prohibitions such as burka obligatory for women, shutting down schools for female students, etc. Not surprisingly, Shias were declared as an enemy and Shia Hazaras, conditioned to converting Sunni, were massacred.

Afghanistan was on the radar of Iran as well for exporting ideology of Shia regime as a tool of geopolitical rivalry. According to Barzegar, geopolitical reality and its ideology has always affected Iran’s regional policy. The current ongoing Shia-Sunni rivalry is a power-sharing conflict rather than ideological rivalry. Iran’s presence in the Middle East has more pragmatic approach than ideologic.20 Since the Arab uprisings, sectarianism has been used as a mean of framing conflicts in different ways within broader geopolitical narratives. For instance, in Bahrain non-sectarian protests was motivated as sectarian. On this way, the al-Khalifa secured the loyalty of Sunnis who had taken the streets in the past by inciting fears for Iranian influence in the region.21


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (November)
International Security Foreign Policy Middle East Regional Studies Energy Policy Iran
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 290 pp., 7 fig. b/w, 19 tables.

Biographical notes

Sylwester Gardocki (Volume editor) Rafał Ożarowski (Volume editor) Rafał Ulatowski (Volume editor)

Sylwester Gardocki is Assistant Professor at the Section of Law and International Institutions at the Institute of International Relations, University of Warsaw. Rafał Ożarowski is Professor in the Chair of Security at the Faculty of Law and Administration, Eugeniusz Kwiatkowski University of Business and Administration in Gdynia. Rafał Ulatowski is Assistant Professor at the Section of Asia and Pacific Region at the Institute of International Relations, University of Warsaw.


Title: The Islamic World in International Relations
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