Saudi and Iran re-establishing diplomatic relations after seven years

Following the 2016 incident which led to Saudi Arabia cutting diplomatic ties with Iran, the Maldives also followed in the footsteps of Saudi, severing all diplomatic ties with Iran.

Wall Street Journal

Wall Street Journal

2016 marked the year when Saudi Arabia cut all diplomatic ties with Iran. On 10th March 2023, almost seven years later, it appears that Saudi Arabia is finally ready to re-establish relations as they were before, ending years of hostility between the two nations.

So, what caused the two countries to part ways in 2016? 

Over seven years ago, on January 4, 2016, Saudi officially announced that they were severing all diplomatic ties with Iran following an attack on the Saudi embassy located in Tehran. These attacks occurred following a protest that took place against Saudi Arabia. 

Iranians held these mass protests following the execution of a prominent Shiite Cleric, Sheik Nimr. While he was only one among the 47 people put to death following accusations of partaking in al-Qaeda attacks in the Kingdom, the death of Nimr angered the people of Iran as Nimr was a leading political activist figure. 

While Saudi Arabia was warned time and time again not to carry out this death sentence due to the fear that this would cause unrest in the region, Saudi carried out the sentence through either beheading or firing squads, ignoring the pleas of international appeals for clemency. 

“We are particularly concerned that the execution of prominent Shia cleric and political activist Nimr al-Nimr risks exacerbating sectarian tensions at a time when they urgently need to be reduced. In this context, we reiterate the need for leaders throughout the region to redouble efforts aimed at de-escalating regional tensions.” 
The U.S State Department

It was not only this execution that caused tension between the two countries. Even prior to the executions, the two countries were opponents as they backed opposing sides in both the Syria war as well as in the war in Yemen. Additionally, the two countries also hold divided beliefs when it comes to the politics of the Sunni-Shiite nations of Iraq and Lebanon. 

However, regardless of the opposing beliefs, the execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr finally broke the peace between the two countries causing major rallies as the people of Iran chanted ‘Death to Al Saud”, “Down with the US”, as well as “Death to Israel” as their main protest slogans. These protests not only occurred in Tehran, similar protests took place in several cities and towns across Iran as well as across the greater Mideast as the execution was non-acceptable to the people.

The protests escalated and by Sunday, January 3, 2016, protestors finally reached outside of the Saudi embassy and started ransacking and burning down the embassy. While these attacks were not condemned by the Iranian Foreign Ministry as they issued a statement to respect the diplomatic ties between both countries, images shared on social media showed protestors breaking into the embassy and starting fires and smashing furniture inside the building.

Following this attack, on January 4, 2016, Saudi Arabia finally announced that the country will be severing the diplomatic ties they held with Iran as the staff of the Saudi diplomatic mission were evacuated and brought back to Saudi while the Iranian diplomats were also asked to leave the Saudi kingdom within 48 hours of the statement. 

Re-establishing relations

It has been over seven years since this ordeal which led to ties being severed between the two countries, and it appears that the countries are ready to wave the white flag and re-establish the reactions.

On March 10, 2023, the two countries agreed to re-establish the ties as a deal was brokered by China following undisclosed talks in Beijing that hosted top security officials from the two rival countries. 

Following this re-union, Tehran and Riyadh agreed to resume diplomatic relations by re-opening embassies within two months. 

"The agreement includes their affirmation of the respect for the sovereignty of states and the non-interference in internal affairs," Statement issued by Iran, Saudi Arabia and China.

Where the Maldives falls in all of these diplomatic relations

Following the 2016 incident which led to Saudi Arabia cutting diplomatic ties with Iran, the Maldives followed Saudi's footsteps. The Maldives officially announced that they were cutting diplomatic ties with Iran on May 17, 2016, citing that the actions of Iran were causing unrest in the Middle East & Arabia Gulf area.

Iran is not the only country that the Maldives severed diplomatic ties with following Suadi Arabia’s footsteps, the country had also followed Saudi in cutting ties with Qatar in 2017 which was re-established in 2021 as the current Government of the Maldives heavily focused on re-establishing diplomatic relations with countries. 

And now, following the announcement by Saudi Arabia, Iran and China regarding the re-establishment of diplomatic ties between the two Arab nations, the Maldivian Government has also decided to re-establish the severed ties with Iran and congratulated the countries for finally bringing back the diplomatic relations they held seven years ago. 

More from MFR