Evolving Narratives of Political Contestation and Geopolitical Rivalry in the Persian Gulf

  • Kristian Coates UlrichsenEmail author
Part of the Perspectives on Development in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region book series (PDMENA)


This chapter examines the interplay of hegemonic competition in the Persian Gulf between Saudi Arabia and Iran alongside the intra-Arab Gulf crises that have erupted since 2011. Regional rivalries between Saudi Arabia and Iran acquired a potent geopolitical dimension following the fall of the Shah in 1979. Whereas Iranian foreign policies moderated after the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989, the narratives framed during the 1980s were hard to dislodge, even during the thaw in cross-waterway relations that occurred in the 1990s. The legacy of years of mutual mistrust became clear after the spread of the Arab uprisings in 2011. Both the Arab Gulf States’ responses to the so-called Arab Spring and the bitter disputes between the trio opposing Qatar illustrate how political narratives continue to polarise the Persian Gulf, albeit in subtly different ways.


Persian Gulf Iran GCC Geopolitics Narratives 


  1. Agence France-Presse (2008) Defector accuses Iran of running sleeper cells in Gulf, September 16Google Scholar
  2. Agence France-Presse (2012) Islamists Plot against Gulf, says Dubai Police Chief, March 25Google Scholar
  3. Al Jazeera (2018) Saudi Arabia women “arrested” in ongoing crackdown on activists, June 10Google Scholar
  4. Al-Hasan HT (2011) The role of Iran in the Failed Coup of 1981: the IFLB in Bahrain. Middle East J 65(4):603–617Google Scholar
  5. Al-Shayeji A (1997) Dangerous perceptions: Gulf views of the U.S. role in the region. Middle East Policy 5(1)Google Scholar
  6. Alvandi R (2010) Muhammad Reza Pahlavi and the Bahrain question, 1968–1970. Br J Middle East Stud 37(2):159–177Google Scholar
  7. Amnesty (2017) Gulf crisis: six months on, families still bearing brunt of Qatar political dispute, December 14Google Scholar
  8. Asia Times (2006) Saudi Shi’ites: new light on an old divide. Interview by Mahan Abedin, October 26Google Scholar
  9. Assiri A-R (1990) Kuwait’s foreign policy: city-state in world politics. Westview, BoulderGoogle Scholar
  10. Associated Press (2018) The princes, the president, and the fortune seekers, May 21Google Scholar
  11. Baskan B (2012) The police chief and the Sheikh. Washington Rev Turk Eurasian Aff, AprilGoogle Scholar
  12. Bianco C, Stansfield G (2018) The intra-GCC crises: mapping GCC fragmentation after 2011. Int Aff 94(3):613–635Google Scholar
  13. Boghardt LP (2006) Kuwait amid war, peace, and revolution: 1979-91 and new challenges. Palgrave Macmillan, BasingstokeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Brew G (2015) “Our most dependable allies”: Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the Eisenhower Doctrine, 1956-1958. Mediterr Q 26(4):89–109Google Scholar
  15. Buzan B (2008) Will the “global war on terrorism” be the new cold war. Int Aff 82(6):1101–1118Google Scholar
  16. Buzan B, Waever O, de Wilde J (1998) Security: a new framework for analysis. Lynne Rienner, BoulderGoogle Scholar
  17. Coates Ulrichsen K (2011a) Bahrain: evolution or revolution? Open Democr, March 1Google Scholar
  18. Coates Ulrichsen K (2011b) Gulf states: studious silence falls on Arab Spring. Open Democr, April 25Google Scholar
  19. Coates Ulrichsen K (2013) GCC-Iraq relations. In: Spencer C, Kinninmont J, Sirri O (eds) Iraq ten years on. Chatham House, LondonGoogle Scholar
  20. Coates Ulrichsen K (2015) Why have the Gulf states intervened militarily in Yemen? Houston Chronicle, March 27Google Scholar
  21. Coates Ulrichsen K (2017) Qatar: the Gulf’s problem child. Atlantic, June 5Google Scholar
  22. Coates Ulrichsen K (2018) The Gulf Impasse’s one-year anniversary and the changing regional dynamics. Gulf Int Forum, May 30Google Scholar
  23. Davidson C (2006) The United Arab Emirates: a study in survival. Lynne Rienner, LondonGoogle Scholar
  24. Davidson C (2008) Dubai: the vulnerability of success. Hurst, LondonGoogle Scholar
  25. Dawn (2007) Attack on Iran: Kuwait won’t allow US to use its territory, June 12Google Scholar
  26. Diwan K (2013) The politics of transgression in Kuwait. Foreign Policy, April 19Google Scholar
  27. Entessar N (2017) A regional great game? Iran-Saudi relations in flux. In: Coates Ulrichsen K (ed) The changing security dynamics of the Persian Gulf. Hurst, LondonGoogle Scholar
  28. Furtig H (2007) Conflict and cooperation in the Persian Gulf: the interregional order and US policy. Middle East J 61(4):627–640Google Scholar
  29. Gaiser A (2017) A narrative identity approach to Islamic Sectarianism. In: Postel NHD (ed) Sectarianization: mapping the new identity politics of the Middle East. Hurst, LondonGoogle Scholar
  30. Gulf States Newsletter (2011) Militant threat adds to pressures on Kuwait and Iraq over Mubarak Port Project. Gulf States Newsl 35(907):8–9Google Scholar
  31. Gulf States Newsletter (2013) Qaradawi’s comments spark spat between UAE and Egypt. Gulf States Newsl 36(920):4Google Scholar
  32. Gulf Times (2008) Iran dismisses sleeper cell ‘lies’, September 17Google Scholar
  33. Gulf Times (2017) Qatar sympathizers to face fine, jail, June 7Google Scholar
  34. Haddad F (2011) Sectarianism in Iraq: antagonistic visions of unity. Hurst, LondonGoogle Scholar
  35. Halliday F (2005) The Middle East in international relations: power, politics and ideology. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hardy R (2008) Ambivalent ally: Saudi Arabia and the ‘war on terror’. In: Al-Rasheed M (ed) Kingdom without borders: Saudi Arabia’s political, religious and media frontiers. Hurst, LondonGoogle Scholar
  37. Hashemi N, Postel D (eds) (2017) Sectarianization: mapping the new politics of the Middle East. Hurst, LondonGoogle Scholar
  38. Hiro D (2018) Cold war in the Islamic world: Saudi Arabia, Iran and the struggle for supremacy. Hurst, LondonGoogle Scholar
  39. Jones TC (2006) Rebellion on the Saudi periphery: modernization, marginalization, and the Shi’a uprising of 1979. Int J Middle East Stud 38(2):213–233Google Scholar
  40. Jones J, Ridout N (2015) A history of modern Oman. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Katzman K (2008) Iran’s activities and influence in Iraq. Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  42. Kechichian J (2007) Can conservative Arab monarchies endure a fourth war in the Persian Gulf? Middle East J 61(2):283–306Google Scholar
  43. Khaleej Times (2008) US wants Gulf States to impose curbs on Iran, December 14Google Scholar
  44. Kuwait Times (2012) Muslim brotherhood plans to take over Kuwait by 2013: Khalfan, April 18Google Scholar
  45. Kwarten L (2009) Why the Saudi Shiites won’t rise up easily. A Conflicts Forum Monograph, BeirutGoogle Scholar
  46. Louer L (2008) Transnational Shia politics: religious and political networks in the Gulf. Hurst, LondonGoogle Scholar
  47. Louer L (2012) Shiism and politics in the Middle East. Columbia University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  48. Matthiesen T (2012) A “Saudi Spring”? The Shi’a protest movement in the Eastern Province 2011–2012. Middle East J 66(4):628–659Google Scholar
  49. Matthiesen T (2015) The other Saudis: Shiism, dissent and sectarianism. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  50. Mazur K (2009) The “Shia Crescent” and Arab State Legitimacy. SAIS Rev Int Aff 29(2):21–22Google Scholar
  51. Meyer K, Rizzo H, Ali Y (2007) Changed political attitudes: the case of Kuwait. Int Sociol 22(3):289–324Google Scholar
  52. Miller R (2016) Desert kingdoms to global powers: the rise of the Arab Gulf. Yale University Press, New HavenGoogle Scholar
  53. Mühlberger W (2017) Qatar Engulfed: tactical steps raise stakes in protracted crisis. Finnish Institute of International Affairs Comment Paper 18/2017, SeptemberGoogle Scholar
  54. National Geographic (2003) Qatar: revolution from the top down, March issueGoogle Scholar
  55. New York Times (2006) Tide of Arab opinion turns to support for Hezbollah, July 28Google Scholar
  56. New York Times (2007) Saudi king condemns US occupation of Iraq, March 28Google Scholar
  57. New York Times (2018) How 2 Gulf monarchies sought to influence the White House, March 21Google Scholar
  58. Nonneman G (2004) The Gulf States and the Iran-Iraq War: pattern shifts and continuities. In: Potter L, Sick G (eds) Iran, Iraq, and the legacies of war. Palgrave Macmillan, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  59. Reuters (2010) “Cut off head of snake” Saudis told US on Iran, November 28Google Scholar
  60. Sager A (2008) The GCC states and the situation in Iraq. Gulf Research Centre, DubaiGoogle Scholar
  61. Schwarz B (2007) America’s struggle against the Wahhabi/Neo-Salafi movement. Orbis 51(1):107–128Google Scholar
  62. Stephens M (2017) The Arab cold war redux: the foreign policy of the Gulf cooperation council states since 2011. The Century Foundation, February 28Google Scholar
  63. The Guardian (2010) US Embassy cables: Qatar Prime Minister: “Iranians Lie to Us”, November 28Google Scholar
  64. The National (2014) UAE recalls envoy from Qatar over “interference”, March 5Google Scholar
  65. The National (2017) Qatar should stop funding terrorism, says leading opposition figure, June 3Google Scholar
  66. Times of Israel (2012) Qatar: we won’t allow attack on Iran from our soil, March 28Google Scholar
  67. Tripp C (2002) The foreign policy of Iraq. In: Hinnebusch R, Ehteshami A (eds) The foreign policies of Middle East States. Lynne Rienner, LondonGoogle Scholar
  68. Visser R (2007) ‘Basra, the reluctant seat of ‘Shiastan’. Middle East Rep 242 37(1):23Google Scholar
  69. Wall Street Journal (2018) Push to execute Saudi clerics rattles kingdom’s power structures, September 16Google Scholar
  70. Washington Post (2006) Stepping into Iraq: Saudi Arabia will protect Sunnis if the US leaves, November 29Google Scholar
  71. Washington Post (2018) A plague of Twitter bots is roiling the Middle East, June 5Google Scholar
  72. Washington Times (2011) No Iranian role found in Bahrain unrest, November 23Google Scholar
  73. World Tribune (2008) Senior Iran official predicts imminent demise of Gulf State royals, August 15Google Scholar
  74. Yamani M (2006) Arcs and crescents. World Today 62(12):7–8Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public PolicyHoustonUSA

Personalised recommendations