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Tobin Harshaw

Saudi Arabia Has Bigger Problems Than Iran

The royal family is struggling with the threat of domestic unrest.
Two nervous princes.

Two nervous princes.

Photographer: Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images
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Saudi Arabia's feud with Iran over the beheading of a prominent Shiite cleric led to a lot of overwrought speculation about Sunni-Shiite tensions rising to tear up the Middle East. Those more steeped in regional affairs point to the other 46 men beheaded, almost all of whom were Sunnis charged with terrorism.

The theory here is that the execution of the preacher, Nimr al-Nimr, was less about provoking Shiites than pre-empting domestic outrage over the deaths of so many Sunnis, who make up 85 percent of the country's population. The kingdom has rarely been concerned with domestic opinion in its 90 years of statehood. Does Saudi Arabia now fear unrest among the masses? Should it?