Date of Award

Fall 12-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science & Geography


Graduate Program in International Studies

Committee Director

Peter Schulman

Committee Member

Aaron Karp

Committee Member

Nicholas Abbott

Committee Member

Mitsue Shiokawa


The 1979 Iranian Islamic revolution that extremely concerned the Saudis leaders culminated after the overthrow of a monarchical regime of the Iranian Shah and the power rise of a theocratic Shia government led by Ayatollah Khomeini. From the early days of this revolution, Khomeini raised a unique slogan, which was “exporting the revolution” to neighboring countries. Through targeting the Shia minority in neighboring countries, this slogan highly concerned the Gulf countries including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Examining four decades of hostility, which starts from the 1979 Islamic Revolution of Iran, this study indicates that the rivalry between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has become a necessary platform that has mobilized a confrontation that has challenged each state. In other words, it seems this rivalry has become a demanding strategy caused by claims of supremacy and leadership that would guarantee and assure each state their national security interests.

This dissertation focuses on two distinguishing aspects of this rivalry between the IRI and the KSA. Firstly, it studies the nature and the structure of the rivalry between the IRI and the KSA; secondly, it investigates three essential factors that have been invested in or exploited by both parties as mechanisms of their ongoing rivalry. Despite the reductive analysis of the Saudi-Iranian rivalry as emanating from a primordial schism between Shia and Sunni Muslims, this study argues that several factors or mechanisms play significant roles in maintaining the continuity of the rivalry between both parties. To determine the framework of this dissertation, three essential mechanisms are examined. First, the Saudis and Iranian respective roles within the oil market and command of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Second, both Iranian and Saudis attempts to recruit and exploit agents or proxy groups that include state, sub-states, and militias. Third, the role of leadership and decision-makers in both countries constructing foreign policy interests since 1979.


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