Aug 2, 2017

Sectarian tensions are baked into the relationship

Our Expert Voices conversation on what comes next in Iran vs. Saudi Arabia.

The passing of Iran's supreme leader and the Saudi king represents a pair of known unknowns: leadership transitions that are long anticipated and carefully planned, but whose realization will provide rare openings for jockeying by domestic rivals, testing by external adversaries, and possibly even mobilization on the streets. Each ruling system is likely to survive, but only if leaders can manage an array of new challenges such as the sense of political entitlement among Iran's post-revolutionary generation, the fissures within the Saudi royal family, and the structural distortions that plague both economies.

The bottom line: The strategic competition and sectarian tensions between Riyadh and Tehran will almost certainly outlive the senior leadership of the two theocracies. Both engage in pan-Islamic posturing, but sectarian absolutism is baked into the ideology and institutions of Iran's Islamic Republic and the Saudi monarchy. New leadership won't be inclined or empowered to rise above it.

Other voices in the conversation:

Go deeper

Biden formally secures Democratic presidential nomination

Joe Biden speaks at Delaware State University's student cente on June 5. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden became the formal Democratic presidential nominee on Friday evening, per AP.

The big picture: Biden has been the presumptive frontrunner to take on President Trump since Sen. Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign in early April.

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 6,724.516 — Total deaths: 394,018 — Total recoveries — 2,996,832Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 1,894,753 — Total deaths: 109,042 — Total recoveries: 491,706 — Total tested: 19,231,444Map.
  3. Public health: WHCA president says White House violated social-distancing guidelines to make reporters "a prop" — Jailing practices contribute to spread.
  4. Sports: How coronavirus could reshuffle the sports calendar.
  5. Jobs: Better-than-expected jobs report boosts stock market.
  6. Media: The Athletic lays off 8% of staff, implements company-wide pay cut.

Scoop: German foreign minister to travel to Israel with warning on annexation

Heiko Maas. Photo: Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is expected to travel to Israel next week to warn that there will be consequences if Israeli leaders move forward with plans to annex parts of the West Bank, Israeli officials and European diplomats tell me.

Why it matters: Israeli and European officials agree that if Israel goes ahead with unilateral annexation, the EU will respond with sanctions.