Middle Eastern geopolitics are dynamic and complex. Ideological and religious matters interplay with domestic and international structures, generating several types of relations. This article aims to analyse the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, two powerhouses that compete for leadership in the Gulf. The objective is to understand this competition through the lens of Role Theory, focusing on the national role conceptions that both countries project outwards. This theoretical framework presupposes that Iran and Saudi Arabia project self-made images that represent cognitive constructions of what policymakers believe their respective nations stand for. As an example, Iran projects a role of bastion of revolutions, which is firmly set against Saudi Arabia’s anti-instability role. Regional instability periods, such as civil unrests, provide useful study cases for investigating the phenomenon of rivalry. Therefore, this article focuses on the Iranian and Saudi reactions to the events related to the so-called Arab Spring in Bahrain and Yemen, detecting when the rivalry is (somehow) present in their international behaviours. In conclusion, the article adds to a better understanding of Tehran’s and Riyadh’s ideological projection, and of how much of the region’s politics are constrained by the rivalry status.
Iran; Saudi Arabia; Role Theory; Bahrain; Yemen