There is no way to explain the Middle East simply. Entangled in this troubled region are ancient ethnic rivalries, religious vendettas and cultural divides, somehow made worse by their present-day boundaries, that defy generalization. But it’s impossible to explain the Middle East without explaining the competition between Arabs – now led by Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia – and Persians – now led by Shiite-majority Iran. This competition is religious, too, considering it began shortly after the dawn of Islam. Since then, the Arabs have had their fair share of power but, to their chagrin, have struggled to assimilate or subdue the Persians. Even now, Persian influence is on the rise at a particularly vulnerable time for the Arabs.
Consider, then, Muqtada al-Sadr’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia. The Iraqi Shiite leader met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the heir apparent to the Saudi kingdom and, therefore, the next steward of Sunni Islam’s most