Skip to main content

The Saudi-Turkey cold war for Sunni hegemony

Saudi Arabia views Turkey's mix of democracy and Islam as a threat to its own regional role.
Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal (L) and Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (R) attend the Fourth Ministerial Meeting of Turkey-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Istanbul January 28, 2012.   REUTERS/Osman Orsal (TURKEY - Tags: POLITICS) - RTR2WZJV

The current “cold war” in the Middle East has taken two forms. It involves the Shiite-Sunni war being fought in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Gulf, as well as a parallel Sunni-Sunni conflict involving Turkey, Saudi Arabia and political Islamic forces to control and dominate the politics of Sunni Islam. Dominating the Sunni sphere requires controlling religious interpretation, especially that relating to political systems. In this regard, the model of Islamic democracy practiced in Turkey is considered a challenge to the political realm of Saudi religious theory.

While Justice and Development Party (AKP) government in Turkey believes that Islam and democracy are not mutually exclusive, and seeks to promote their compatibility among conservative Islamic movements in the Arab Middle East, Saudi Islamic rhetoric sees democracy as an encroachment on the fundamentals of religion. The rhetoric in the fatwas of Sheikh Saleh al-Fawzan, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars, is an example of this perspective.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.