Ian Roache recently graduated from Dundee University with a Masters Degree in International Security. His specialist area is the Middle East. Here he considers the latest developments in Saudi Arabia:
The increased hostility between Saudi Arabia and Iran over the execution of Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr by the Saudis comes at a poignant time for the Middle East.
As relations between the two leading regional powers deteriorated further, the fifth anniversary of the human tragedy that led to the Arab Spring was marked this week.
On January 4, 2011, a young Tunisian man named Mohamed Bouazizi died as a result of the horrific injuries suffered when he set himself on fire.
He was a street vendor, who scraped a meagre living by selling vegetables and fruit from a wheelbarrow in the town of Sidi Bouzid.
Two and a half weeks earlier the 26-year-old had walked to the offices of the regional governor, poured petrol over his body and then set himself alight.
The self-immolation was the desperate act of someone who had been humiliated and deprived of the means to feed his family.
Bouazizi had fallen victim to council inspectors and police who, because he refused to pay bribes, confiscated his fruit and veg and weighing scales. He was also beaten after challenging the officials.
His grisly sacrifice was a personal protest but it also served to highlight the plight of people living under dictatorship in his own country and beyond.
Bouazizi’s death would resonate across the Middle East and North Africa.
Indeed, in his book The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring, British journalist Paul Danahar wrote: “It was his individual hopeless reaction on that day to just one of the petty indignities Tunisians had all been forced to swallow their whole lives that set in motion the region’s most tumultuous change for more than half a century.”
Regimes would fall across the Arab world most notably that of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt but also including Tunisia’s president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali after protestors took to the streets with wide-ranging demands including the ability to elect their leaders through the ballot box, basic human rights, decent employment prospects and access to justice.
However, in the five years since Bouazizi’s death, optimism, hopes and dreams have faded or even been shattered. Terrorists have been able to fill power vacuums in failing states such as Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria.
Just as it took the human story of Mohamed Bouazizi to focus attention on the plight of ordinary people across the region in 2011, so it was one tragic death that of three-year-old boy Syrian boy Alan Kurdi, whose body was washed up on a Turkish beach last September – that encapsulated the catastrophe that is the Syrian refugee crisis.
Now the severing of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran is a timely reminder of how the complex problems of the Middle East remain largely unsolved five years after the Arab Spring.