At the presidential palace in Cairo, the charismatic leader of the Arab world in last decade and a half sat in his chair for one of his last interviews with The New York Times. However, this Gamal-abdel-Nasser was very different from the Nasser of 1956 who went on to talk about beating up Britishers with shoes in the aftermath of Suez Canal crisis. His smile that at one point was a symbol of derision toward the western world had become a veil behind which Nasser would conceal his anxiety.

The year was 1969 and Nasser had already sustained two ignominious defeats. His support to the opposition of Imam-al-Badr whose regime was uprooted in the year 1962 in Yemen entailed Egypt into a destructive war. A war that continued for five years and saw Nasser squandering billions of dollars and losing ten thousand troops is considered to be his Vietnam. The year 1967 brought further humiliation to czar of Egypt as Israel destroyed the much talked about air force of Egypt within a matter of few hours.

The whole idea of Nasser’s Pan-Arabism lay in tatters as the Saudi Kingdom extended a helping hand to the forces fighting against Nasser in Yemen. The fight for the leadership of the Arab world or the so called Muslim world is surely not a new concept. It was dominated by Egypt from the mid 1950s to 1967 and taken over from there by Saudi Arabia.

King Shah Faisal’s support to Egypt and Syria in the 1973 war against Israel gained him a lot of prominence and his aggressive oil price policy against all the nations which supported the hostility of Israel established Saudi supremacy in the Arab world.

But again his untimely assassination in the year 1975 and the Islamic revolution of Iran in the year 1979 that toppled the Shah regime brought a monumental shift in this fight for hegemony. It was not entirely the revolution that posed existential threat to the Kingdom but the Shiite doctrine led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that he wished to transcend the borders of Iran. To liquidate any possibilities of Iran emerging as the leader of Middle-east, Saudi Arabia and US supported Saddam Husain during the Iraq-Iran war owing to the fears that the Islamic revolution might engulf Saudi Arabia and Iraq as well. Even though Saddam went rogue just after a couple of years when he invaded Kuwait.

In the recent times, Saudi Arabia and Iran have been at loggerheads and resorted to proxy wars more often. The year 2011 brought cataclysmic events as the specter of Arab spring enveloped the entire region of Middle-east. Saudi Arabia and Iran were quick to take sides with their respective allies in the region and instigated violence against each other.

Even after witnessing tumultuous scenes in last four years in Syria, Assad has remained glued to his chair much to the chagrin of US and Saudi Arabia which encouraged the rebels against the regime. Change in the Iraqi political dispensation in the aftermath of US led invasion had already laid the foundation stone for Iran to take over. The Shiite regime in Iraq since then has primarily acted at the behest of Iran providing them with an extra partner in the region.

The year 2014 saw another breeding ground for Saudi Arabia and Iran to fight a proxy war. As the Saudi backed Mansour-al-Hadi establishment in Yemen fell to the Houthi rebels who are allegedly supported by Iran, Saudi Arabia launched an air onslaught against the Houthis. The conflict in Syria, Iraq and Yemen has reached a status of impasse where the civilians continue to suffer and the regional players continue to use this conflict to serve their vested interests. With US taking limited interest in the region after committing an enormous fiasco in Iraq in the year 2003 and an expensive war in Afghanistan, the onus certainly lies on Saudi Arabia and Iran to resort to rapprochement and reconciliation rather than retaliation. However, the signing of Iran nuclear deal and dilution of sanctions which have already taken huge toll on Iranian economy seem to have solidified Iran’s position and increased the chances of its integration with the global economy.

The nuclear deal has received vitriolic castigation from Saudi Arabia and Israel as they can’t afford to trust Iran. The region has already undergone a mammoth change in past few years and the fight for the leadership seems to have intensified every minute. Iran’s strong foothold in Syria and Lebanon and its improving relations with US have already rung the bells in Saudi Arabia and Israel. On the other hand, common opposition to and fear of Iran’s nuclear proliferation has witnessed an unusual alliance cropping up in the face of Saudi Arabia and Israel.

(This is an opinion piece that appears on the Young Citien page).