WWE gets political in Saudi Arabia as Iran gets bashed

WWE gets political in Saudi Arabia as Iran gets bashed
Saudis took to social media platform after a wrestler waves an Iranian flag at WWE fight in the kingdom, which many felt lacked in taste.
3 min read
28 April, 2018
Recently Saudi Arabia has embarked on a wide-ranging programme of social reforms [Getty]
An Iranian flag at one of Saudi Arabia's first pro-wrestling shows sparked anger among some in the kingdom this week, as the WWE got political with some predictable "bad guys".

The "Greatest Royal Rumble" on Friday night included women in attendance for the first time to watch the likes of WWE star John Cena joust in the ring.

But it was the political show that took the spotlight with the fall guys being Iranian-American wrestlers, known as the Daivari Brothers. 

They entered the stage waving the Iranian flag and confronted four amateur Saudi wrestlers in the ring.

The stunt provoked jeers and boos from the crowd. 

Saudi Arabia and Iran are locked in an existential crisis with both countries competing for influence in the region. 

The elevation of Mohammed bin Salman to crown prince has heightened tensions between the two countries, with Saudi Arabia almost doubling its military expenditure in recent years and Iran expanding its presence in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Saudi Arabia is locked in Yemen's civil war and has been bombing the Iranian-backed Houthis, who control the capital Sanaa and much of northern Yemen.

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The young crown prince has also attempted to modernise the country, diversifying its economy and introducing more entertainment options to attract young Saudis, such as the WWE.

Saudis took to Twitter saying they believed the choice of the actor-wrestlers to wave the flag of their arch-nemesis was in "poor taste".

"Even if it were a charade", Khalid bin Mansour, a verified Saudi Twitter user with more than 400,000 followers tweeted, waving the Iranian flag would only "provoke every Saudi".

The show was part of a series of social changes pushed by the kingdom's assertive 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

A previous WWE event held in the ultraconservative kingdom in 2014 was for men only.

Organisers, however, only allowed women to watch the show at King Abdullah Sports City if they were accompanied by male guardians.

WWE has a long history with stoking nationalistic sensitivities in their shows and echoing the political tensions of the day.

During the Cold War, Russian characters were used to rile up American audiences. When the Gulf War broke out in 1991, notorious wrestler Sgt. Slaughter became "turncoat" when he backed Saddam Hussein's Iraq during the US-led conflict.

As tensions with Iran grew in 1980s, Iranian-American wrestler The Iron Sheik dressed in a headscarf and played on his Iranian roots.

He infuriated American crowds by making repeated swipes at the US when he was in the ring.

The WWE also chose an Italian-American to portray Arab-American Muhammad Hassan, who was also became a "bogeyman" following the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Translation: Terrorist Iran and the axis of evil according to MbS wave their flag in Saudi Arabia during the wrestling match that completely disregards the Saudi people whose sons are being targeted at the borders by Iranian-backed Houthis