The nuclear deal with Iran was met with a profound wariness in the Arab world, where concerns are widespread that the easing of its international isolation could tip the already bloody contest for power in the region toward Shiite-led Tehran.
Arab countries have deep fears of Iran gaining a nuclear weapon, and some have been skeptical that a deal will prevent that from happening. But equally high for key Sunni-dominated Gulf allies of the United States is the worry that a deal gives Iran the means — through an economic windfall — and an implicit green light to push influence in the region.
The Arab world has been polarized for years in a worsening proxy conflict between Iran and Gulf powers, particularly Saudi Arabia, fueling Sunni-Shiite tensions and stoking wars. In Syria, Iran's support has ensured the survival of President Bashar Assad against Sunni rebels backed by Gulf nations in a devastating civil war, now in its fifth year. Yemen has been torn apart this year as Saudi Arabia, leading a coalition air campaign, has tried to help fend off Shiite rebels supported by Tehran. In Iraq, Saudi Arabia has opposed the growing power of Iran even since the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein and the rise of a government led by Shiite politicians close to Iran.
"Deal or no deal, tension in the region is not going to go away," said Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a professor of political science at United Arab Emirates University. "If Iran is bent on acting as a hegemon, as a regional power, I think we are in for some difficult times."
Saudi Arabia issued a pointed warning, saying Iran must use any economic gains from the lifting of sanctions to improve the lives of Iranians, "rather than using them to cause turmoil in the region, a matter that will meet a decisive reaction from the nations of the region," in a statement carried on the state news agency late Tuesday.
Other Gulf monarchies sought to show some cautious optimism. The president of the United Arab Emirates, which has longstanding trade ties to Iran, and the emir of Kuwait, who visited Tehran last year in an effort to improve relations, each sent congratulations to Iran and expressed hope the agreement will contribute to regional security and stability.
On the nuclear issue itself, Arab countries have shown skepticism that a deal would stop Iran from building a weapon. In its statement Tuesday, Saudi Arabia withheld judgment on the final accord, but underlined it always wanted an agreement that guarantees Iran cannot develop a bomb, includes a strict inspection mechanism for all sites — including military ones — and ensures a swift re-imposition of sanctions if Tehran violates the deal.
Saudi Arabia's former intelligence chief, Prince Turki al-Faisal, warned earlier this year that a deal might fuel a regional arms race.
Egypt's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Badr Abdelattie, said his country hopes the deal would be "a step toward a region free of nuclear weapons"— a project Egypt has been lobbying for in the United Nations for long, with its eyes on Israel's all but confirmed arsenal.
But foremost on the minds of Iran's opponents in the region was the worry that the deal strengthens its hand in the region's conflicts.
"This agreement, from our point of view, represents an indirect threat to Gulf and Arab interests and peace," said Tariq Al-Shammari, a Saudi analyst and president of the Council of Gulf International Relations.