On the Brink? The Saudi MonarchyTwo excellent articles on the United State’s primary prop in the Gulf region, Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is key to the continuing flow of cheap oil to the West. Its ruling caste, the corrupt Saudi ruling family, was placed on the ‘throne’ by the US and in particular Standard Oil (later the Arab American Oil Company) in the 1920s.
The difference between Saudi Arabia and Israel (because despite the occasional rhetoric the Saudis work hard to support Israeli objectives in the region, for example during the Lebanese civil war and after they supported the Christian Phalange against the leftist Lebanese national movement) is that Saudi Arabia is not a stable regime or state. Islam, of the Wahabi variety) is used to legitimise the rule of the corrupt, casino gambling elite. The smallest infraction of Islamic law can lead to the death penalty or flogging but the consumption of alcohol by the Saudi princes in Western bars goes unremarked.
Saudi Arab is the most backward state in the world when it comes to the treatment of women, who are not even allowed to drive a car. Yet the US ‘war for democracy’ stops at the shorelines of Saudi Arabia. King Feisal and his bunch of crooks are too good a friend of America for democracy to get in the way. You will never hear an American President waxing lyrical on democracy in Saudi Arabia.
Below are two articles suggesting that the days of the Saudi regime may be numbered. The Saudi royals have used sectarianism – between Shi’ite and Sunni – to cement their rule. Saudis are starting to see through this classic imperial ‘divide and rule’ tactic and the signs for Washington are ominous.
By appointing Prince Bandar bin Sultan as its new intelligence chief, Saudi Arabia has installed what looks like a war cabinet at a time of rising tensions with Iran and growing internal dissent from its Shiite minority.
The Saudis have also heightened their alert level in other ways to prepare for possible regional conflict. Some Saudi military and security personnel were mobilized last month — called back from summer leave or told to cancel planned vacations. One explanation of the mobilization making the rounds in Riyadh is that the Saudis expected that Turkey might retaliate against Syria for the shoot-down of one of its fighters in late June.
|Prince Bandar bin Sultan |
Bandar will succeed Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz, who was barely visible in the West during his years as Saudi intelligence chief. This led to widespread comment that Muqrin had been fired, but he is said to retain the confidence of King Abdullah, who will use him as a special emissary to Pakistan and other Muslim nations where Muqrin’s traditional Saudi demeanor will be useful.
Bandar, the flamboyant former ambassador to Washington, had appeared to be sidelined in the past several years because of poor health and personal issues. His appointment now as intelligence chief probably signals the desire of both King Abdullah and the new Crown Prince Salman to have an experienced covert operator to handle sensitive foreign contacts at a time of sharply rising tensions.
Bandar would be a useful intermediary, for example, if Saudi Arabia sought nuclear weapons or ballistic missile technology from China to defend against such threats from Iran. Bandar was the go-between in a secret 1987 missile deal with China, known as “East Wind.” http://www.fas.org/irp/threat/missile/saudi.htm Bandar has also been active in secret missions with Syria and Lebanon for decades, and the Wall Street Journal reported that he helped arrange a recent visit to Saudi Arabia by Gen. Manaf Tlass, the highest-ranking Syrian defector.
Bandar is especially well-placed to manage intelligence liaison with the United States, given his two decades here as ambassador. Bandar maintained close relations with the CIA during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, l and was said to have helped organize secret funding for joint Saudi-American covert actions in the Middle East. During the run-up to the 1991 Gulf War, Bandar was so close to President George H.W. Bush that he became known as “Bandar Bush,” a moniker that continued under President George W. Bush.
Bandar continued to play a behind-the scenes role even after he left Washington in 2005. He was said, for example, to support Vice President Dick Cheney’s confrontational policy against Iran, to the consternation of Prince Turki al-Faisal, his successor as ambassador, who was working with less hawkish members of the Bush administration.
Interestingly, Bandar has been a special target for Iranian media attacks in recent days. Iran’s Press TV on Aug. 2 described him as “the linchpin in the ‘dastardly subterfuges’ of the CIA and Mossad against Syria.” Press TV also carried an uncorroborated report early last week claiming that Bandar had been assassinated; the rumor was rebutted Friday by a source who said that Bandar had been in telephone contact with non-Saudis.
At home, the Saudis have been struggling to contain Shiite protests in Al-Qatif, in the kingdom’s oil-rich eastern province. Those protests, which the Saudis believe are Iran-inspired, led to two deaths in early July, according to a July 9 BBC report. The demonstrations continued last week and there were reports of more casualties.
The Saudis haven’t been able to stop the insurgency in Al-Qatif; indeed, it appears to be worsening. The protesters may hope to provoke the Saudis into a bloody crackdown, which would leave scores dead and encourage much wider demonstrations and international outcry. So far, the Saudis have avoided such an escalation through relatively restrained tactics. Saudi reformers argue that the best way to quell Shiite protests is to give them the full economic and political rights of citizenship.
Iran’s Press TV on July 27 featured an interview with an analyst headlined: “Collapse of al-Saud regime becomes more realistic than before.” The information may have been Tehran’s propaganda, but it helps explain why the Saudi monarchy is going to battle stations.
Ignatius writes a twice-a-week foreign affairs column and contributes to the PostPartisan blog.
Saudi Arabia’s uprising surmounts the regime’s impregnable shield Sectarian divisionsBy Zayd Alisa
As popular uprisings swept the Arab world, many experts stressed that Saudi Arabia was immune from turbulences, let alone, regime-ousting uprisings. Confident that its internal front was impeccably secure, the Saudi regime focused on achieving its external overarching goals, which ranged from holding at bay the spread of popular uprisings clamouring for democratic change, to severely undermining what it perceives, as the mounting Iranian and Shia influence, and ensuring the survival of other monarchies.
The Saudi regime offered Ben Ali, Tunisia’s dictator, refuge, and the Saudi king gave his emphatic support to Mubarek, Egypt’s tyrant. And even, in the post-Mubarek era, it has regained its huge influence through the military council and the extremist Salafi movement. As for Yemen, the Saudi regime launched its own initiative to replace Saleh - Yemen’s dictator, by another staunch ally, namely his deputy, Mansour - and to underline the futility of uprisings.
For the Saudis, the Bahraini uprising was indisputably the nightmare scenario. Since, Bahrain - a deeply entrenched dictatorship - is governed by Al Khalifa family, from the Sunni minority, while the vast majority are Shia. Similarly, the Shia constitute the overwhelming majority in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province, which is literally a stone-throw from Bahrain. Shia in both countries, have constantly complained of intolerable discrimination. Fearing the pervasion of the uprising to Saudi Arabia, the king offered billions of dollars in benefits, strictly prohibited protests, rewarded the Wahhabi Salafi religious establishment and, most ominously, gave the green light to the Saudi army to invade and occupy Bahrain.
What is incontestable is the pivotal role played by the radical and regressive Wahhabi Salafi religious establishment in giving religious legitimacy to the Saudi regime, which in turn provides it with the vital funding to propagate and export its violent ideology. According to the Wahhabi ideology it is strictly forbidden to oppose the ruler. The fatwas issued by the religious establishment were utilised by the Interior ministry headed by Nayef, which declared, on February 2011, that these protests were the new terrorism and would be crushed, just like Al-Qaida. The death of Sultan, and the appointment of Nayef, in October 2011, was marked by the cold blooded murder of protestors in the Eastern province.
The Saudi regime’s overriding priority has always been to establish and bolster its position as the indisputable guardian of Sunni Islam. Ever since the Iranian revolution, the Saudi regime has endeavoured to present all the major conflicts in the region as an integral part of an ongoing existential sectarian war waged against Sunnis by Iran. So, when the uprising erupted in Bahrain, the Saudi regime strived to instigate sectarian strife, to stave off any uprising by its Sunni majority.
The USA must be holding its breath as Saudi Arabia’s uprising surmounts sectarian divisions by spreading to Sunni areas like Hijaz, and even reaching the regime’s heartland, in Riyadh.
The weakening in the Saudi regime’s internal front is largely due to: first, it has tirelessly supported dictators in crushing uprisings by the Sunnis in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen. Second, its inconsistent position in unequivocally backing secular monarchies like Morocco, Jordan against Sunni Islamic movements. Third, the king’s inexcusable failure to activate the allegiance council to select the heir to the throne twice within eight months. This, has consolidated the widespread perception that the royal family is embroiled in a vicious power struggle, and it marginalises its senior members. Fourth, the undeniable success of uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen in ousting their dictators. Fifth, the King’s failure to lead by example, rather than stipulating reform and a halt to killings in Syria. Sixth, the failure to tackle the chronic problems, such as unemployment and corruption. Seventh, foreign educated Saudis are increasingly questioning the legitimacy of dictatorship. Eighth, mounting fears of secession by the Eastern province. And finally, the death of Nayef has revealed that he was used by the regime as the perfect pretext for not undertaking meaningful reform. Because, despite the appointment of Salman – who is perceived as a reformer - there has been absolutely no reforms. And alarmingly, an upsurge in the regime’s savagery, especially with the arrest and even torture of the Shia religious leader Nimr Al Nimr.
The USA should be deeply concerned about the stability of Saudi Arabia, not only because its implacable support to the regime has made a mockery of its pretention of defending democracy and human rights, but, more menacingly, Saudi Arabia was the country where (15 out of 19) of the 9/11 suicide bombers, and the mastermind, Osama Bin Laden, came from. The USA needs to stand on the right side of the present and future of Saudi Arabia, by extending the oil-for-protection deal to an (oil and concrete democratic reforms-for-protection deal).
Zayd Alisa is a political analyst and a writer on Middle East affairs. Zayd was born in New York, USA and is also a British citizen resident in London. His parents are originally from Iraq