Saudi Arabia Expecting Revolutionary Developments

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cyrus Faizee
Expert on Middle East & US Affairs

“Shock” and “frenzy” are undoubtedly the best description for Saudi Arabia’s reaction to Arab uprisings. The basic policy of Riyadh in the face of those uprisings has been a “consistent effort to preserve the status quo.” While Saudi Arabia’s major ally, the United States, is now calling for change in the Middle East, a scared Saudi Arabia finds itself “more lonely” than any time before. The question is will those uprisings spill over into Saudi Arabia? No major signs of an uprising have been thus far observed in the country. Here, I will try to show that Saudi Arabia is doing its best by exporting extremism to guarantee its own survival. This policy, which is known as “self-destruction”, was once used by Karl Deutsch to describe the situation of fascist regime. He argued that such regimes tried to export their problems to other countries; if failed, they would be doomed within their borders and this is but a historical reality. In our time, Saddam Hussein of Iraq was a good example of that destiny.

The United States is now following a policy of “controlled change” and “less cooperation” with its past allies in the region. There is no room for complaint as the United States can neither support the past authoritarian regimes, nor it is advisable for Washington to confront huge wave of popular uprisings. The United States does not seek to help to overthrow such regimes in the first place, but it tries to keep them in place as much as possible by introducing reforms. The reality is, however, different and reforms promised by such regimes are neither practical, nor sufficient. As a result, when regimes do not resort to military force, they easily collapse. The second phase of the US policy is to cooperate with the opposition of those regimes.

The fall of Mubarak was, perhaps, the most serious alarm which rang for Riyadh. Saudi Arabia did not expect that and its officials keep complaining about why Washington let it happen. Riyadh maintained that the fall of Mubarak proved that Washington was not a trustworthy ally. As a result, a deep rift has been created between the two sides: Riyadh is now trying to maintain the situation on its own.

Saudi Arabia’s policy in maintaining the status quo is based on economic means. This policy was already used in the country and its proponents maintained that convincement will bring legitimacy. Al-Saud family has been pursuing that policy for many years in parallel to their support for Wahhabism. The alliance formed with Wahhabi clerics meant that Wahhabis imparted religious legitimacy to Saudi government in return for Saudis green light to promotion of Wahhabism as the sole dominant religious denomination of the country. Thus, Riyadh maintains that everything can be traded and that policy had held water up to now.

Saudi Arabia’s current policy in the Middle Eastern developments is copycat of the aforesaid domestic policy. Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy sees export of Wahhabi faith as tantamount to increasing the country’s clout in the Islamic and Arab world. This policy aims to use the energy and power of Muslim extremists out of the country in order to reduce their harm to Saudi Arabia. This has been almost always an obligatory policy for Saudi Arabia.

Saudi officials claim and international figures prove that the country has spent more than 136 billion dollars on social welfare since the beginning of 2011. A large part of that budget has been spent in the country to avert possible uprising. Another part has been spent out of the country to support friendly authoritarian regimes. Experts have opined that recent purchase of more than 200 modern Leopard tanks, which enjoy good capabilities to suppress insurgency, should be construed along the same lines.

Despite having spent a lot of money on domestic welfare, the authoritarian Saudi government still has to work with the west as it is wary about the west’s future behavior. While Saudi Arabia has drawn up its annual budget on the basis of 88 dollars for every barrel of oil, it also supports pro-west production policies and is trying to keep the oil market glutted in order to appease its western allies and buy time to control the current developments. Bahrain and Syria are two good examples to the point. After the first signs of unrest in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia alerted member states of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council to head off any possible unrest. From viewpoint of Riyadh, developments in Bahrain represent a threat from Shia Iran and taking them lightly will cause them to spread to its own land. Officials in Riyadh maintain that violent treatment of those developments can dissuade domestic dissidents. In Syria, however, the opposite is happening as Riyadh is using Syrian development as a trump card to keep its own people silent. Saudi Arabia maintains that triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria will be a major blow to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Therefore, it will be both a service to the west as Iran will lose its connection to Islamic resistance in Lebanon and Gaza, and will increase the power of Sunni Muslims. This will be retaliation for the situation in Iraq where Shias have pushed Sunnis and Kurds to sidelines and will also appease domestic religious figures in Saudi Arabia and the whole region.

At present, there are serious doubts about success of Riyadh as it is withdrawing forces from Bahrain. The withdrawal is result of the logical assumption that continued presence in Bahrain may lead to full engagement of Saudi forces in other countries, including Yemen. On the whole, intervention in Bahrain has been proved a failed policy. The situation is the same in Syria and no positive perspective is conceivable for Saudi Arabia in that country though Riyadh needed rapid results there.

A top British political officer in the Middle East had been missioned many years ago to transfer a Saudi official to somewhere else. When the Saudi official objected, he made a historical remark. Being a loser both in Bahrain and Syria, Riyadh should know that the current developments cannot be stopped and will soon sweep through Saudi Arabia. As a result, Riyadh will become increasingly isolated in the region and the prophecy will come true that “the camels must go.”(1)


(1)“The Camels Must Go: An Autobiography,” Sir Reader Bullard, 1961, Faber

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