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Where Saudi Arabia Is Heading to?

Monday, June 20, 2016

Seyed Hossein Mousavi
President of the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies, Tehran

Since Salman bin Abdulaziz became new king of Saudi Arabia, the country’s foreign policy has undergone major strategic changes. To make a long story short, these changes can be summarized as such: Riyadh has rapidly changed course from the strategy of interaction on the basis of spiritual influence on its local, regional and international allies to a new strategy of confrontation on the basis of the use of force.

The question raised by many observers and experts of Saudi Arabia in the short period since King Salman has risen to power is will this rapid change be due to changes in the top echelons of political power in Saudi Arabia (following the passing of King Abdullah), or this country was already poised for this change before Salman became king because King Abdullah’s strategy was not viable anymore? Every one of these two possibilities has a host of signs and reasons to support them.

A more accurate question, however, is have the rulers of Saudi Arabia, especially engineers and implementers of the confrontation approach based on the precedence of security options and approaches, been aware of the consequences of this new strategy, or have they simply opted for this new strategy due to inefficiency of the past one? I have to emphasize that this accurate question is predicated on the premise that this new Saudi strategy has been locally engineered in its entirety and it can be considered among independent, not dependent, variables. Otherwise, this issue will totally change and it can be said that the government of Saudi Arabia has defined for itself other missions in addition to supplying the energy needed by the industrial world.

Now, the point is what consequences has Saudi Arabia’s new strategy had for this country and its position in the region as well as its spiritual standing in the Islamic world during this short period, which has lasted about two years. By starting from the last parts of this issue, it would seem that the country’s standing has been already dealt a drastic blow because many Islamic countries, far and wide, are now in fear of the rise of a new generation in the name of Islam that is full of hatred for other people across the world. As a result, they have been thinking about gradually saying goodbye to ideas promoted by the government in Saudi Arabia. At present, the idea of Wahhabi and Takfiri Islam has turned into an anti-value phenomenon in the world.

As a result, dispatching students from other parts of the Islamic world to universities of Islamic sciences in Saudi Arabia has greatly decreased and even Muslim governments have considered strict restrictions for dispatching religious students to universities in this country. This issue has been already witnessed among Muslim countries in Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, because these countries are worried that the Wahhabi – Takfiri way of thinking will finally turn into what is currently seen in the form of Daesh ideology and way of thinking.

The downturn in Saudi Arabia’s spiritual influence in the Muslim world has spread to its political influence as well. When the Saudi-led coalition against Yemen was formed and Pakistan’s name was put on the list of the coalition’s countries, Islamabad said it knew nothing about the coalition and its role in it. On the other hand, Egypt also reduced its part in the coalition to providing simple advisory service. Yemen and Iraq are among countries, which are considered by Saudi Arabia as either its first line of defense or, in case of Yemen, as its security backyard.

The impoverished Yemen has been plagued by one of the most ruthless unequal wars for more than a year. As a result of Saudi Arabia’s destructive war on Yemen, tens of thousands of Yemenis have been killed and wounded, millions have been driven from their homes, and the country’s infrastructure has been devastated. Interestingly enough, those regions of Yemen, which have been taken from the Houthi movement have not been returned to the government of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, the Saudi-backed president of Yemen, but have fallen into the hands of al-Qaeda. Iraq, which was expected to fall under Saudi Arabia’s political influence following the fall of the former dictator, Saddam Hussein in 2003, is not an ally of Saudi Arabia anymore. The historical and traditional influence of Saudi Arabia in Lebanon has also undergone dramatic changes.

The new Saudi government recently and unilaterally called off an agreement signed to sell modern weapons to Lebanon’s army citing control of the Lebanese Hezbollah movement on the country’s political structures. Saudi Arabia’s allies in Lebanon expressed regret over this measure by the government in Riyadh and indirectly talked about the end of Saudi Arabia’s golden period of influence in this country.

In another case, Syria and its political and security crisis has provided a ground for blatant intervention of Saudi Arabia in this country since 2011. While offering unbridled support for radical Islamist forces fighting against the government in Syria, Saudi Arabia criticized the popular revolution of the Egyptian nation and its leader, the Muslim Brotherhood movement. As a result, Riyadh focused all its political and economic might on toppling the sole democratically elected Egyptian government, that is, the government of former president, Mohamed Morsi.

Saudi Arabia’s double-standard approach to various Islamic tendencies, that is, confrontation with moderate Islamists (for example, in Egypt) and positive interaction with radical Islamists (for example, in Syria), has seriously undermined the position of Saudi Arabia and even its religious authority among different Islamic schools in the Middle East region. In short, under King Salman, Saudi Arabia has said rapid goodbye to its past positive interaction approach, which was based on spiritual influence on regional allies, in favor of a new strategy, which is the strategy of confrontation based on extreme use of force. Saudi Arabia’s new strategy is still at its outset, but it has been characterized from the very beginning with Riyadh's allies and regional countries getting out of its sphere of influence, which in two cases of Yemen and Syria, it has been a bloody exit from that sphere of influence.

Key WordsSalman bin Abdulaziz, Saudi Arabia, Foreign Policy, Strategic Changes, Interaction, Allies, Confrontation, King Abdullah, Wahhabi and Takfiri Islam, Saudi-led Coalition, Yemen, Syria, Hezbollah, Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood, Mousavi

Source: The Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies
http://fa.cmess.ir/
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

More By Seyed Hussein Mousavi:

*Egypt Military Is Just Repeating Past Mistakes: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Egypt-Military-Is-Just-Repeating-Past-Mistakes.htm

*Syria in the Third Year of Crisis: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Syria-in-the-Third-Year-of-Crisis.htm

*US’ Double Logic on the Syrian Crisis: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/US’_Double_Logic_on_the_Syrian_Crisis.htm

*Photo Credit: Raed Qutena/European Pressphoto Agency

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