The house of Saud: Is it about to burn or just collapse?

Written by  Published by:Shiite News
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Friday, 26 June 2015


According to MintPress quoting a Yemeni analyst: “Perceptions can be very deceiving when it comes to Saudi Arabia, especially since Western media have mostly acted as Aal-e Saud’s personal publicists over the decades, although reality is about to come crashing in.” Here are the excerpts from an analytical review of the situation in Saudi Arabia from the viewpoint of various political experts, as compiled by Catherine Shakdam and titled “The House Of Saud: Is It About To Burn Or Just Collapse?”


Space studies have established that at the very moment a star stands on the verge of its death, as its core becomes so unstable it starts to self-cannibalize, it begins to expand far beyond its regular size, appearing a giant when it is actually at its weakest and most vulnerable. Stephen Lendman, a veteran political analyst, acclaimed author and radio host for the Progressive Radio Network, believes this analogy summarizes the precise state in which Saudi Arabia finds itself right now.

Although many may argue Saudi Arabia stands more oppressive and “in control” than ever, strengthened by its trillions in petrodollars and the support of its powerful Western allies, Lendman argues instead that the House of Saud is on the verge of dissolution — “an obsolete power condemned to decrepitude amid a nascent Arab renaissance,” he told MintPress News.

Saudi Arabia broke away from its traditional non-military interventionist policy by declaring an all-out war on Yemen on March 25, Lendman explained. Speaking to MintPress about Riyadh’s surge in hawkish activity on the Arabian Peninsula, he continued: “Saudi Arabia is not half as strong as it appears … quite the opposite actually. Riyadh’s need to resort to war to keep its empire in check tells me power is waning. The dragon is kicking and thrusting as it can feel power leaving its claws. But ultimately, destruction will come from within the House of Saud. King Salman’s recent government reforms will only act a temporary relief to an already sinking ship.”

Ahmed Mohamed Nasser Ahmed, a Yemeni political analyst and former member of Yemen’s National Issues and Transitional Justice Working Group at the National Dialogue Conference, agrees. Ahmed explains: “Perceptions can be very deceiving when it comes to Saudi Arabia, especially since Western media have mostly acted as Aal-e Saud’s personal publicists over the decades. The Aal-e Saud clan wants to project this air of stability and continuity. Any chip in the armor would entail losing Western support, especially US support, and potentially influence in the West Asia-North Africa region. So of course Aal-e Saud has created this myth around their house. Reality is about to come crashing in, though.” He continues, noting that Saudi Arabia is “plagued by covert political dissent.” He adds: “Support for the monarchy within the population is at an all-time low and state-engineered sectarian tensions stand to tear at the very fabric of Saudi society, notwithstanding that of the region. When this volcano will erupt, there is no telling how far its fire will spread. It is likely the monarchy will not live to tell the tale.”
Just as Saudi Arabia operated a seemingly smooth transition of power upon the death of King Abdullah in January, King Salman decided to prove himself as a worthy American ally by implementing a swift reshuffle of the cabinet as well as key positions within the country this April. Experts have noted that these moves revealed a host of Saudi Arabia’s weaknesses, and could ultimately lead to its unravelling. And while the US is looking at this rise of the next generation of the Saudi clan with glee, since they share common interests in oil, arms sales and terrorism, not all Saudi clansmen are enjoying being shunned from the corridors of power.

Adding to this difficult political balancing act, Salman has to contend with the very monster which has sustained his rule and that of his brothers and father by trying to give the House of Saud religious legitimacy, that is, Wahhabism, which is a repressive interpretation of Islam. Wahhabi legions are becoming more difficult to contain now that the fires of groups like the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qaida are burning more intense by the day. Dr. Akl Kayrouz, a Beirut-based political analyst for the Persian Gulf region, recently told the MintPress: “In a complete and sudden break from tradition, King Salman introduced a series of brutal and far-reaching reforms in terms of repartition of power within the various branches of the Aal-e Saud family tree. By consolidating his grip on power and promoting his clan over other contending factions, King Salman has antagonized many very powerful Saudis, one of which is the displaced Heir Apparent, his brother Muqrin. It is likely those who have been now sidelined in favor of several of Salman’s sons will work to erode the new powerbase.”

Upon assuming power in late January, Salman, one of the “Sudairi Seven” which means the seven sons his father Abdul-Aziz begat through two women of the Sudairi clan, positioned his nephew, Mohammed bin Nayef, as Deputy Heir Apparent behind Heir Apparent Muqrin. While the decree took many by surprise, the appointment met little resistance — at least officially — and America hailed the transition of power a success. A few months in power and Salman dropped another bombshell by replacing Muqrin, whose appointment as Heir Apparent had been sealed by the late King Abdullah, and nominating Mohammed bin Nayef instead. A favorite of Washington, Mohammed bin Nayef has long been viewed as a key American ally, especially within the scope of Washington’s strategy of state terrorism. Breaking away from tradition by bringing the third generation of Saudis closer to the ruler, Salman did not stop at the shunning of his half-brother, Muqrin — he secured his own line by appointing his son, Mohammed bin Salman, as Deputy Heir Apparent. As Lebanese analyst Dr. Kayrouz said: “Needless to say, this new trinity of power has left many Saudi clan members rather sour.”

Still, Salman was not satisfied. In April he also replaced the ailing foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, with an outsider, Adel Al-Jubeir, the serving ambassador to Washington. Saud, foreign minister since 1975, wanted out. Jubeir has been the public spokesman in the US for the Yemeni intervention. His expertise mainly revolves around his knowledge of how US politics and Washington’s bureaucracy work — knowledge the Saudi monarch likely finds most useful as the kingdom vies to keep Iran in check while securing American support.

Iranian Political Analyst Mojtaba Mousavi, while speaking to MintPress, said: “If King Salman’s reforms have been welcomed by most Western powers as necessary, most have failed to grasp the ripples those demotions and promotions will have on the monarchial fabric. The country has been weaved on an alliance in between the House of Saud and Wahhabism. Developments could prove that the latter will precipitate the end of the former.”

Mousavi added: “Nothing screams betrayal louder than bruised ambitions.”

Thus, with the likes of Muqrin bin Abdul-Aziz, and the Late King Abdullah’s sons Mishaal and Turki, cut off from the corridors of power, many questions remain unanswered when it comes to the future of Saudi Arabia, arguably the world’s most violent and reactionary theocracy. Though Mitab, another son of the late king, remains as commander of the Saudi National Guard, whispers in Riyadh suggest that this too is about to change. Indeed, the war in Yemen could serve as an ideal backdrop for the engineered departure of one powerful challenger to Salman’s authority. The National Guard is the family’s Praetorian Guard. It defends the capital, the holy mosques in Mecca and Medina, and the oil industry. National Guard troops have occupied Bahrain since 2011 to keep the repressive Aal-e Khalifa minority regime in power on that Persian Gulf island state. Should the war in Yemen devolve into a ground offensive, it is likely the National Guard will be called into action, leaving much of the fate of Saudi Arabia in Mitab’s hands — that is, unless he is also cut out of the power equation.

But beyond some bruised egos lies Saudi Arabia’s paradox, which is somewhat embodied by Mohammed bin Nayef. The son of late Heir Apparent Nayef, also known as the “Black Prince” for his reactionary ways, Mohammed bin Nayef has been an opponent of al-Qaida while supporting Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi traditions at home. At 55, he has survived four assassination attempts. Chairman of Saudi Arabia’s security and political committee, which coordinates security issues, human rights activists have been critical of his role as the kingdom’s top police officer. Mohammed bin Nayef met with US President Barak Obama in the Oval Office in Washington on December 12, to discuss regional issues. At the time, F. Gregory Gause III, a prominent international affairs professor at Texas A&M University, called him “America’s favorite Saudi official.”

But, Iranian analyst Mojtaba Mousavi says, Mohammad like his father Nayef, is a fierce defender of Saudi Arabia’s tradition and that is Wahhabism. Since it is Wahhabism which has inspired groups like ISIS, we need to ask ourselves how long can the kingdom expect to keep the root of its own radicalism in check.”

The May 22 terrorist bombing of a mosque packed with Friday Prayer worshippers of the long-suppressed Shi’a Muslim community in Qatif, in eastern part of Saudi Arabia, for which ISIS took responsibility, could be a prelude of what is to come in the kingdom. Dr. Kayrouz said: “Qatif’s attack by ISIS needs to be understood as proof that Saudi Arabia is losing control over its religious powerhouse. The rulers have relied on Wahhabi clerics for as long as there has been an Aal-e Saud member in power. There is a strong co-dependence in between the two.

However, a decade of hyper-radicalization and the promotion of sectarianism to serve hegemonic agenda have taken their toll on Saudi Arabia’s already reactionary Wahhabi clergy. Ultra-religious factions within Saudi Arabia would love nothing more but to wage a war against all, especially the Shi’a Muslims.” Arguing that the attack in Qatif was an attempt to send the kingdom into the throes of a sectarian conflict, Kayrouz believes factions opposed to Salman are exploiting Wahhabis’ frustrations to further destabilize the country. Echoing Kayrouz’s assessment, Yemeni political analyst Ahmed Mohamed Nasser Ahmed noted that Yemen could potentially play a pivotal role in the unravelling of the kingdom. He stressed that this is particularly because “the fate of the war has been left in the hands of Mohammed bin Salman [Saudi Arabia’s deputy Heir Apparent and defense minister], an inexperienced figurehead.”

The Yemeni political analyst further said: “Mohammad bin Salman has driven Saudi Arabia into a quagmire in Yemen. And because it is unlikely he will admit defeat, unrest and instability will spread from Yemen upwards, contaminating the country; how long before ISIS crosses over Yemen northern border?”

Andrew Bond, of the Institute for Persian Gulf Affairs, has a more nuanced view of this sectarian flare-up inside Saudi Arabia. He argues the intended target wasn’t the Shi’as Muslim community, but actually the authority of King Salman. He said: “You need to understand that King Salman served as defense minister under late King Abdullah, and therefore such attacks inside Saudi Arabia could aim to present the new monarch as a poor leader.”

He added: “Should further attacks occur on the king’s watch then his legitimacy could be in jeopardy, and this I believe is what those attacks are ultimately about.”

Sitting on a powder keg, Saudi Arabia bears many of the characteristics of a revolution in the making: rising poverty and social inequalities; violent police repression; rampant sectarianism and nepotism; latent political dissent; and widespread unpopularity at home. At this point, the situation is just awaiting the strike of a match.

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