The “New” Saudi Arabia
– By Syed Haider Raza Mehdi
(5 – 7 minute read)
Recently we saw an assertive Saudi Arabia slam Canada with a volley of diplomatic and economic punches which left Canada reeling and a trifle stunned.
They expelled the Canadian Ambassador, recalled their’s, ordered 15000 college and university students and 900 medical students and doctors to leave Canada by September.
They announced they won’t buy Canadian wheat and barley, and also stopped direct airline flights to Toronto.
But they stopped short of halting oil exports to Canada and cancelling a $15 Billion light armoured vehicles deal. Two actions which would have had far more serious economic impact on Saudi Arabia then the other actions they announced.
MBS may appear impetuous and reckless which he is, in my opinion, but he’s also pretty smart as well, when it comes to money!
The Saudis have demanded nothing short of a full and unqualified apology from Canada for “…..interfering in the internal affairs of Saudi Arabia….”
And all this because of an ill thought through tweet by the Canadian Foreign office on the arrest of Samar Badawi, sister of the already arrested and convicted Saudi Blogger and human rights activist, Raif Badawi.
The world’s silence was deafening!
The so-called human rights leaders, the crocodile and hypocritical tear shedding USA and UK, asked Canada to clean up their own mess.
Germany and Sweden, still smarting from Saudi knuckle raps in 2015 and 2017, offered no comment. The EU requested “more information” which really means “Sorry, Saudis, we have to do it for the sake of form, but kindly ignore”
Egypt, UAE and Pakistan announced support.
Pakistan’s stance perhaps the most surprising, indicating the emerging influence Saudi Arabia has again begun to exercise on us, which had considerably waned given our neutral positions on Syria, Iran and Yemen. They likely arm twisted and demanded this statement, in exchange for financial favors to follow.
Pakistan readily obliged given our dire economic condition and our desperation for financial help.
This position, will, in my view, come to haunt us tomorrow when we condemn human rights abuses in Indian held Kashmir or Assam or Myanmar or on Palestinians in Israeli occupied territories.
Smugly, I can then foresee India and Israel turning around and telling us to shut up and “stop interfering in the internal affairs of other countries”.
Whatever our compulsions and whoever the architect, this was a stupid and ill thought through decision!
The three calls from King Salman and Crown Prince MBS to PM elect Imran Khan, and the invitation to visit Saudi Arabia, all within the space of a week are also unprecedented!
But this piece isn’t about the Canadian Saudi dispute but more trying to understand what’s happening in the Kingdom!
So what’s going on in Saudi Arabia?
Kamran Bokhari, Vice President at Center for Global Policy, a Washington-based research and policy think tank and author of Political Islam in the age of Democratization, believes that since MBS’s taking over as Crown Prince in 2017, and effectively the reins of Saudi Arabia, a massive sea change has taken place in their internal traditional power structures and their foreign policy.
For example the 90-year-old symbiotic and close relationship between the Saudi State and the Religious Clergy has ended.
He believes that the power and influence of the ultra conservative Wahabi Clergy was highly overrated to begin with, and today, MBS has easily managed to defang them by either buying them off, browbeating them into submission and in some cases putting the very few who didn’t toe his line, behind bars.
There’s also a common view amongst young Saudis, that MBS is as much a conservative Wahabi or traditional Muslim as is Netanyahu, the Israeli PM, an Iranian Shia!
MBS’s secular outlook is driving his desire to purge Saudi society of its centuries old baggage of religious conservatism and obscurantism and open it to modernization.
But, and here is where the problem lies, at the same time, he wants total and unquestionable power and autocratic control and absolutely no political dissent.
This approach of modernization and religious secularism endears him to a large segment of the 60% Saudi youth of both genders, his main constituency. Hence the widely welcomed curbs on the activities of the religious police, the limitations and restrictions on issuing religious Fatwas and the permission to women to drive cars.
But to retain total power, he realizes that the traditional power sharing structure with other members of the Royal family and power centers in the country would always pose an existential danger to his authority and writ!
Hence in one extremely risky but daring move, he imprisoned thousands of the very rich and powerful from within and without the Royal circle for several weeks, and defanged them by taking away their most lethal weapons, their wealth and their positions in government.
He must have surmised that as long they had wealth and political power, the Royals and other powerful people would continue to be a threat. By taking away their wealth and political clout, he believes he’s neutralized or minimised this threat.
Externally, he’s cleverly allied himself to Trump’s America and Netanyahu’s Israel to forestall any serious external pressures and threats.
This alignment gave him the space to play havoc with hapless Yemen, launch a political and economic boycott of Qatar, kick Canada in the shins, and assert Saudi Arabia’s new-found independance of no longer being a USA appendage, but an emerging regional power and partner.
A partner which, he thinks, will look after US interests and by proxy, Israel interests, as a regional policeman, especially in the context of Iran, Syria, Iraq and perhaps even Afghanistan.
The above makes sense to him, as the USA attempts to exit from very expensive operations in the Region, such as in Afghanistan, a $45 Billion hole. MBS believes this is the time to assert Saudi credentials as a regional power. The last more significant now given the serious disputes between Turkey and USA.
Easier said then done!
So who is MBS? This is how I read him!
He’s first and foremost a complete autocrat, wanting total and absolute power like a Kim Jong un of North Korea.
He’s secondly a Saudi, wanting to modernize the country but in his own way and style, much like the opening up of China by the Chinese Communist leadership and harshly stamping out any dissent by activists like Rauf and Samar Badawi, who can potentially snowball a tiny movement into a major political reform movement in which he is not a player!
Third, he’s an ambitious Arab nationalist, wanting to dominate the Region vying against Iranian or Turkish or even Pakistani, domination and influence.
And last and definitely the least, he’s a secular, indifferent Muslim who doesn’t really care a flying frog about religion or Muslim Unity or the so-called mirage of the Ummah, a daily dream of many simple Pakistanis!
So the big question is?
Will he succeed in his objectives in modernizing Saudi Arabia, becoming a dominant regional player and simultaneously retaining absolute and total control of the country?
I think he will partially succeed in opening up the country to modernization but not at the pace and manner he would want. A genie or movement once let loose no longer listens to its master and takes a life of their own. I don’t think he will be able to manage or control this “guided modernization”!
On becoming the Regional Policeman, the environment is even harsher!
His support from a more inward looking USA will no longer be a long-term guarantee. And may become even more questionable if Trump doesn’t win a second term.
The Turkish-USA divide, while seemingly an opportunity for MBS’s ambitions will create more instability as the battle heats up and as the big boys, Russia and China also step into the fray.
A post USA withdrawal Afghanistan conjures up several nightmare scenarios of the Warlordism of the 90’s or even Balkanization of the country but most likely the collapse of the Ghani government.
In any of these scenarious, Saudi Arabia has much less influence in Afghanistan then say, Pakistan and their arch-enemy, Iran.
So pretty much, no dice here.
And as we are seeing they will not be able to exercise any influence over an increasingly assertive Assad ruled Syria, now silently supported by the US, fearing a return of the Daesh phenomenon and their alliance with the Kurds, as well as a much more stable Iraq.
And finally closer to home in Pakistan.
Here we have a PM elect like Imran who unlike Nawaz, owes no personal loyalty or obligation to them, has no financial interests at stake in the Kingdom, and importantly has publicly stated to take a neutral policy in inter regional disputes and act as a mediator!
Given all this and their extremely limited military clout, despite their modern weaponry but poor training and small size, I don’t think his dream of being a regional Arab power will come true.
But he may get some short-term traction as he continues to exercise his economic clout, and for want of a better word, economic blackmail as used against Qatar and Canada, and silently against the Europeans and now becoming more visible in our case as well.
This clout becomes more potent given the recently imposed US sanctions on Iran and US tariffs on Turkey!
Internally, he will continue his path to modernization, which is quite the Catch-22 for him!
The more he modernizes Saudi society and “we are open for business” the stronger will be the demand by people for even more reform and more rights, especially given the large number of Saudis educated in Western Universities and the vibrant and extensive use of social media, especially Twitter in the Kingdom.
This will, in my opinion, set in motion harsher repressive measures by him to stamp out such activism and here is where I fear, the proverbial tipping point will happen.
Either towards a much more open society or leading towards an internal implosion.
If the former than its great for everybody, except MBS, unless he morphs his role into a Constitutional Monarchy. This seems unlikely given his style and character and autocratism!
The latter is a very real possibility given the presence of a large number of highly militant elements of the DAESH ilk stepping in and taking advantage of the chaos.
This, in my opinion, will be a far more serious nightmare scenario than any we have seen unfolding in the Middle East, thus far!
Young MBS must remember that controlled change or controlled chaos, has never succeeded! He will become a victim of his own change! And there’s no turning back now, as he rides the Saudi Tiger!
While we must retain our close ties and relations with the Saudi state, we must closely and privately work with MBS to ensure he takes measures which don’t implode Saudi society, resulting in its horrifying consequences for the Region and Pakistan.
We must caution and advise him against any further foolhardy military adventurism in the region, or exacerbate existing ones. More importantly, urge him to pull back and stop where they are involved, such as Yemen. It’s here where we can play a very effective mediation role!
We must not take or be seen taking sides and or partisan positions in regional disputes or get drawn into major military arrangements with Saudi Arabia or any other country in exchange for money.
And it will truly be a crowning glory for Pakistan if we can bring Iran and Saudi Arabia closer and to the negotiating table!
As the current Army Chief, General Bajwa stated in a conference in Germany in February 2018, with reference to regional conflicts:
“……… the Frankenstein was actually created by the liberal free world, with willing, but myopic cooperation from our side after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979…..”
Let not any myopic policies be adopted today!
Imran and Pakistan have to walk a very tight rope with great care, keeping our long-term national interests, paramount!
The three calls from the King and the Crown Prince and those from the Iranian President must be seen in this context as well !
Pakistan must not punch above its weight, but work for peace all around, including with India!
More later, on options with India!
Salaams and Prayers
By Syed Haider Raza Mehdi
Disclaimer: This is a perspective based on some unsubstantiated claims, some circumstantial evidence and some deductions.
Apparently the only NRO offered to The Sharif’s by the Saudis stands for “No Refunds Offered”.
From what I’ve heard and been told, unsubstantiated of course as no one’s privy to the discussions, but based on current circumstantial evidence and some whispers, the Sharifs are being questioned about their wealth in Saudi Arabia and it’s source.
This follows a similar pattern, apparently earlier done with former PM of Bangladesh, Khaleda Zia, who has allegedly signed over several billion dollars of her wealth to the Saudi Exchequer, because she was unable to substantiate the source of her wealth and assets she had in Saudi Arabia.
The Sharifs, as is now fairly well known, have been using Saudi Arabia as their “money laundering clearing house” for quite some time.
Most of their ill gotten funds, plundered from Pakistan were routed to Saudi Arabia from other Gulf countries, especially UAE and Qatar and channeled into their accounts in Saudi Arabia. From there, as the story goes, these funds made their way to the UK and whenever required, routed back to Pakistan as gift transfers by his sons to him.
This was a really neat and tidy operation till things started to unravel. The biggest loss was the death of King Abdullah, their patron in chief and the subsequent coming into power of MBS who was unencumbered by any past relationships with or obligations to the Sharifs.
If anything MBS, as I’ve been told, has a very poor opinion of them, and is also terribly displeased with Nawaz, in particular, for NOT delivering on his commitment to provide troops for MBS’s Yemen misadventure, scuttled by the Army’s refusal to do so.
Qatar is also a factor. A substantial part of the Sharifs wealth in recent years has originated by awarding contracts to Qatari companies fronted by the effervescent Saif ur Rahman and Qatari Prince Jassem, the author of the two infamous Qatari letters showing Nawaz’s money trail during his hearing by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the Panama case.
The Saudis and especially MBS would love to squeeze this particular portion of the Sharifs wealth.
So Nawaz was the brother who was “summoned” to explain the sources and means of the Sharifs wealth in Saudi Arabia. Apparently he got cold feet, given the recent arrest and incarceration of several hundred princes, including Prince Waleed Bin Talal, who has reportedly signed over 95% of his wealth to the Saudi Exchequer.
So the younger Sharif was sent, Nawaz excusing himself due to some very “important political commitments” in Pakistan. Some say the meeting between the NSA with Nawaz Sharif was also in the same context, apparently to discuss eventualities. Unsubstantiated though!
After being given an all clear by Shahbaz he’s also flown to Saudi Arabia to explain his wealth. The apparent inevitable end is that he will be signing off a substantial if not his entire wealth to the Saudis.
Now this is one heck of a story, if true.
And if it’s our standard NRO then boy oh boy are we in trouble and is the Army in even bigger trouble for allowing or facilitating this.
If Gen. Bajwa by any stretch of expediency or compromise does this, he would have signed a death knell for Pakistan and himself and his institution. So beware!
– Haider Mehdi
….. “Nawaz Sharif, specifically, is very much Saudi Arabia’s man in Pakistan,” Mr. Alwaleed says….(Prince Waleed’s interview with the Wall Street Journal)
.this is the most direct reference by Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz on how the Saudis exercise control in Pakistan through “their man” Nawaz Sharif and their “gifts”…..another leading European Geo Political analyst calls Nawaz Sharif ….”the Saudi ruling family’s “Shoeshine” boy ready to do their bidding at the drop of the hat….”
So the Saudi ruling family wants Nawaz Sharif to send “Sunni” Pakistani troops to help them fight a loosely confederated rag tag bunch of Yemeni tribes and Zaidi Houthis who’ve been fighting anybody and everybody forever.
These guys are as trigger happy as our own local Houthis called the FATA PATHANS! ! And in the 1960s they caused 20,000 Egyptian troops to reach the Maker quicker than they expected. So beware.
But what I say now, comes from a very senior serving 3 star horse’s mouth, who has told me that he would publicly deny if I quoted his name. So no names.
Some time ago in a conversation with then Prince Salman now King Salman, the Prince says to this 3 star ..” why don’t you Pakistanis get rid of the Shias of Pakistan”….. this was then repeated by a senior ranking Saudi General also a member of the royal family….
Well they may not be able to get rid of the Shias of Pakistan, but if we did participate in this so called Iran Saudi proxy war, it will open the floodgates of sectarian strife and civil war in Pakistan, where our Militancy in FATA will look like walk in the park.
It will also be another black scar on our conscience the other being the “massacre of 1000’s of Palestinians by King Hussein of Jordan ably supported by a certain Brig. Zia ul Haque in Jordan in 1970”.
…in the words of Moshe Dayan…. “Pakistanis and King Hussein killed more Palestinians in eleven days than Israel could kill in twenty years.”
The end of the House of Saud is on the cards. Another cliché. Writings on the wall. We don’t want to get sucked in this quicksand.
The Saud have done enough damage to Islam and Muslims since that terrible pact between Mohammad Ibn Wahab and Abdul Aziz in 1744.
Let nature’s nemesis take its course and let them get their just desserts ! (enough clichés)
And then ever so often people question my sectarian bias and asked if I was against the House of Saud, or the Yemen invasion aor Saudi Wahabiism.
So here’s my answer.
First, I think I will change my name to Mohammad Ramzan so people dont get thrown away by my so Shia sounding name and immediately label me a “Shia Sectarian Iranian agent”.
Second. I am vehemently, openly and inequivocally against all three.
Against Al Saud.
Against intervention in Yemen and against Saudi Wahabiism.
And all three are closely connected and stem from the same evil root. The unholy satanic alliance between Mohammd Ibn Wahab and the son of Saud, Abbul Aziz in 1744.
The sectarian fissures in Pakistan are thanks to the Saudis, and no not the Iranians, unfortunately, far more stark then they were in 1980 and in 1993 during the Afghan civil war between the Saudi / Pakistani backed Hekmatyar and Haqqani and Irani backed Ahmad Shah Massoud.
And now on the Government’s decision whether to send Pakistan Army to prop up the Al Saud, participate in their dirty war and clean their crap.
Even during Gen Zia ul Haque’s time he flatly refused any Shia Sunni distinction.
And the Saudis now ask for a “Sunni” Pakistani Army!!!. Better ask for an Israeli contingent as well.
Gen. Raheel please be warned you’ll destroy Pakistan if you allow this Saudi Shoeshine boy, Nawaz Sharif to send our boys to clean their diapers.
If anyone is genuinely interested on the role Saudi Arabia has played in fuelling terrorism and militancy, please read my thoughts on the roots of militancy in Islam and see how they start from Ahmed ibn Hanbal in the 9th Century to Ibn Tayemmiah on the 12th Century, to Mohammed Ibn Wahab in the 18th Century to Syed Qutub, Mohammed Faraj, Abdullah Azzam, Ayman Al Zwahiri, Osama Bin Laden in the 20th Century and now Abu Bakr Baghdadi in the 21st Century. The link is at the end of this article.
And unfortunately whether we like it or not, historically it has been the Saudi Wahabi brand of Islam which was, is and will continue to be the basis of the terrible belief system of the ISIS / DAESH and the TTP and the Sectarian terrorists outfit in Pakistan such as the ASWJ, the Sipah e Sahaba and the Lashkare Jhangvi.
For the naysayers and the uninitiated a simple comparison of Sunni doctors, professors, intellectuals, government servants been killed Vs Shias will answer this question of a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Pakistan.
And pray how many by these extreme Sunni terrorist organisations in Pakistan compared to Shias?
Sir. This was not a proxy war between Saudi and Iran in Pakistan. It was a Saudi funded genocide of fellow Muslims, the Shias in Pakistan.
As plain and as simple as that.
Over 70% of Deobandi mosques in Pakistan are funded directly or indirectly by Saudis.
Over 300 Million Dollars, as estimated by the USA government, of annual funding to TTP originated from sources within Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE and Kuwait.
36 Billion dollars were given to Saddam by Saudi Arabia to start the war against Iran which lasted 9 years from 1980 to 1989 and killed over a million people.
Over 100 Billion Dollars have been spent by the Saudi Government to propagate Wahabiism across the Globe subverting Schools, Colleges, Universities, Madrassahs, Political parties, political leaders. Nawaz Sharif being one most prominent. Terrorist organisations like the DAESH, TTP, the ASWJ, The Sipah e Sahaba and the Lashkare Jhnagvi. Government’s like Pakistan, Mubarak’s and Sisi’s Egypt, Saddam’s Iraq before he invaded Kuwait and the list is endless.
15 of the 19, 9/11 Hijackers were Saudis. 20,000 Saudis came to Afghanistan to fight and created the terrible mess we are in.
These guys really deserve no mercy. They’ve destroyed whatever there was of Muslim unity.
So when people talk about Iran meddling in other countries, my question is what would you do if your entire neighbourhood, overnight, after the Shah of Iran was overthrown, became your enemy including the entire West and the World’s biggesst Superpower?.
Would you sit pretty and twiddle your thumbs and let the Saudis and their proxies walk over you and bring about a regime change or would you fight for your survival?
Simple answer. Fight for your survival.
So I’m not an apologist for Iran and I’m sure they’ve done their bag of dirty tricks but nowhere near the terrible terrible chaos that the House of Saud has perpetrated in the Region and in Pakistan.
Here’s another thing to think about. Forget sects. Just look at Governance.
Iran has had 11 Presidential and parliamentary elections since their revolution in 1979.
It has a working parliament, a system that can imprison former ministers and or relatives of Presidents.
Yes the clergy still has power beyond what they should but it is waning. The recent nuclear deal with USA is a battle that the conservative clergy lost.
Saudi is a Monarchy and a terrible one at that. No human rights, no right to vote, no nothing.
A police state like Stalinist Russia.
They treat us Pakistanis like animals. A Saudi is forbidden to marry a Pakistani. That’s your Ummah for you.
In fact they treat everybody like animals, except the Americans and the Europeans.
Finally sir. Iran is a neighbour with a long border with us. Not Saudi Arabia. We want a friend on our border not an enemy.
The House of Saud’s end has come whether people like it or not. Its as plain as the blue sky.
How and when? I dont know. But surely sooner than people think and expect.
Many people comment on the relationship between Hezbollah, Hasan Nasrallah and Iran when one points out the nexus between Saudi Arabia and DAESH.
To me its comical. So steeped in prejudiced hatred are the Al Bakistani supporters of Al Saud that they will run down an organisation like Hezbollah which has single handedly taken on Israel and fought the Israeli army to a standstill, as if its something terribly “evil”.
It’s crazy what prejudice and hypocrisy can throw up!!
Lets be clear. Hasan Nasrallah is in an open alliance with Iran.
Hezbollah is fighting DAESH in Iraq. Hezbollahs enemies are not Yemen or Iraq or Syria or even Saudi Arabia but ISRAEL.
But for Hezbollah, Lebanon today would have been like the Palestinian West Bank and the Gaza Strip. A Ghetto.
But I’m not sure what’s their point?
Are they saying that Hezbollah and Iran are aligned.? Yes. Absolutely. Openly. Brazenly and Bravely.
Is it a bad. No. Absolutely not.
And then really the big question.
What have the Saudis ever ever ever practically done to help the Palestinians?
They let King Hussein of Jordan kill 25000 Palestinians in 1970 thanks to Pakistan and Brig. Zia ul Haque.
And surprise surprise, they sided with the Shia Houthis against the leftist Yemeni President in the 60’s.
They have a tacit unwritten agreement with Israel to allow Israeli planes to use Saudi air space to attack Iran.
Has Israel ever uttered one word even in anger against the Saudis in recent years?.
Who do you think wants a weak Iran other than Saudi Arabia and the USA? Israel!.
Why did the Saudis fund the overthrow of the first and only legitimately elected Egyptian government of President Morsi, in over 5 decades?
Why are they so paranoid?
Because they know their time is up.
It would have been in their and everybody’s interest including Pakistan to befriend Iran.
But being the Americans shoeshine boys they wanted to become the local badmash and strongman after the Shah of Iran, so they created this Iranian bogeyman out to destabilize the Middle East and fanned the fear of Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
But, In my opinion, I think, finally the Saudis have run out of rope.
Let them now hang themselves.
Here’s the link on how Saudis have fuelled militancy and terrorism.