Friday, August 26, 2016

Saudi Arabia as a weak link, by Ioannis Michaletos

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is in dire straits, witnessing a boomerang effect of the aftermath of the Arab Spring which still polarizes and engulfs the MENA region. 

Almost 2 years after the ascendant to the throne of the new King Salman bin Abdulaziz, the country is gradually becoming more autocratic, further interventionist and surely less secure in financial terms. Death sentences and public executions are increasing rapidly, as Amnesty International recently reported "Saudi Arabia will have put to death more than 100 people in the first six months of this year.....At least 94 people have been executed so far this year, higher than at the same point last year....At least 158 people were put to death in Saudi Arabia in 2015, the highest recorded figure in the country".

The rising trend for executions is inexorably related to the fallout of Saudi's involvement in the Syria/Libya/Iraqi battlefields where it promoted all sorts of Jihadist and extremist factions that are now in the losing side. Moreover its involvement in the Yemenite war further increases totalitarian tendencies in Riyadh, which consequently fears a domestic backlash. 

The war in Yemen also causes an estimated 6 billion USD per month expenses, coupled with the dramatic drop of crude oil prices by more than 65% in the past 2 years, which shattered the country's budget. Taking into account the country's deficit and its growing debt he country could bankrupt in 3 years from now if energy prices stay the same. Unemployment is also increasing far and if underemployment is taken into account, around a third of the country's working age population is out of production, living by state subsidies.

In sort there are indications that the once all-mighty in financial terms Saudi Arabia, is becoming gradually a fragile state, by also taking into account the polarized domestic socio-political arena with a dissatisfied Shia community in the East of the country-where all the major oilfields are based-, the growing spread of the ISIS ideology in the country's youth and the radicalization of pro-Yemenite forces in the south of the country. 

In addition Saudi Arabia is still in conflict with Iran, whilst it is losing the use of Turkey as its major accomplice in the region. Relations with Iraq are also very cool, while it has no real influence in the Kurdish element in the Middle East. Its opposition with Russia is a further point, as well as, the waning relations of Riyadh with Islamabad. 

On the other hand, Saudi exercises strong influence to some of the most nefarious entities in the region that of Jihadist groups in the Levant. A 2015 story by the UK's Independent paper notes that "The Army of Conquest – which also numbers the extremist groups Ahrar al-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa among its seven members – has a command center in Idlib.....links with Ahrar al-Sham....Material support – arms and money – have been coming from the Saudis....with the Turks facilitating its passage.....approach by Turkey and Saudi Arabia graphically illustrates how the interests of the Sunni regional powers are diverging from those of the US in Syria.". 

The above has greater impact for the global security, due to the attacks in various countries over the past year, and it is logical to assume that the spread of international terrorism in France, Belgium or Germany is directly related to the policies Riyadh has made over the past 5 years and even before that. Moreover it is roughly estimated that 60% of Saudi youth up to the age of 25 years old, support ISIS ideology, a fact which is a ticking bomb for the country, as this generation gradually takes the reign in local politics and businesses. 

Thus Saudi Arabia is emerging as the "mega-hub" of destabilization in the Eurasian continent; enabling the spread of the most vicious terrorism activity the world has ever witnessed. In turn that obliges other countries to loose trust, spy or conspire to contain such a regime. Eventually the country risks of being suffocating due to external and internal pressure. 

The war in Yemen is also a major issue, not only on geopolitical terms-Sunni vs Shia antagonism- but also of a grave humanitarian catastrophe and of a clear-cut violation of international Law by the Saudi Armed forces. 
Leading organization such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty international have already requested from the UN general assembly to drive out Saudi Arabia from its membership in the body's human rights council ((UNHRC).  UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer said: "It is scandalous that the UN chose a country that has beheaded more people this year than ISIS to be head of a key human rights panel. Petro-dollars and politics have trumped human rights”. 

In Yemen in particular, cluster bombs, and phosphate bombs have been used against civilians and especially children and patients in hospitals, along with numerous reports on summary executions. We need to bear in mind that this involves massive murders of Muslim civilians which contradict the whole argument by Saudi circles as protectors of the Muslim world and it has to be noted that both Shia and Sunni casualties are reported. Furthermore, Saudi forces enforce a blockade as not to allow humanitarian aid to reach those Yemenite communities. 

A very important point that has to be made is that Saudi officials recognize that the war in Yemen cannot be won, since the local militia is composed hard trained fighters who are defending their own land and all civilian casualties further mobilize and radicalize their ranks. Thus Salman's reign has resulted in a war which could be well described as "Saudi’s Afghanistan" and will drag on for years. 

Concurrently highly-educated young Saudis from prominent families are steadily exiting the country in the West as students, researchers or corporate managers, mostly to evade the totalitarian atmosphere being created in all urban centers in the country, which witnesses large-scale arrests of bloggers, activists or free-mind individuals. That in the mid- and long-term will make the country poorer in terms of human resources and will further decrease any capabilities for democratization and the emergence of a "civil society" based in the virtues of civilization as the vast majority of the planet understands, be it American, Brazilian or Korean society.

The international community should enact serious investigations against the conduct of Saudi government both in terms of human rights violations and of the links of it with international terrorism. Diplomatic initiatives from the UN's general assembly should be taken, including independent inquiries regarding the massacres in Yemen, the finance of extremists across the planet and the EU in particular should consider an arms embargo against this country.

In any case all indicators at hand point out that Saudi Arabia will implode in the coming decade, since its trial to make use of the Arab Spring process as a springboard for the 'Wahhabization” of the whole of the Middle East has failed. 

Instead a boomerang process is developing and counter-associations of various state and non-state elements that will exercise strong external and domestic pressure in Riyadh. 

US, once a staunch ally of the Saudis -due to oil and only- would definitely not intervene military to save such a country, instead it would use its economic-finance prominence to get advantage and control of the Saudi Aramco oil monopoly. 

Thus the House of Saud clearly has no other option than to reconcile with the modern world. Money-and lots of it-can get you somewhere, but without understanding of how history is shaped you risk of going back to where you started.