Rabat – Since the arrival of King Salman to power a few years ago, Saudi Arabia has undergone several drastic changes to the extent that one wonders what on earth is happening to the guardian Islamic orthodoxy and the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques?
Are the changes introduced real and leading to better governance, or are they just bogus moves to prepare the terrain for the crown prince to become King in an area where Iran is becoming a lethal threat to the Sunni world, once led by the rich and influential Saudi Arabia?
The once dormant, predictable, and tranquil Saudi Arabia was shaken to its core by the decision of King Salman to appoint his son Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) as heir to the throne in lieu of the existing heir, even though he lacked experience and wisdom.
Mohammed bin Salman, unlike the majority of Saudi leaders, has been reckless in his decisions, either because he is poorly advised or just because he acts on impulses of youth and lack of experience. As soon as he assumed his new position, he came up with Vision 2030 to help wean his country from oil dependency. Many analysts believed the decision was rash and the approach poor and badly devised.
To stifle mounting opposition to his manners and policies, MBS rounded up all the rich and powerful of Saudi Arabia and “quarantined” them in the luxury hotel Ritz Carlton and coerced them into giving up part of their wealth to the state to be freed, on the ground that the money they made was corruption money and embezzled state funds.
Such a decision was purely political, if not tribal and not, in the least, judiciary. It was seen as a political move to silence any opposition possible and show that he is the only master on board.
On an official trip to the US, MBS recognized Israel in an interview with the Atlantic magazine. The move shocked beyond belief all of Saudi Arabia and especially the orthodox religious community that wondered why he would make such a statement at a time with nothing to gain for the Palestinians and their cause.
Later on, in an interview with the New York Times, he stated that Wahhabism was never the choice of the Saudi state but was imposed on them by the Western world to fight communism when it was at its height.
In another controversial move, the crown prince allowed women to attend soccer matches and to drive cars previously considered no-go areas in this traditional and orthodox country. People around the world applauded the audacity of this young prince and thought that he was opening up his country, at long last, to modernity.
But the young prince artfully deceived the whole world. He was not a modernist, democratic, or responsible prince. He was only eager to prepare the ground to become King and ally himself with Israel to protect him from powerful, theocratic Iran.
More than anybody else, Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist, was not deceived by the tricks of the prince. Khashoggi denounced MBS’s methods in op-eds published by the Washington Post. MBS was annoyed by this journalist so he was awaiting the opportunity to crush him, bearing in mind that in Saudi Arabia if opponents are not easily commandeered, they are silenced with force.
Thus, when Khashoggi showed his desire to marry a Turkish lady, the ambassador of Saudi Arabia in Washington, D.C., advised the journalist to go to Istanbul to get the necessary legal papers at the Saudi consulate there. The ambassador is no other than the brother of MBS, whom he had consulted before speaking to Khashoggi. The trap was set, and the bait was powerful.
MBS may have thought that eliminating Khashoggi in Washington, D.C., was very risky, politically speaking, but doing it in a Muslim country like Turkey was feasible. And he was right.
On October 2, Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to never reappear again. A Saudi killing squad assassinated him, dismembered his body, disposed of it, and left for the safety of the kingdom the same day.
The United States, Europe, and much of the world denounced this reprehensible murder, but Saudi Arabia escaped unscathed nonetheless. The CIA report stated that MBS was behind the murder, but Trump discarded the report.
For Trump, Saudi Arabia means unlimited political and economic opportunities, and, most importantly, a weakened country and heir is a blessing in disguise. Tomorrow, MBS will become a King, but he will be a weak monarch in the hands of the West and Saudi Arabia will lose its aura, as it has lost its leadership of Islam and the Sunni world.
For many Arab analysts, Khashoggi’s horrendous murder shows quite clearly that the Arab world has not changed in its mentality in spite of the Arab Spring.
In fact, the Arab Spring did not fail, but like Khashoggi, it was nipped in the bud by counter-revolutionary forces that are ready to serve the vile economic and political interests of the West in return for protection and support.
Saudi Arabia did not experience the Arab Spring because the government bought social peace and political tranquility with cash. The arrival of King Salman to power and his single-handed approach to political management of the country’s governance outside of the extended family’s consensus and tribal accord sparked an unwanted power-mongering and a quiet but lethal opposition of the princes to the manners of MBS.
For the time being King Salman and his heir are on a razor blade path with the traditional Persian enemy at the gate and inner circles of opposition in the making. When King Salman passes away, opposition will, probably, come out of the closet to bar MBS’s way to power and the Iranians will not only applaud that but offer their support though just symbolically.
All in all, Saudi Arabia is in for political turmoil soon that will strengthen the grip of the US on the country and embolden Iran in the region and make it the only potential leader of the whole Muslim world, no matter what.