Saudis panic amid unrest in the Islamic East
SOURCE: Crescent Online
Zafar Bangash, Reflections
Nowhere is there more concern — and panic — about the rapidly escalating protests in North Africa and the Islamic East than inside the marbled, air-conditioned palaces of Saudi Arabia. While the House of Saud faces no imminent threat like despots in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen or Bahrain, the fear in Riyadh is genuine. The Saudis know their rule is illegitimate. It was the British that installed them in power by carving out a kingdom from the ruins of the Ottoman Khilafah to serve British colonial interests. Now the Americans are protecting them because the Saudis continue to pump oil to satiate the Americans’ addiction to black gold. But America has lost its clout on the global stage, thanks to its wars of aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq. The US and its Arabian lickspittle can no longer dictate to the world.
The Saudis’ real concern is not only America’s loss of clout; their worry is that Uncle Sam ditched a long-time trusted ally Hosni Mubarak so casually. The Saudis may be cowards but they are not fools. They understand what is afoot. If the Americans can discard Mubarak whose regime was a major bulwark against the rising tide of Islam and loyal ally of the Zionist State of Israel, what chance do the pleasure-loving Saudis have if protests erupt in the kingdom? The Americans might abandon them just as quickly, oil or no oil. Further, the Saudis now feel alone in standing against the emerging power of Islam.
While there is little prospect of a Tunisian, Egyptian or Libyan style uprising in Saudi Arabia — most Saudis are bone lazy — it is the possibility of a palace intrigue that the Saudis worry about. True, a protest is planned for March 11 in Riyadh but it is unrealistic to assume anything significant would come out of it. Saudi society is far too tightly controlled and the religious establishment has been completely compromised to offer an alternative to the corrupt and decrepit monarchy. It is, however, developments elsewhere, especially in Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain that worry the Saudis so much. With Mubarak gone, the Saudis feel dangerously exposed. And to this end, to placate any hint of frustration in the people, the Saudi King on his return from a convalescense holiday in Morocco has offered up over $10 billion to his people in various economic concessions like the government of Algeria and Syria. The ailing and aged King Abdullah (he is 87 and suffering from multiple ailments) feels the Americans have betrayed their Arabian allies.
Uprisings in Yemen and Bahrain also have a direct bearing on Saudi Arabia. The kingdom shares borders with both. With Yemen, it is 1,100 miles long and many Yemenis — including the Bin Ladens — hail from there. Instability in Yemen can easily spill over into the kingdom. This explains the Saudis’ attack on the Houthis last year in one of the Forbidden Months, even if it was badly bungled, and exposed the Saudi military’s incompetence. Bahrain is even more problematic. The tiny Gulf State has a Shi‘i majority ruled by a Sunni minority. Bahrain is linked to the kingdom by a 15-mile causeway that is used by the Saudis not merely to drive across and enjoy Bahrain’s nightlife, but for a more serious purpose: in case of unrest the Saudis would rush in troops to Bahrain to contain it. It is better to fight their battle for survival in the streets of Manama than in Riyadh or Jeddah.
Further, any success by the Bahraini majority may encourage similar protests in the Eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia that have long been suppressed by the Nejdi tribe from Dar‘iyah. This in turn may spread to the rest of the kingdom and undermine the House of Saud.
Far from welcoming the people’s aspirations for dignified existence, the Saudi rulers stand completely exposed as the enemies of Islam and the Islamic movement. Saudi-linked and financed Islamic organizations should take note: the blood of innocent people killed in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Morocco and Yemen would be on their hands as well if they fail to sever links with the corrupt Saudi royals.
The Saudis view any challenge to the status quo as a direct threat to their survival. In fact, changes in the region are viewed as a gain for Islamic Iran, and its allies: Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas.
People in the Peninsula must grasp the opportunity offered by the uprisings elsewhere. They must also rise above sectarianism to establish a system based on the pristine principles of Islam. They can either walk in the footsteps of the noble Messenger of Allah (pbuh) or cling to the jahili practices of the likes of Abu Jahl and Abu Lahab. History will render a very harsh judgement if they fail to rise to the occasion. The choice is theirs.
Zafar Bangash is Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought