How To Make Sense Of The Saudi Purge – OpEd


Something very strange is going on in Saudi Politics.

The heir apparent of the monarchy, Muhammad bin Salman, has jailed his own cousins and others influential people in the kingdom in what the regime describes as an anti-corruption crackdown. In a kingdom where personal fortune and national wealth means the same thing, this war on corruption is hard to understand, especially in the context where there are hardly any rules governing the conduct of members of royal family.

But this is not the only war which Muhammad bin Salman has opened up. Even since he has assumed position of importance, he is conducting a brutal campaign of state terror in Yemen, where thousands of women and children have died or are starving to death. He recently orchestrated the resignation of the Saudi vassal, Saad Hariri, as the prime minister of Lebanon, a move in which the Saudi hand became apparent as the announcement was made on a Saudi allied television and in Saudi Arabia. In between all this, he tried to reduce Qatar as his appendage much like Bahrain but then Qatar resisted and clearly the Saudi blockade against the tiny country has evaporated with the deluge of support which Qatar received.

Even in the case of the war in Syria, the prince has not been successful in dislodging Asad from power, partly because of the support that the Asad regime received from Russia and Iran. All in all therefore, all of the prince’s strategic overtures have ended up in failures. If the motive of all this was to break the Shia influence, then it has roundly failed. Iran is now perhaps even more powerful than it was before and it will take the Saudis many more years to silence its arch-rival.

Events in Lebanon all point to the fact that the stage is being set up for countering Iran and forcing it to go to war. In its pursuit of blind hatred towards the Shias, the Saudis are even considering an alliance with the state of Israel to bomb parts of Lebanon which have Hizbullah influence. If true, then this will surely force Iran to retaliate in ways which can be other than diplomatic. In the meantime, during the proxy war between Saudis and the Iranians, common Muslims have been suffering from Yemen to Syria and Qatar to Bahrain.

This was coming for a while. The Saudi establishment wanted powerful allies to put their war architecture in place. That exercise has been going on for some time. The visit of Jared Kushner followed by Donald Trump to Saudi capital must be read as part of the design to put together that architecture. After having sold war machines worth billions of dollars, the American establishment was all praise for the Saudis, calling them a beacon of stability in the Middle East. After all, who cares for war crimes in Yemen and Syria, who talks about the illegal invasion of Bahrain by Saudi forces when billions of dollars are involved? Who cares when the same Trump called out the Saudis as sponsors of terrorism when he was running for the presidency? All is forgotten over a good business deal. In fact, Trump’s attempt to dismantle the Iran nuclear deal which was put together by various countries should also be understood as his part of the bargain where he is supposed to project Iran as the great Satan.

In return, the Americans wanted some progressive looking statements from the new prince. And he did make them: talking about giving women the right to drive, for instance. A media blitzkrieg followed that announcement. As if, all of a sudden, the word had discovered a new messiah in him, someone who would change Saudi Arabia from a medieval horror to a new enlightened despotism. But the other observations made by the prince in the same press conference of business leaders exposed his motive. He argued and perhaps rightly so that Saudi Arabia needs to move ahead because 30% of its population was young. But his analysis as to why the country is struck in the morass gave away his pretensions that he was serious about effecting a real change in Saudi society and polity. Sounding out all the right notes about a new generation which expects the society to change but then quickly getting round and saying all the problems which beset the country are because of the Iranian influence is too much.

The Iranians did have their revolution which threw out the monarchy and while there can be hundred things wrong with it, Iranian government was and continues to remain an expression of popular will unlike Saudi Arabia which still boasts of being a divinely ordained monarchy. It is an old saying that if we want to change something, then first we need to look inwards. It is highly hypocritical of Saudi Arabia not to look inwards and blame its ills on Shiite Iran.

As commentators have pointed out, the prince should have started with the chief ideologue of the Saudi monarchy: Mohammad Ibn-e-Abdul Wahhab. It is Wahhabism and the theology of Abdul Wahhab’s ideological mentor Ibn Taimiyya which is responsible for much which is wrong with the Saudi society today. Their teachings being patronised by the House of Saud has led to the repression of women and the minority Shia population within Saudi Arabia. Moreover, it is the same ideology which has produced so many terrorists not just within the Saudi society but all over the world. Jihadism is after all an offshoot of the Wahhabi ideology.

Not content with being so backward and medieval in terms of their religious outlook, the Saudis exported this nefarious ideology to other parts of the world, often making it a part of their diplomatic outreach to much of the Muslim world. At times, even aids to poor Muslim countries were dependent on their acceptance of this pernicious worldview.

This ideology which considers that those opposed to or having different interpretation should be put to the sword is the state ideology of Saudi Arabia. Any criticism of the past or the present has to factor in this pervasive ideology within Saudi Arabia and its export abroad. In not doing so, the prince was trying to fool the world. And it will be the Saudis and other Muslims who will pray the price of this foolishness.

*Arshad Alam is a columnist with, where this article was published.

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