By Iran Review
By Majid Moradi*
Since Saudi Arabia’s King Salman rose to power, especially since Mohammad bin Salman became deputy crown prince after Muhammad bin Nayef was appointed as the crown prince and Muqrin bin Abdulaziz was deposed of his post as crown prince through a soft coup d’état, the strategy that Riyadh has been following since 2011 to counter the Arab revolutions and prevent them from spilling over into Saudi Arabia has been followed with more vigor.
The main goal of Saudi Arabia was to cause failure of the Arab Spring and turn it into a political and social fall. Therefore, it spent more than USD 20 billion in Egypt to bring down the Muslim Brotherhood government and adopted the policy of defeating the Islamist government in Tunisia. In Bahrain, it has been also playing a similar role and while al-Wefaq party was engaged in negotiations with the government to reach a compromise, Saudi tanks appeared at the Pearl Square and suppressed the protesters under the excuse of protecting the public property and government institutions.
In Syria, Saudi Arabia’s strategy since the very beginning and up to about a year after the start of the unrest was not to support the Syrian opposition fearing spillover of the revolution into Saudi Arabia. However, as the unrest escalated in that country and the peaceful revolution entered a military phase, Saudi Arabia opened the country’s doors, allowing Salafist Jihadist forces, who were eager to form an Islamic state, to leave the country, thus getting rid of a major part of these terrorists. Simultaneous with dispatching Salafist Jihadist forces to Syria, which was a great relief to the Saudi government, Riyadh was faced with major problems inside the country, including the rise of democracy seeking demands of liberal forces within the country, which had their roots in the urban middle class.
The activities of liberal forces in Sunni –dominated regions were faced with the government’s iron fist policy and Riyadh started to hand out petrodollars in a generous manner to quench such protests. As a result, every citizens of Saudi Arabia was given USD 3,000 along with new versions of unemployment and medical insurances, bank loans and so forth. Of course, distribution of money among people had a precedent and the Saudi government spends a lot of money every year in order to silence various tribes and reduce the risk of tribal unrest by greasing tribal leaders’ palm.
However, the urban middle class, which has distanced from the traditional sources of power among tribes and has experienced the outside world through academic studies and tourism, has certain demands and the Saudi government will never be able to give suitable answers to those demands.
As protests by liberal forces – mostly modern urban women, who oppose both the Salafists and government’s model of family – started to rise, the government of Saudi Arabia took careful measures and magnified the protests of Shias in such regions as Al-Hasa and Qatif in order to discredit the liberal forces’ moves. Therefore, the Saudi government claimed that the Shia minority’s protests were, in fact, continuation of the Arab Spring. In doing so, it managed to reduce a public demand to that of a minority, while claiming that the protests by Sunni liberal forces, who belonged to the urban middle class, were in fact, the voice of Shia Islamist forces, who carry the most powerful religious symbols. As a result, the protesting voice of Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, who was executed by the Saudi government recently, was magnified beyond its true proportions.
In better words, this was a trap laid by the Saudi government for the country’s Shias, and by encouraging and magnifying their protests through media, Riyadh achieved its goal of nipping liberal forces’ protests in the bud.
The moves of the political current that was led by Sheikh Nimr elicited complaints from liberal forces opposing the government, who believed that soaring Shia protests marginalized their freedom seeking moves and reduced the cost of suppressing those moves for the government. Therefore, they believe that Shia protests did not allow for their freedom seeking moves to achieving their goals.
Opposition Shia forces in Saudi Arabia had reached a compromise with the government through mediation of the late Ayatollah Shamseddin, the then head of the Supreme Islamic Shia Council of Lebanon, in the middle of 1990s, which continued up to 2011. Of course, despite the protest move launched by Sheikh al-Nimr, most Saudi clerics still stick to the policy of patience and waiting.
It seems that Saudi Arabia has been a loser in most fields over the past one or two decades and the signs of its failure are evident in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. So, to make up for these failures, it has adopted a policy of stoking crisis and deflecting attention to secondary issues.
When it loses the game to Iran in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, Saudi Arabia launches a ridiculous war in Yemen and as the most powerful Arab country, along with a number of allied countries, goes to war against the poorest Arab state; a war which follows no other goal but to create another crisis and put a cover on Saudi Arabia’s fiascos elsewhere.
In the face of the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the political sphere of the Arab world, which started from Egypt and was sweeping through other Arab countries, Riyadh started to work and created crises for the government of former Egyptian president, Mohamed al-Morsi. Riyadh also moved to divide Egyptian government from the army, thus preventing the first experience of democratic transfer of power to bear fruit in Egypt and instead of Egypt becoming a role model for other Arab nations, turned it into a lesson for them. Also, when domestic forces started their freedom seeking and democracy seeking moves, the Saudi government once again created a new crisis by pointing an incriminating finger at Shia movement.
It even seems that after the recent execution of Sheikh Nimr, Saudis have been able to change the focus from that incident to what happened on its margins when a rogue group attacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran causing Saudi Arabia to appear as the plaintiff, thus marginalizing the main incident.
Fortunately, in the midst of such bleak atmosphere, the remarks made by the leader of the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, Seyyed Hassan Nasrollah, following the execution of Sheikh Nimr, were wise and cunning remarks in which he asked Shias to prevent the execution of Sheikh Nimr from becoming an issue between Shias and Sunnis.
Nimr was a martyr of freedom and democracy and his blood must provide a motivation for the unity of Shias and Sunnis in the Saudi society where most people seek freedom and democracy and are opposed to the monarchy. The demands of the Saudi nation are not limited to the right of driving car by women, on which the main focus has been put. This nation is avidly seeking freedom and democratic rule and wants to get out of the yoke of the Al Saud family, which is now being headed by a young man, who has been blinded by power and wants to grab the throne even at the cost of suppression, massacre and execution.
Doctoral Student of Political Science; Saint Joseph University of Beirut
Member of the Scientific Council of the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Islam – Tehran