Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
"Survival" Is the Key Word to Understand
By Nicola Nasser
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, April 21, 2014
Survival is the key word to understand the Saudi latest external
and internal policies. These are designed to pre-empt change but
paradoxically they are creating more enemies in a changing world order
marked by turbulent regional geopolitics and growing internal demands for
The seventy-year old strategic oil for security US-Saudi
alliance seemed about to crack on its 69th anniversary ahead of the summit
meeting of US President Barak Obama and king Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz in
With the US now committed to pivoting east and possibly on
track to become an oil exporter by 2017, American and Saudi policies are
no longer identical.
Former US President George W. Bush’s
democracy campaign, which Saudi opposed, alerted its rulers to be on
guard. The Arab popular protests since 2011 pushed them into leading a
regional defensive counterrevolution and ever since the gap in bilateral
relations has been widening.
The Saudis could not trust the US’
“regime change” strategy in the region, which depends on the Muslim
Brotherhood International (MBI) as an instrument of change, sponsored by a
regional rival like Turkey and a co-member of the Gulf Cooperation Council
(GCC), like Qatar, which has been for long contesting the Saudi leadership
of the GCC, the Saudi leading role in Arab politics and the Saudi
political representation of Sunni Muslims.
alliance of Qatar, Turkey and the MBI would develop into a real threat to
Saudi’s survival if it was allowed to deliver change in Syria, Iraq,
Egypt, Yemen, Lebanon, Tunisia, Libya and elsewhere in the region. It
might quickly leave Saudi Arabia as the next target for “change.”
The US pillar of Saudi security now seems to be in doubt as the United
States stands unable to meet Saudi expectations on almost all the most
critical issues in the Middle East, from the Arab-Israeli conflict to the
Saudi-Iran conflict and the ongoing bloody conflict in Syria, let alone
the conflict with the MBI, especially in Egypt.
context, using the MBI as an instrument for “regime change” in the region
has created a Saudi MBI phobia. Change is overdue in the kingdom, but,
after decades of intensive Islamic education, change could only come
camouflaged in Islamist form.
“It might seem ironic for a
theocracy to oppose so forcefully a party that mixes religion with
politics. But it is precisely because the monarchy bases its legitimacy on
Islam that it fears Brotherhood rivalry,” journalist Roula Khalaf wrote in
the Financial Times in March.
Obama doesn’t seem capable of
mending the bilateral fences. His refusal to fight Saudi regional wars
reminds them that he is the same man who as a state senator back in 2002
“Let's fight to make sure our so-called allies in the
Middle East - the Saudis and the Egyptians - stop oppressing their own
people, and suppressing dissent, and tolerating corruption and inequality,
and mismanaging their economies.”
However, as demonstrated by
Obama’s visit to the kingdom on March 28, the bilateral differences will
remain tactical, while the strategic alliance will hold until the kingdom
finds a credible alternative to its American security guarantor, although
this seems an unrealistic development in the foreseen future.
Regionally, the kingdom is not
faring better. The US-promoted and Saudi–advocated anti-Iran “front” of
regional “moderates,” with Israel as an undercover partner, seems now a
The Saudi call for converting the GCC “council”
into a “union” is now dead.
Oman’s public threat to withdraw from
the GCC should it transform into a union and the Saudi current rift with
Qatar threaten the GCC’s very existence.
Saudi invitation to
Jordan and Morocco to join the GCC was unwelcome by other GCC members and
In Bahrain, the kingdom has intervened militarily to
squash a three-year old ongoing democratic uprising.
Kuwait-hosted Arab summit meeting did not see eye to eye with Saudi on
Forming a Lebanese government without Hizbullah and its
pro-Syria coalition has failed.
Egypt’s calls for a “political
solution” in Syria and its refusal to give the Syrian Arab League seat to
the opposition could not be interpreted as a friendly position from a
country that Saudi Arabia has bailed out, in exchange for its transition
away from a MBI rule.
Turkey is at odds with the Egyptian-Saudi
newly found partnership.
Iraq is accusing the kingdom of waging a
“war” against it, with Saudi now the only country to not have a permanent
ambassador to Iraq.
Meanwhile, the kingdom continues to deal with
Iran as an “existential threat.”
In the background, the Israeli
threat could never be overlooked.
Using petrodollars as soft power to gain
influence abroad and secure loyalty internally, the kingdom seems
self-confident enough, or overconfident, to feel secured on its own.
Speaking at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, on
March 11, Prince Turki al–Faisal, chairman of the King Faisal Center for
Research & Islamic Studies in Riyadh and former Saudi Ambassador to the US,
“Saudi Arabia represents over 20% of the combined GDP of the
Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region (and over a quarter of the Arab
World’s GDP) making it … an effective partner and member of the G20.
“The Saudi stock market represents over 50% of the entire stock market
capitalization of the MENA region.
“The Saudi Arabian Monetary
Agency (SAMA), the Kingdom’s central bank, is the world’s third largest
holder of net foreign assets … Last but not least, Saudi Aramco, the
Kingdom’s national oil company, is the world’s largest producer and exporter
of petroleum and has by far the world’s largest sustained production
However, veteran journalist Karen Elliot
House, has presented a starkly ominous picture.
“Sixty percent of
Saudis are 20 or younger, most of whom have
no hope of a job,” House wrote in her 2012 book. “Seventy percent of
Saudis cannot afford to own a home. Forty percent live below the poverty
line. The royals, 25,000 princes and princesses, own most of the valuable
land and benefit from a system that gives each a stipend and some a fortune.
Foreign workers make the Kingdom work; the 19 million Saudi citizens share
the Kingdom with 8.5 million guest workers.”
According to House,
regional differences are “a daily fact of Saudi life.” Hejazis in the West
and Shiites in the East resent the strict lifestyle. Gender discrimination
is a growing problem. Sixty percent of Saudi college graduates are women but
they account for only twelve percent of the work force.
kingdom has been squandering billions upon billions of petrodollars in a
lost battle to finance a regional counterrevolution. Some $20bn dollars were
pledged to bailout Bahrain and the Sultanate of Oman out of the Arab Spring.
Three billions more was pledged recently to buy French arms to prop up the
Lebanese army against the Hezbullah-led pro-Syria coalition. Several
billions more have been pledged to Egypt to reinforce the successors of the
ousted former president Mohamed Morsi, let alone the reportedly other
billions spent on financing “regime change” in Syria.
Reportedly, Obama tried to convince King Abdullah
during his latest visit to bail out the transition in Ukraine.
To contain the repercussions of the Arab uprisings internally, the Kingdom
has already spent even more on buying the loyalty of its own people; for the
same purpose twenty Royal Orders, which were economically dominated, were
issued in March 2011.
In February 2011, King Abdullah pledged more
than $35 billion for housing, salary increases for state employees, studying
abroad and social security. The next month the king announced another
financial package worth more than $70 billion for more housing units,
religious establishment and salary increase for military and security
Bailing the population out of protests economically seemed
not enough to secure internal stability as the kingdom, instead of relaxing
the internal situation, has recently tightened the screws with the issuing
of the Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and Its Financing on last January
31, the Royal Decree No. 44, which criminalizes “participating in
hostilities outside the kingdom,” three days later and on March 7 the
Interior Ministry’s “initial” list of groups the government considers
terrorist organizations, both inside and around the country and both Sunni
Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in
Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (email@example.com).
An edited version of this article was first published by Middle East Eye on
April 15, 2014.