A thousand years ago, the pope diverted the energies of warring princes in Europe against the Muslims in Palestine. In March the Bani Saud launched their aggression against Yemen. Like the Crusaders of old, the Bani Saud will also fail.
Nearly 1,000 years ago, Europe was in the grip of internecine conflict. Warring princes were at each other’s throats and despite his best efforts the pope was unable to prevent such bloodletting. Europe’s energies were being drained creating a serious problem for church revenue, prestige and authority.
Pope Urban II struck upon a novel idea: divert the warring princes’ attention toward an imaginary external threat. In his solemn appeal to the Council of Clermont delivered in 1095ce, the pope alleged that Christians were being massacred by “heathens” (referring to Muslims) in Palestine. It was the duty of Christian princes of Europe to hasten to the protection of their brethren in faith. The Crusades were launched — on a complete lie — and the energy of Europe’s warring princes was diverted to killing Muslims in Palestine.
Fast forward to today. It appears that Bani Saud’s internal problems have forced them to launch, emulating the Crusaders, the indiscriminate bombing of Yemen. The result is no different: several thousand innocent civilians have been killed so far, according to Yemeni sources.
Bani Saud faces two sets of problems. First, there is an internal power struggle underway among the hordes of “royals” now that Prince Muhammad bin Nayef has been appointed Deputy Crown Prince. The second is growing discontent inside the Kingdom because of repression and lack of opportunities for people to express themselves. The ruling family’s mismanagement has caused mass unemployment — estimated at between 35–40% — and the resultant poverty. Despite claims that the Kingdom is awash in oil wealth, poverty rates are scandalous.
Let us consider each in more detail. The transition of leadership to the grandchildren’s generation was bound to be problematic. Unlike the older generation (sons of ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Saud) that have adhered to some basic rules of succession and are relatively respectful of older siblings, no such respect is evident among the cousins; they are brash, arrogant and ambitious. Each one believes he is kingship material. The stakes are also very high. With Muhammad bin Nayef appointed Deputy Crown Prince, his position as the future king has been assured barring two mishaps: his sudden death (there is no guarantee of life) and the even more likely scenario of the ruling family being overthrown. Bin Nayef’s choice is not palatable to some of his cousins. These include the children of Abdullah, Sultan, Fahd and Faisal.
It was quite revealing that as soon as Salman took over as king on January 23, 2015 (following Abdullah’s death), he appointed his own son Muhammad as the new defence minister as well as head of the royal court. Muhammad bin Salman is quite young, barely 35. Considering that the average age of the older generation and even of some grandchildren is in the 60s and 70s, his elevation to such a high position is resented by the others.
There are reports of discontent within the ruling family. While these have not exploded into the open, there is no guarantee that this will continue to be the case or that it will not result in open warfare in the future.
The growing internal discontent is another reason why Bani Saud has launched the war on Yemen. There are reports — perhaps exaggerated for obvious reasons — that there has been a noticeable rise in nationalistic fervour among Saudis. Jingoism would be a more accurate description of such behaviour if this indeed is the case. While external problems often result in rallying people, this may prove transitory when the reality begins to bite. After all, the war far from improving the country’s economic situation will result in an even greater burden on “Saudi” expenses. The annual defence budget of $80 billion will escalate further as the Yemeni war drags on. If foreign mercenaries — Egyptians, Sudanese or Pakistanis — are recruited to fight the Saudi war in Yemen, this will further exacerbate the problem.
Perhaps Bani Saud feel they can ride out the storm and come up with some solution once they have installed their puppet — ‘Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi — back in power in Sana‘a. This appears unlikely to succeed. The Yemenis are seasoned fighters. Besides, there is widespread revulsion at the Saudis’ attack on their country that has caused such high casualties as well destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure. The Houthi Ansarullah fighters have garnered much support and are seen as defenders of Yemen’s sovereignty.
The Saudi attack on Yemen has led to attacks on Saudi security forces inside the Kingdom. If the war drags on, such attacks are likely to increase. There is no evidence that the regime is capable of fighting on two fronts — internal and external — simultaneously. The Saudis’ copycat crusade may not work.
Zafar Bangash is Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought