by Tahir Mustafa (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 45, No. 1, Jumada' al-Ula', 1437)
The desert is harsh and unforgiving. Those caught in it have little chance of survival unless they have proper provisions: water, food and a sense of direction.
The Bani Saud clan that has ruled the Arabian Peninsula since being installed in power by the British in 1925–1926, are beginning to see the desert storm gather around them but they seem to have little clue as to how to escape its devastating consequences. People of the desert, Bani Saud have gone soft spending their lives in air-conditioned palaces consuming large quantities of alcohol together with gorging enormous amounts of food. Not surprisingly, one can hardly find a single member of the clan without a huge protruding belly, the direct result of over-stuffing.
To be fair to them, other Arabian rulers are little better but the problem with Bani Saud is that they display behavioral traits that are hastening the end of their miserable existence. They are extremely arrogant, treacherous, lazy, and completely incompetent. Add to that their barbarism and one can see why their shelf life is coming to an end.
One does not have to dig too deep into history to find evidence for their completely insane policies. Where others would exercise caution, Bani Saud plunge headlong into problems. Take Yemen; for a year now, the Saudis have been bombing the poorest country in the region. Apart from killing thousands of innocent civilians, destroying the country’s infrastructure and causing a humanitarian disaster, they have achieved little in terms of their objectives.
The Saudi army is made up of rank amateurs that cannot even tie their shoelaces properly, much less fire a gun straight. Like the 10 million workforce they have hired from such poor countries as Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and the Philippines, they think they can hire mercenaries to do the fighting for them as well. But Bani Saud are finding it a tough sell. Their traditional sources — Pakistan, Egypt, et al. — have balked at providing troops in what they perceive as the Yemeni quagmire. Bani Saud are now stuck there. They have had to rely on mercenaries from Sudan, Senegal, and even Colombia and Argentina in South America (actually the UAE has hired these mercenaries) to fight for them in Yemen. Blackwater mercenaries fled from West Ta’iz last month after coming under relentless attacks from the lightly armed but highly motivated Ansarallah fighters.
The Ansarallah revolutionary fighters of Yemen have given a good account of their skills and not only killed many Saudi and Emirati troops but also captured or destroyed several Saudi military bases near the border with Yemen. The Ansarallah have also captured military equipment from fleeing Saudi soldiers. If Yemen has been a colossal failure of Saudi policy — actually that of Muhammad bin Salman, the Kingdom’s defence minister and deputy crown prince but in reality the de facto king because his 80-year-old father, Salman is virtually incapacitated suffering from dementia and other ailments — Syria has been an even greater disaster. To be fair, the father and son duo inherited the Syrian mess from previous King Abdullah but there is nothing to prevent Bani Saud from stopping these wars instead of continuing to dig themselves deeper into the hole.
For nearly five years, Bani Saud and their court preachers have indoctrinated, financed and then unleashed takfiri terrorist monsters on Syria. The mercenaries have been recruited from Saudi Arabia, Chechnya, Pakistan, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and also many European countries where disgruntled Muslim youth — men and women — have been lured into the takfiri web in Syria from which there is no escape.
The aim was to overthrow the government of Bashar al-Asad and replace it with a takfiri-salafi state aligned with Saudi Arabia. The takfiri project has also had the support of regimes in Washington, Tel Aviv, Ankara, and Doha. This grand conspiracy against al-Asad’s government has been frustrated with help from Hizbullah, Islamic Iran, and Russia. Realizing their failure in overthrowing it militarily, the US has opted for diplomacy and negotiations but the aim of regime change has not been amended. The imperialists and their allies continue to harp on the mantra, “Asad must go.” They are even blaming Russia for backing al-Asad and, therefore, prolonging the conflict in Syria as if al-Asad’s departure would satisfy the head-choppers and organ-eaters, and bring peace to Syria.
At one level, the imperialist-Zionist project has been successful: Syria as a state has been rendered ineffective. This was one of the major aims of the Zionists and their neocon allies in Washington: “to secure the realm” (meaning Zionist Israel) as spelled out in the Project for the New American Century document (1997). In an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria in Davos on January 21, 2016, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alluded to this when he said the best option for Syria would be “benign Balkanization.”
Bani Isra’il and Bani Saud are on the same page in Syria and their secret alliance has now exploded into the open. They both want to destroy Syria, failing that, to weaken it so much that it would not be able to offer much help to the resistance front comprising Hizbullah, Iran, Iraq, and the Palestinian resistance groups.
The Saudis have always used their checkbook to achieve their nefarious designs. This has been their favorite mode of operation both at home and abroad. Of late, however, this option has been severely constrained. This is again the result of their ill-conceived policies, such as flooding the market with oil to hurt Russia and Iran. While the two countries have been somewhat affected, the impact of falling oil prices has been much more significant on the Saudi economy. It is dependent on oil for 90% of its revenues. With its war on Yemen costing $6 billion/month (Bruce Reidel: Al-Monitor, December 28, 2015), the Saudis have had to dip into their reserves. The 2016 budget has a deficit of $98 billion and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that Saudi reserves would be wiped out in five years.
Low oil prices have also affected Bani Saud allies such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, and Qatar. They have complained that their economies are being hurt as a result of policies formulated in Riyadh in which they have little input, much less control.
It is, however, at the domestic front that Bani Saud now face a serious challenge. Their contradictions have caught up with them. The December 28, 2015 decision by the Saudi cabinet chaired by the ailing King Salman (but in reality presided by his upstart son Muhammad) to impose new fees on numerous services and the lifting of subsidies on other goods, notably petroleum derivatives, caused panic among the people. The following day, there were long line-ups at gas stations — something unheard of in the medieval Kingdom — because the price of gasoline was to go up by 40% on January 1.
Saudi Finance Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf caused further grief when he told Al-Hayat newspaper on December 29, “Saudi Arabia will gradually apply a value-added tax of 5% as of the beginning of 2016.” Bin Salman (BS for short) is the one making all the decisions whether related to foreign, military, political, or economic policy. He has already made a mess of things in Yemen and his half-baked proposal for a military alliance of 34 countries to fight terrorism, quickly turned into a joke when a number of countries supposedly in the alliance expressed surprise at being included. Others, notably Algeria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Oman were pointedly kept out, the first four most intimately involved in fighting terrorism.
Bin Salman was cagey in his interview with the Economist on January 4 denying that any taxes had been imposed, other than the 5% value-added tax on accessories, soft drinks, and cigarettes. When the Economist persisted, asking whether more taxes can be imposed without increasing the people’s representation in the decision-making process (there is none at present) Bin Salman responded in a manner revealing how detached he is from reality. “Again, one thing is not related to the other. This is not a decision from the government against the people.” The government, he claimed, represents the people and does not make decisions about reforms without conducting “workshops” that include a variety of citizens.
How does the government or the ruling Bani Saud family represent the people? Have the people ever been given an opportunity to express their views on any matter, much less one of choosing the ruler? After ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Saud, power has passed from one of his sons to the next in line. The people have no say in this at all. Further, there is no input from the people on any policy matters. In 2009, when a group of academics requested — yes requested — then Interior Minister Nayef ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz to establish a committee to oversee human rights violations, they were all promptly arrested and most of them are still in prison. There are in fact nearly 40,000 political prisoners in the desert Kingdom, most held on such charges as asking for respect for basic human rights and dignity.
But what are these “workshops” that Bin Salman was talking about: are they some kind of teaching sessions in which people are treated as students and told what to think? Who is invited to these “workshops” and who decides whether a person should be invited or barred? His “royal highness” did not provide any answers. Perhaps he has never heard of the expression: no taxation without representation.
Hitherto, this was the case in the desert Kingdom. The regime did not impose any taxes because there was plenty of money earned from oil sales. People’s loyalty could be bought. Saudi citizens went to school and then university, all expenses paid, at the end of which a job waited for them. If and when they went to the office, they would drink endless cups of coffee served to them by foreign expatriates — Indians, Pakistanis, Filipinos, etc. — and the Saudis would simply collect a paycheck at the end of the month.
With this arrangement, Bani Saud felt they could get away with it since people did not pay any taxes. Instead, their financial needs were taken care of. Those in need and able to get through the elaborate ring of security erected around the king’s court, could petition the “merciful and benevolent” king for some bakhsheesh. The ones who made it to the inner sanctum were never turned away empty-handed even if the courtiers demanded sycophantic rants from supplicants before they were thrown some crumbs.
This is no longer the case. The coffers are running dry. Dissatisfaction is rising and people are no longer willing to put up with decisions in whose formulation or implementation they have had no input but whose consequences they must suffer. People are no longer willing to accept that power and wisdom flow from the loins of Bani Saud alone.