by Zafar Bangash (Islamic Movement, Crescent International Vol. 44, No. 11, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1437)
What socio-political issues are likely to dominate the year 2016? ICIT director provides some pointers and food for thought.
Most people in the world want peace and oppose wars. They would like to live and let live but that is not what the tiny ruling elites in the world, especially in the West, want. While people hope for a somewhat more peaceful year ahead than what they experienced in 2015, this is not likely to be the case for several reasons.
So what can be expected in the coming year? Making predictions about the future is always hazardous. This is even more so about fast-paced political developments where the interests of various players constantly change. Based on current events in different parts of the Muslim world, it is possible to read the trends fairly accurately. This is also based on reading the motives of various players clearly.
Let us first consider three events among many others that stand out from the year 2015. These are not based on their relative importance but in the sequence that they occurred. On March 26, 2015, the Saudis and their Arabian allies invaded Yemen, the poorest country in the Muslim East (aka the Middle East). The next development was the Iran-P5+1 agreement that was signed in Vienna on July 14 relating to Iran’s peaceful nuclear program. And finally, Russia’s direct involvement on September 30 in attacking the takfiri terrorists in Syria appears to have changed the military and political landscape considerably. Each of these developments has and will continue to have a huge impact on global affairs in the near future.
The Saudis and their allies’ aggression against Yemen has failed to achieve the stated objectives. Far from succumbing to the Saudi bombing campaign, the people of Yemen have heroically stood their ground. In the process, they have also inflicted serious blows on the invaders, especially the Saudis and Emiratis. While Yemen has had to pay a very high price in terms of infrastructure damage and loss of life, the Saudis and their allies have not been left unscathed either. They have suffered considerable material losses as well as loss of face.
Such losses, however, are minor compared to the impact the war on Yemen has had and will continue to have on the internal dynamics inside the medieval Kingdom. It has triggered a chain reaction that may be difficult to reverse unless the war comes to a quick end. Even so, its repercussions will be felt for a long time.
Bani Saud are already feeling the heat. Several senior members of the ruling family have expressed grave concern about the wisdom of attacking Yemen. In particular, they have zeroed in on Defence Minister Muhammad ibn Salman’s decision to launch the attack and his failure to think through the consequences of such misadventure. The war has not turned out the way it was projected. Far from being over in a matter of weeks, it has dragged on for more than nine months and it continues to take its toll on the Saudis.
It is the internal situation and more specifically serious disagreements between the senior princes that must be giving Bani Saud sleepless nights. There have been demands that King Salman, Crown Prince and Interior Minister Muhammad ibn Nayef (Mr. Security), and Muhammad ibn Salman should resign before they cause more damage and the situation spirals out of control. The king is virtually incapacitated; he suffers from dementia and is often unable to recognize people or what he may have said to them a few minutes earlier. This has provided his young and inexperienced son Muhammad the opportunity to make all critical decisions on his behalf, much to the chagrin of the other princes who find the situation intolerable, hence their demand for the ruling trio’s resignation.
They feel that the present policies if not reversed would be disastrous for the ruling family and may even result in its overthrow. What will come first, old man Salman’s death — he is nearing 80 and is in poor health — or the overthrow of the family? If Salman were to drop dead in the near future, there is a high probability that the senior princes would not accept Muhammad ibn Nayef as king. Even before that stage is reached, there are reports that Muhammad ibn Salman who in addition to being defence minister also holds the title of deputy crown prince, is working behind the scenes to have Crown Prince Muhammad ibn Nayef dismissed and have himself elevated to that position. This would be an even more unsettling scenario.
Each contender for power from among Bani Saud has his own faction and group of supporters. These exist within the ruling circle as well as in the society at large especially among the tribal elders. Even more critical are two other aspects: support of the religious establishment and the US. Muhammad ibn Nayef is favored by the Americans. He is their man and that of the British who trained him (Scotland Yard). Neither he nor his upstart cousin of the same name (but different surname!) enjoy much support from the court clergy.
It would be difficult to ignore this constituency that can create a lot of problems for the ruler. The former Interior Minister Nayef ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz (current interior minister’s father) had cultivated close links with the clergy during his long tenure at the interior ministry (1975–2012). Nayef dropped dead in June 2012 ahead of then King Abdullah who died in January 2015. Muhammad ibn Nayef has not been able to develop such close links yet because he is relatively new at the job but more critically because he is quite young (56) by Saudi standards. Age matters greatly in the desert kingdom especially for the court clergy.
As the war on Yemen drags on, its repercussions will become more intractable. Salman and his son cannot escape the consequences of their aggressive policy that has not gone well for them. Should Bani Saud be consigned to the dustbin of history, few would shed any tears for them. The year 2016 may prove their last on the throne. What or who would replace them is a far more complicated matter that cannot be predicted with any certainty but whosoever takes over would clearly have the backing of the Americans. They must have lined up a number of potential replacements for Bani Saud.
If Bani Saud are in decline, Islamic Iran is on the ascendancy. Even the Americans have had to admit this, albeit grudgingly, hence the nuclear agreement of last July. Its full implementation is by no means certain but it has vindicated Iran’s position. The entire world has seen that the US and its allies were motivated not by preventing nuclear proliferation but by unremitting hostility toward Tehran because of the success of the Islamic Revolution and its impact on other oppressed peoples globally. Every day that Iran stood up to the bullies emboldened others around the world. They felt they too could emulate Iran’s example.
The Islamic Republic’s principled stand and resistance against imperialist machinations have been vindicated. It has shown by example that the hegemonic global order can be successfully challenged and that if a country’s leadership is sincere and it has the support of the masses, the imperialists and Zionists’ subversive plans can be frustrated. The nuclear deal has recognized Islamic Iran as the preeminent regional power. It has taken many years and a great many sacrifices to reach this point.
Whether the nuclear deal comes to fruition or not, Islamic Iran has emerged much stronger. Countries from Europe to Asia are lining up to strike deals with the Islamic Republic. Many of America’s allies — Britain, France, Germany, Australia, etc. — are leading the pack. Russia, China and the Central Asian Republics are equally anxious to do business with Iran. So is the US, but the Rahbar, Imam Seyyed Ali Khamenei has stated quite categorically that this would not happen unless Washington changes its policies and attitude of belligerence toward the Islamic Republic. He has said that the nuclear deal was a one-time affair. Based on how the US lives up to its obligations on the nuclear file will determine Iran’s attitude toward it.
Regardless of the outcome of the nuclear issue, the global hegemons have been forced to recognize Islamic Iran as a preeminent power without whose involvement little can be achieved in the region. This is where it brings Iran into conflict with Bani Saud who fraudulently claim to be the leaders of the Muslim world. There are a number of areas where this clash occurs: Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and the broader Muslim East region. While Bani Saud have invested heavily in negative propaganda — according to one estimate $100 billion since 1975 — they have not had much success except in creating fitnah in the Ummah aimed at undermining Islamic Iran’s position.
The new global reality is that Islamic Iran is the face of the future; the Saudi regime is a throwback to the past with their demonic ideology of hate and division. In the year 2016, this will become even more apparent. Islamic Iran will emerge even stronger while Bani Saud would go into eclipse before their inevitable demise.
This brings us to the situation in Syria where Russia has become directly involved against the takfiri terrorists. Russia’s policy has exposed the West’s duplicity as well as that of a number of regional regimes — Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, etc. — that have actively supported the terrorists. There are of course risks as well involved in Russia’s actions because these bring it in direct conflict with the West. Some commentators are already referring to it as the new Cold War. In many respects it is.
The imperialists, Zionists and their regional puppets have a lot at stake in Syria. They had hoped to overthrow Bashar al-Asad’s government and install a puppet regime of their own in its place. This has not materialized. Instead, Iran and Hizbullah have provided invaluable support to the Syrian government to prevent its subversion through a foreign-instigated conspiracy through thousands of mercenaries. Russia’s involvement has strengthened the alliance against the mercenaries and their backers.
Syria was always a strategically important country; it has become even more so since a great deal hinges on the outcome of the struggle there. As the situation currently stands, the imperialist-Zionist conspiracy has been weakened, and this has given the Syrian army an opportunity to regain lost ground. It has regained control of Homs and is making good progress in Aleppo much to the chagrin of the imperialists and their local puppets.
It would, however, be simplistic to assume that the conspirators would give up easily. Bashar al-Asad’s survival is likely to short-circuit the life of at least two regimes: Bani Saud and Bani Isra’il. In fact, the mayhem in Syria was launched to secure the survival of the Zionist regime and to ensure its hegemony in the region. While Syria’s infrastructure has been virtually destroyed, its survival has frustrated the plans of the imperialists and Zionists.
The war on Syria has created two camps: one comprises the US and its European and regional allies, and the other consists of Iran, Iraq, Hizbullah and Russia. China can also be placed in the latter camp although not as a full member since the Chinese play it very cautiously. Bashar al-Asad’s survival will further weaken the US grip on the region and undermine such regimes as those in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Zionist Israel. This would not be a bad outcome at all even if it has exacted a terrible price in human lives.
Thus, while 2016 will not usher any dramatic changes, the hegemonic powers would have been dealt a significant blow in their disruptive policies. They can no longer dictate the pace of developments or indulge in regime change at will.
One final point is in order relating to Russia’s success in Syria. The Americans would try to create problems for Moscow in places like Georgia, the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Ukraine. The latter is already in the throes of a CIA-sponsored insurrection. The aim in all these machinations would be to weaken Russia. How President Vladimir Putin responds to these challenges will determine Russia’s standing in the global order. So far Putin has played his cards well and outsmarted the Americans on several fronts.
While 2016 is not likely to see a dramatic reduction in conflict or wars, the US and its allies would be forced to change tactics because their policies have not yielded the results they had hoped for. This should give some hope to the oppressed everywhere.