Middle East’s Two-bit Players Punching above Their Weight

Developing Just Leadership

Yusuf Dhia-Allah

Jumada' al-Ula' 17, 1442 2021-01-01

News & Analysis

by Yusuf Dhia-Allah (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 49, No. 11, Jumada' al-Ula', 1442)

Were it not for oil, the Middle East would be a patch of warring tribes, vying for space in the desert to graze their camels and pitch their tents. True, they would fight each other and steal cattle and women but the rest of the world would take little notice of them.

Oil has brought enormous wealth. This has gone to their tiny heads. They are punching way above their collective weight. As the old saying goes: the higher the monkey climbs, the harder it falls. With their patron saint Donald Trump to be soon booted out of the White House, there is considerable panic in such capitals as Riyadh, Cairo and Abu Dhabi.

Let us begin with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that “normalized” relations with the Zionist entity last September. It was a trial balloon of sorts for Saudi Arabia that is reluctant to take a public plunge because of its ramifications for the kingdom. The UAE crown prince, Mohammad bin Zayed (MbZ) acts as mentor for his Saudi counterpart, the younger and more impulsive Mohammad bin Salman (MbS). We are in the age of bins—BS, BZ, BN etc. They all rightly belong in the dustbin, but that discussion must wait for another day.

Saudi Arabia’s current policies are largely dictated by MbZ, with disastrous consequences, one might add. BZ considers himself some kind of a whiz kid but given the tiny size of his emirate—the UAE—he feels he must have a larger platform to act on. MbS’ war on Yemen, deep animosity toward Iran, blockade of Qatar, sucking up to Trump, taking on Turkey or cozying up to Israel are all the brainchild of MbZ. The clampdown at home and instituting policies of vulgarity are also all dictated by MbZ.

Not one of them has succeeded. MbZ pulled Emirati troops out of Yemen leaving the Saudis to hold the bag. The total reliance on Trump was also crafted by Yusuf al-Otaibi, the long-time UAE ambassador to Washington. It was predicated on the belief that Trump would remain in the White House for eight years. True, Trump might have won a second term had it not been for his gross mishandling of the pandemic, but the fact is he is out. President-elect Joe Biden has made no secret of his unhappiness with MbS and his noxious ways.

This has made MbS extremely nervous. He asked his aged and ailing father to reach out to Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan during the virtual G20 summit in November. King Salman, unable to strike any coherent conversation, asked Erdogan that their foreign ministers should meet to iron out differences. Soon thereafter, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan also announced that there was no boycott of Turkish goods!

MbS’ fear is that the Turks have damning evidence against him in the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul two years ago. The American CIA has also named MbS for the murder. So far, he was shielded by Trump but this would not be the case going forward, hence the desperate attempts to mend fences with Turkey.

Similar soothing noises have been made toward Qatar. Will anything tangible come out of this is not yet clear. Qatar has managed to survive despite a Saudi-led blockade since July 2017. Further, Doha has moved closer to both Turkey and Iran that immediately stepped in to provide desperately-needed goods that the Saudis had blocked. Qatar also signed in November a multi-billion-dollar deal with Turkey investing in real estate and other ventures, providing much-needed relief to Turkey’s struggling economy. Thus, Saudi policy toward Turkey has also run aground, hence the move to mend fences.

It is in Yemen that MbS feels most vulnerable. As defence minister, it is his war but he has failed miserably. His appeal to the Egyptian dictator, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for troops to help in Yemen was rebuffed. Sisi is smarting because the UAE has “normalized” relations with the Zionist entity that has made the Suez Canal virtually redundant. Israel now trades directly with the UAE and through it with other countries in the Middle East.

The failure in Yemen also exposes MbS at home. Jailing of a large number of people including members of the royal family has created huge resentment against MbS. His failure in Yemen will also be used against him. And Biden has made clear, he wants to see the war on Yemen end soon.

While MbS and MbZ are running for protection to Israel, this has its own negative consequences, at least for the Saudis. They have donned the mantle of ‘Protectors of the Two Holy Mosques’ but publicly embracing the Zionists is a red line for the vast majority of Muslims worldwide. Imagine Israeli soldiers running around in Makkah and al-Madinah. Muslims would be incensed.

When policy matters are left in the hands of children, disasters will follow. ‘The higher the monkey climbs, the harder it falls’, as we mentioned at the beginning of this article.

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