by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 43, No. 12, Rabi' al-Thani, 1436)
While no individual is indispensable, the Saudi regime is facing serious internal and external challenges that point toward its demise sooner rather than later.
Accolades heaped by Western rulers on the recently deceased Saudi King Abdullah are so detached from reality that one wonders which king they are really talking about. He was described as a “modernizer,” “reformer,” “peacemaker” and “advocate for women.” One can think of a number of other adjectives that would more accurately describe the late king such as “oppressor,” “flogger” and “head-chopper.”
It is not surprising why Western rulers would describe the king in such glowing terms. The “Saudi” kingdom is a British creation and currently serves as a US-Zionist colony. Never mind if there is no freedom for its people; that is of no concern to Western drumbeaters of freedom of expression. Women are not allowed to drive; they are not even allowed to leave the house without the husband or father’s permission. People are forbidden, under threat of punishment, if they call for reform of the Kingdom’s archaic system. At the end of December 2013, the king signed a decree that made it a criminal offence to call for reforms, expose corruption in the Kingdom or withdraw allegiance from the king!
The Kingdom claims its constitution — the one bequeathed by King Fahd in 1992 — is based on the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh). The Qur’an calls on Muslims to follow the teachings contained therein (3:83; 3:102; 4:59 and many other ayat) and obey the Prophet (pbuh) (3:31; 3:132; 4:80). The Qur’an also condemns corruption in the strongest possible terms (Surah al-Mutaffifin). Further, according to the Qur’an, there is no kingship in Islam for kings “corrupt the land” (27:34). So how can Saudi rulers claim on the one hand to be ruled by the Qur’an and on the other claim to be a monarchy headed by a king? This in their parlance should be a mega-bid‘ah.
So how can Saudi rulers claim on the one hand to be ruled by the Qur’an and on the other claim to be a monarchy headed by a king?
The Kingdom, however, has entered a turbulent period of its tortuous existence. It was founded on three pillars by ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Saud: subservience to the British (extended since 1945 to the Americans as well); alliance with the Wahhabi parochial religious establishment and alliance with the tribes. Even before Abdullah’s death, these pillars had become wobbly. True, US President Barack Obama arrived in Riyadh for a four-hour visit on January 28 to offer condolences for Abdullah’s death but his body language betrayed unease. Gone was the warmth that had characterized earlier relations. Regional developments — Syria, Yemen, etc. — are also not going in its favor.
For the Saudis, the real worry, however, is internal. Recent years have witnessed massive discontent. Intellectuals have made polite but firm demands for political reforms. While the regime has rebuffed them and put 30,000 people in prison, it has not dampened their demands. The lava of resentment is building up and will erupt with such fury that it will sweep away the ruling family. This is no wishful thinking.
Despite its huge oil income ($250 billion annually) and reserves totaling $750 billion, there is much poverty in the Kingdom. Unemployment, especially among youth stands at 30%. Highly qualified Saudis — Masters and PhD holders from foreign universities — cannot find jobs while uneducated “princes” live a rapaciously extravagant lifestyle.
The real problem for the ruling family is the souring of ‘ulama. This was most graphically illustrated by a declaration by a group of ‘ulama in early August 2013 denouncing the military coup in Egypt. Without mincing words, the ‘ulama also denounced governments that supported the coup. The Saudi regime had dished out $5 billion immediately after the coup and then put together an aid package together with its regional allies of the Persian Gulf shaykhdoms totaling $20 billion. The ‘ulama condemnation of the coup and the governments that supported it was not lost on the ruling family. Dozens of ‘ulama languish in prison, the first breach occurring in 1990 with the locust-like invasion of the Arabian Peninsula by American forces in the aftermath of Saddam Husain’s occupation of Kuwait.
While the regime has used access to the media, especially radio and television, as a carrot to keep the ‘ulama on the narrow path, this may be losing its appeal. Social media — the internet, Facebook and Twitter — has revolutionized communications even in the primitive kingdom. While the bone-lazy “royals” may not be up to speed with the social media, the ‘ulama have not lagged behind. They are using it as an effective tool. Most Saudi citizens are also making good use of it. Criticism of the regime has intensified, often going viral over specific issues, such as low income or corruption in the Kingdom.
Once a critical mass of ‘ulama musters enough courage to stand up for truth and justice, the regime would have a great deal of difficulty surviving. After all, for decades, the regime insisted that people must listen to the ‘ulama. As long as the ‘ulama said “obey the rulers,” this was fine. If the ‘ulama now say that the rulers have lost legitimacy, what argument would the family have?
The tribes are also unhappy. With fast breeding — there are more than 7,000 members of the House of Saud comprising sons and grandsons today — they are usurping almost all the resources and hogging positions in the Kingdom with little room left for others. Greed has no limits; the Saudis are no exception, in fact typical.
Abdullah’s death, though expected since he was over 90, has come at a difficult time. Discontent in the social media or women’s demand to be able to drive cars, are minor issues compared to the danger posed by the takfiris. They are a Saudi creation but the monster has now grown so big that like Frankenstein, it threatens the creator itself.
The appointment of Mohammed bin Nayef as Deputy Crown Prince points to the family’s woes. As Interior Minister he is better placed than others to deal with the internal threat but he faces stiff competition from other royals. They all know the stakes are very high: winner takes all. They will not give up so easily. In this mad scramble for power — and hence riches — the family feud may prove fatal, exacerbated by fire-breathing takfiris, internal discontent, high unemployment, floggings and public beheadings. More than 80 people were beheaded last year. With oil prices dropping like a dead stone and the new King Salman suffering from dementia, it is a recipe for the much hoped-for demise of the dynasty.