by Yusuf Dhia-Allah (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 40, No. 9, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1432)
How tight are US-Saudi relations? Here is a clue. While former US President George Bush would publicly hold hands with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and even touch noses like birds before mating, his successor Barack Obama also made his first overseas trip to Saudi Arabia before he landed in Cairo for his now-forgotten speech delivered on June 4, 2009.
How tight are US-Saudi relations? Here is a clue. While former US President George Bush would publicly hold hands with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and even touch noses like birds before mating, his successor Barack Obama also made his first overseas trip to Saudi Arabia before he landed in Cairo for his now-forgotten speech delivered on June 4, 2009. The deep links between the House of Saud and the House of Bush are well known but what about Obama’s pilgrimage to Riyadh? Surely it was not because Barack “Husain” Obama is a closet Muslim; otherwise his detractors, of whom there is no shortage, would have pounced on him!
What is so special about the special relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia? The US claims to be a superpower, although recent developments put it in the category of has-beens, while Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy whose rulers are afraid of everything including their own shadows. On the surface, there is little that binds them but this would be a misreading of the situation. For the US, Saudi Arabia is not only a cash cow but also the lynchpin of its Muslim East policy. For the Saudis, the American relationship is a guarantee against threats — internal and external — to their illegitimate rule. Successive US governments, despite claiming to promote democracy, have underwritten the illegitimate rule of the House of Saud.
While the US has backed uprisings, for its own ulterior motives, against dictators elsewhere in the Muslim East such as Libya and Syria, it has been deafeningly silent about support for any uprising against the House of Saud. In fact, Washington even turned a blind eye when Saudi forces invaded the tiny island state of Bahrain to crush the people’s aspirations last March. Saudi-American policies were one in denying the majority Shi‘i population of Bahrain any basic rights. No democracy for Bahrainis, please, they are Shi‘i.
A toxic nexus has emerged between the US, Saudi Arabia and Zionist Israel in the rapidly changing situation in the Muslim East. If earlier, the Saudis maintained discreet contacts with the Zionists and did not want the rest of the Muslim world to know about this illicit relationship, they now flaunt it as a badge of honor because of the changed political environment. Reasons for change in Saudi attitude vis-à-vis Zionist Israel need exploring but first we must consider recent moves by Riyadh and what drives its policy in the region.
The fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt caused great panic among the ease-loving Saudis. For several weeks, they were in deep shock and could not comprehend the storm that had swept the region knocking down tents and other institutional pillars so quickly, especially one of the most important pillars of the US-crafted order in the region: the Mubarak regime. But the Saudis realized little would be gained by sulking in the tent, or in their case, the palaces. They needed to act, and fast. While apprehensive about taking a military gamble following their humiliation at the hands of Houthi tribesmen in Yemen in December 2009, they were left with little choice if they had to save their regime. By sending their troops to Bahrain, the Saudis took a huge gamble but it paid off, at least in the short term. The Americans and the British were also on hand to lend support.
Since then, the Saudis have become much bolder. Realizing that inaction would be suicidal, King Abdullah announced a $37 billion package to bribe his own citizens when he returned to the kingdom last February. This translates into $2,000 for every Saudi. Two-thirds of the Saudi population is below the age of 30 and more than 40% of Saudis between 18 and 40 are unemployed. This is a ticking time bomb that could explode in the face of the House of Saud just as the unemployed youth in Tunisia consigned Zine al-Abidin Ben Ali into the dustbin of history, or sent him to the dust bowl of Saudi Arabia. Saudi princes live in extreme opulence while a large number of ordinary people languish in poverty.
Abdullah had been away for three months, first for back surgery in the US and thereafter recuperating in Morocco. At age 87, he already has one foot in the grave. His $37 billion bribery package was followed by another $60 billion, pledged to build 500,000 houses within the next five years. While this would meet only half the need, it appears to have bought the regime some breathing space. Concurrently, the Saudi media launched a vicious anti-Shi‘i campaign against Islamic Iran. The Saudis are notorious for stoking sectarianism. Regrettably, there are also some Muslims in the world that fall for this kind of propaganda. The sectarian card helps the regime divert attention away from its own failings by focusing on an alleged external threat. The Saudis have presented the Islamic awakening sweeping the Muslim East as an Iranian inspired plot. There is little doubt that changes in the region would benefit Iran when Western-backed puppets are driven from power but Iran did not directly instigate these uprisings. If the people have been inspired by Iran’s example, that is to be commended. The uprisings have weakened the old guard, propped up by the West for decades.
The sectarian card also helps the Saudis crush internal dissent, especially one that emanates in the Eastern provinces where the Shi‘is are a majority. This is the oil-producing region that accounts for the $300 billion in oil revenues annually but the people of the region have seen little benefit from this wealth. The thousands of Saudi “royals” believe this is a family fortune and consume much of this wealth as they please. The aid packages announced by Abdullah earlier this year were presented as a favor to the people when in fact this wealth belongs to the masses in the first place.
There are other factors as well behind the US’s deep involvement in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom has invested at least $1 trillion in the US. Additionally, as the largest oil producer in the Organization of Petroleum Producing Countries (OPEC), Saudi Arabia determines the price of oil. At the US’s behest, it deliberately keeps the price low by pumping excess oil. This is a direct transfer of billions of dollars from the producers to the consumers each year. The US consumes about 19 million barrels of oil every 24 hours, half of them imported. Saudi Arabia accounts for about 12% of US oil imports.
And then there are the arms deals. Since 1945, Saudi Arabia has purchased more than $100 billion in weapons from the US. Last year, the Saudis signed another deal worth $60 billion to buy US military equipment over the next 30 years. Who will the Saudis use these weapons against, certainly not against Zionist Israel with which the Saudis are in an unholy alliance against Muslims? Some of these weapons were used against the Houthi tribesmen in Yemen in December 2009, not to any great effect because of the incompetence of Saudi troops. Hundreds of Saudi troops surrendered to the Houthi tribesmen and the regime in Riyadh had to beg them to release their soldiers.
In recent months, the Saudis have used these lethal weapons to crush peaceful protesters in Bahrain. So we can see what purpose these weapons serve. They are meant for use against Muslims, especially in the event of an imaginary threat from Islamic Iran. The latter has repeatedly stressed that it has no desire to start fights with its neighbors. History bears this out. Iran has not attacked any country in the last 200 years. Instead, it has been the victim of aggression, the most recent of which was the Ba‘athist invasion launched in September 1980 by the now-dead (hanged) Saddam Husain at the behest of the illegitimate Arabian rulers and their Western masters in Washington, London and Paris.
Internally, the House of Saud faces three challenges. The first comes from the long-oppressed Shi‘is in the East. The second emanates from the disenfranchised women whose plight also finds resonance in the West. And finally, the age factor. Most senior princes in the kingdom are in their 70s or 80s. There is a serious succession battle looming on the horizon. While the House of Saud has so far managed to conduct its internal battles in great secrecy, this time it will not be behind the high walls of the palaces because the stakes are so high. This battle will also likely get impetus from the Islamic awakening sweeping the region.
Who will emerge on top is difficult to predict at this stage. One thing is certain. Even Uncle Sam will not be able to offer much help in this messy internal fight. Once Abdullah is buried, the count down to the brutal fight among the Saudi “royals” is likely to explode into the open. We can look forward to great excitement as the “royals” throw mud at each other and expose their dirty secrets.
It is possible, indeed quite likely, that Uncle Sam and his illegitimate Zionist offspring may already have groomed a colonel or general in the Saudi armed forces or even in the National Guard to take over in order to preclude the possibility of a prolonged and almost certain bloody succession battle. Neither the US nor Zionist Israel would let go of the Saudi cash cow so easily. This is a question the Muslim Ummah and particularly the Islamic movement needs to ponder. Can the Holy Places of Islam be left at the mercy of the Americans and the Zionists and their equally criminal Saudi allies?