“Saudi Arabia has reportedly invoked a treaty with Sunni-dominated Pakistan to secure troops to stabilize both Bahrain and its own oil-rich eastern provinces. …….. However, pressure from Saudi Arabia and the Shiite population in southern Turkey are forcing Ankara to re-evaluate its ties with Tehran……. Pakistan, of course, has often presented itself as the “sword of the Islamic world” given its nuclear weapons capability. However, its military prowess has been propelled as much by Saudi petrodollars as by American and Chinese aid. In return, Saudi Arabia has over the years relied on Pakistanis to man its own military and has a treaty agreement with Pakistan that mandates the release of up to 30,000 Pakistani troops for the defense of Saudi interests should the need arise. This treaty has reportedly now been invoked, with up to two divisions of regular Pakistani army troops on standby, ready to head for Bahrain and eastern Saudi Arabia……..”
This growing sectarian escalation is the greatest success of the al-Saud dynasty in many years, perhaps the greatest ever. Only by dividing first the peoples of the Gulf region, then of the Arab world, then of the wider Islamic world, could the al-Saud disrupt and forestall the Arab revolutions, this sputtering Arab Spring. They did not need much work on their own people inside the Arabian Peninsula, generations of Wahhabi-influenced education has taken care of that: to some people in, say, Nejd, most residents of the Eastern Province might as well be Martians. Most of the Gulf region had been peaceful, in a sectarian way, with little tension between Shi’a and Sunnis for decades, since my childhood: even during the Iran-Iraq war when Saddam and his Ba’ath had huge following in my own home town, up to August 1990. (I was not one of this huge following).
The real sectarian tensions started escalating with the rise of the Salafi movement. Born in the realm of the al-Saud dynasty, Salafis got a lot of support from the Gulf dynasties, and for some good but short-sighted reasons. Salafi doctrine, developed in Saudi Arabia, preaches absolute loyalty to the rulers, no matter how rotten and corrupt, as long as the ruler is a good Muslim. This is, in my view, an opportunistic distortion of the Prophets teachings (the Hadith). A good Muslim to a Salafi is someone who builds a lot of mosques and teaches students along the Salafi orthodoxy, period. The latter is not always mandatory: Salafi palms can be greased as easily as other palms. The Salafis, rabidly xenophobic and especially anti-Shi’a, were adopted by various Gulf oligarchies as counterweight to other components of society. They have been a corruptible, a very touchable, counterweight. In most states they were used as a counterweight to the secular pan-Arabs, to the socialists who usually complained of corruption and despotism. In others, especially Bahrain, they were invited in, encouraged, and used to counter not only the Shi’a majority but also the traditionally strong multi-sect secular opposition.
Expanding the sectarian tensions beyond the tribal and sectarian societies of the Persian-American Gulf is quite a coup for the al-Saud dynasty. They have managed to change the subject in the Gulf from revolution and reform to sectarian fear. They would like to expand that division across the whole region. They have the money and the most massive media in the third world with a bought army of journalists and academics disseminating their propaganda.
Perhaps the growing military and political shadow of the Iranian regime helped them along. The Iranian threat is in my view quite exaggerated, given that Western military bases and fleets are crowding the Gulf and ringing Iran from all sides. Iran is a worry, no doubt, but it has been convenient for Gulf despots to exaggerate it and frighten their peoples into the arms of al-Saud dynasty. I doubt that a prominent Iranian mullah can now go for a ride or talk in his cell phone without someone in the West knowing about it.
Expanding the Shi’a-Sunni tensions to the wider Muslim world plays well into the al-Saud and Salafi hands. Ironically, I don’t believe it has as much traction in most Arab states beyond the Gulf. It is strictly a tribal Gulf thing that can have some traction in divided and Salafi-rich Pakistan, but not in places like Tunisia or even Egypt.
A successful strategy by the al-Saud, but it is a short term one. Fear and divisiveness are no substitute for reform or revolution.