In America, the Middle East wars and rivalries are being waged along the Eastern Seaboard, from Washington to New York and on to Boston. Arab and other Mideast lobbyists, hired public relations firms, media opinionators, and paid think tanks are in full gear. The Saudis (and the UAE) get the lion’s share of it. And we see the results not only in Washington and New York power centers, but also in the media and social media.
Finally a new real Arab Spring is blooming in Saudi Arabia (according to the shoot-from-the-lips Tom Friedman of the N Y Times); the USA must throw its full support behind an invisible “Revolutionary Saudi Prince“, according to old hand Dennis Ross. More American accolades of this kind are being piled on the newish Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
Bin Salman (affectionately and otherwise known as MBS) has certainly shaken the Saudi power structure. But he has achieved the following since his father acceded to power early in 2015:
- Lost any hope of pushing back the expanding Iranian influence and of enabling his favorite Jihadis in Syria. He lost the Syrian war to Assad, Iran, Hezbollah, and their allies.
- He screwed up the tense and balanced situation in Lebanon. The man whom Hezbollah (the Iranian mullah’s staunch ally) wanted became the Christian president of Lebanon. In exchange, a Saudi ally and business partner, Saad Hariri, was recalled from Paris to become prime minister. He reached an accommodation with the other Lebanese factions, including the largest party: Hezbollah. Prince MBS was upset and summoned him to Riyadh the day after he met a high Iranian official in Beirut. Riyadh, where Saad Hariri vanished into some sort of weird captivity (he is also a naturalized Saudi and French citizen).
- Where is Hariri, asked Waldo (and most Lebanese)? Finally he surfaced in front of a Saudi television camera inside a Saudi TV station. He looked numb, confused, nervous as he read an odd declaration of (forced) resignation that could have only been written by the Saudis, with the usual atrocious Arabic grammar and terms. Even Donald Trump’s speechwriter can probably do better, in Arabic.
It took an uproar in Lebanon, in France , and even in Washington and a visit by French president Macron for the Saudis to release the prime minister of Lebanon and let him fly to Paris and then to Lebanon. Quite a ride.
- Well before that, prince MBS had started on his worst and longest foreign adventure (no, not the honeymoon nor the half-billion-dollar yacht nor the half-billion-dollar Da Vinci’a Salvator Mundi painting). As soon as he was appointed Defense Minister by his daddy in 2015, he started a fierce but predictably futile war on Yemen. That genocidal war has been waged for three years now, with active American and some British help, under both Obama and Trump. It is at a stalemate: the ragtag Houthi tribals ruling in Sanaa against the best Western weapons that money can buy, and it is a stalemate. Sort of like Afghanistan, but at a more disastrous cost to human life and infrastructure. A true genocidal war.
- Next came Donald Trump’s poisonous saber-rattling Summit in Riyadh last may, followed by attempts to force a Saudi hegemony on other GCC countries. It started with an attempt to turn Qatar into a Bahrain-like Saudi satrapy. That attempt, a total boycott and blockade of Qatar, backfired spectacularly after Qatar managed to mobilize other countries to help, including Iran, Turkey, and some Western countries.
The Prince’s latest snafu was at home (but overtime it may turn out to be a smart power play). Overnight, many princes and other wealthy Saudi oligarchs were rounded up and locked up at the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton luxury hotel. The same hotel that hosted the Trump clan last May. Normal political activists and other unfortunates are usually thrown in more infamous prisons. But these captives, all high-ranked rival royals and other oligarchs, are used to a different lifestyle. Hence the Ritz-Carlton. No sign reading “Arbeit Macht Frei” over the door for them. Most of them were reportedly conditionally released into internal exile, after they acceded to the shake-up and parted with some of their ill-gotten wealth. They may also have signed some allegiance to the new ruler of the country.
If it lasts, MBS will be the first truly absolute ruler of the kingdom: all the others ruled by some degree of consensus within the inner circle of senior ruling family princes.
On the other hand he is being smart by moving towards some (non-political) freedoms for women. A smart and long-overdue move. Some early crumbs are being thrown to Western sensibilities: a promise to allow women to start driving cars sometime next summer. Maybe. Also opening sports stadiums to women: another good and needed move, no doubt. That should also make (seemingly) powerful women like Ivanka, Maureen, Mika, and maybe even Hillary happy and gushing in their praise. He seems to have gotten most of the major Wahhabi clerics to go along, at least those he had not preemptively jailed beforehand.
A revolution in the true royal fashion indeed…….
Cheers and Happy Saint Valentine’s Day, Al Capone……
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum