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Counterproductive Reactive Saudi Policies

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By Nicola Nasser*

Writing in The Washington Post on February 27, 2011, Rachel Bronson asked: "Could the next Mideast uprising happen in Saudi Arabia?" Her answer was: " The notion of a revolution in the Saudi kingdom seems unthinkable."

However, On September 30 the next year, the senior foreign policy fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy Bruce Riedel concluded that the "revolution in Saudi Arabia is no longer unthinkable."

To preempt such a possibility, the kingdom in March 2011, in a "military" move to curb the tide of the Arab popular uprisings which raged across the Arab world from sweeping to its doorsteps, the kingdom sent troops to Bahrain to quell similar popular protests.

That rapid reactive Saudi military move into Bahrain heralded a series of reactions that analysts describe as an ongoing Saudi-led counterrevolution.

Amid a continuing succession process in Saudi Arabia, while major socioeconomic and political challenges loom large regionally, the kingdom is looking for security as far away as China, but blinded to the shortest way to its stability in its immediate proximity, where regional understanding with its geopolitical Arab and Muslim neighborhood would secure the kingdom and save it a wealth of assets squandered on unguaranteed guarantees.

In his quest to contain any fallout from the "Arab Spring," Saudi King Abdullah Ben Abdel-Aziz selectively proposed inviting the kingdoms of Jordan and Morocco to join the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, known as the   Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), leading The Economist on May 19, 2011 to joke that the organization should be renamed the "Gulf Counter-Revolutionary Club." For sure including Iraq and Yemen would be a much better addition if better security was the goal.

 


Saudi King Abdullah Ben Abdel-Aziz and US President Barak Obama
(image by Google archives)

Ahead of US President Barak Obama's official visit to the kingdom by the end of this March, Saudi Arabia was looking " forward to China as an international magnate with a great political and economic weight to play a prominent role in achieving peace and security in the region," according to Defense Minister and Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud who was in Beijing from March 13 to 16 "to enhance cooperation with China to protect peace, security and stability in the region." He was quoted by a   statement from the Saudi Press Agency .

Prince Salman was in Japan from 18-21 last February, hopefully to deepen bilateral cooperation "in various fields." On February 26, India and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement to strengthen co-operation in military training, logistics supplies and exchange of defense-related information. On last January 23, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia  signed a defense cooperation agreement,   the first of its kind.

While a strong Saudi-Pakistan defense partnership has existed for long, it has been upgraded recently. Princes Salman and Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal arrived in Pakistan on February 15. Pakistani army chief General Raheel Sharif was in Saudi Arabia earlier. Director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC, Tufail Ahmad, wrote on this March 11 that "the upswing in the relationship marks a qualitative change," hinting that the kingdom could be seeking Pakistan's nuclear capabilities to "counter a nuclear-capable Iran" despite Islamabad's denial, which "is not reliable." The kingdom is moving "to transform itself as a regional military power," Sharif wrote.

On this March 14, the Financial Times reported that Saudi Arabia has given $1.5 billion (Dh5.5 billion) to Pakistan. In February a senior Pakistani intelligence official told the   Financial Times   that Saudi Arabia was seeking "a large number of [Pakistani] troops to support its campaign along the Yemeni border and for internal security." The official confirmed that Pakistan's agreement, during Prince Salman's visit, to support the establishment of a "transitional governing body" in Syria was an important aspect of the deal.

On this March 5, the kingdom led two other members of the six-member GCC, namely the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, to withdraw their ambassadors from Qatar, risking the survival of the GCC.

Hunting two French and Lebanese birds with one shot, the kingdom early last January pledged a $3 billion royal grant, estimated to be two-time the entire military budget of Lebanon, to buy French weapons for the Lebanese Army.

The Saudi multi-billion dollar support to the change of guards in Egypt early last July and the kingdom's subscription to Egypt's make or break campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) inside and outside the country following the ouster of the MB's former president Mohammed Morsi reveal a much more important Saudi strategic and security unsigned accord with Egypt's new rulers.

On the outset of the so-called "Arab Spring," the kingdom also bailed out Bahrain and the Sultanate of Omen with more multi-billion petrodollars to buy the loyalty of their population.

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*Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist in Kuwait, Jordan, UAE and Palestine. He is based in Ramallah, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.
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