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War and change in Saudi Arabia

By       Message Brian M Downing       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   6 comments

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From Wars in the Middle East have been the rule for several decades, but signs of change are beginning to appear.
Wars in the Middle East have been the rule for several decades, but signs of change are beginning to appear.
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p>Wars bring formidable changes to countries, even if they are fortunate enough not to have fighting on their own soil. The US was transformed by the Second World War and Vietnam, both politically and culturally, in the course of only a few years. The Middle East was changed by both world wars, seeing European political collapse and colonization after the first and decolonization and strategic ascendance after the second.

Wars in the Middle East have been the rule for several decades now and are likely to continue for years to come. Signs of change are beginning to appear, most importantly in the center of the Sunni world and of the reaction against democracy -- Saudi Arabia.

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Increased sectarian hostility

Hostility between Sunnis and Shias may be the highest in centuries. Simmering over the years, hostility was heightened by the Iranian Revolution (1979) and Khomeini's call for uprisings across the Islamic world. Though the Iranian leader's exhortation was for all muslims to rise up, it was seen as a call for Shia uprisings. Little wonder, then, that the Sunni monarchies supported Saddam Hussein's 1980 invasion of Iran and the ensuing years of bitter war.

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Arab Spring demonstrations in the Sunni monarchies were seen through a highly sectarian lens and though both sects marched for political change, the princes saw Iranian-Shia subterfuge at hand. The princes have formed a league, headed by Riyadh, to fight democracy and Shias. The ascendance of ISIL has led them to coordinate their militaries to fight ISIL and Iran, though the latter is the former's most formidable enemy.

Centered in the Eastern Province and the Yemeni frontier, the Shia of Saudi Arabia, are looked upon with suspicion, surveillance, and oppression. This may lead to a self-fulfilled prophecy as the Shias fight back and look to Tehran for support.


Riyadh's dogged opposition to reform stems not only from sectarian concern, but also from the fear that democracy will lead to regional unrest and increasingly open opposition to the rule of a privileged family. The Saud family has sought to increase its popularity by presenting themselves as defenders of the Sunni world and fighting Shias in Syria and Yemen.

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The air campaign against the Shias in Yemen has been popular. Saudis follow war news avidly and lionize their pilots. The effect is legitimization for the House of Saud, However, the air campaign has thus far brought no results and enthusiasm may dwindle. Questions are bound to arise about the reluctance to use ground troops and the competence of the lavishly appointed army led by the illustrious but unqualified sons of Saud.

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Brian M Downing is a national security analyst who has written for outlets across the political spectrum. He studied at Georgetown University and the University of Chicago, and did post-graduate work at Harvard's Center for International (more...)

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