Gulf Arab Monarchs’ Dashed Hopes

The intent of both the Gulf rulers and the current dominant extremist opposition in Syria is to use the US not to ‘rescue’ the Syrian people as these monarchs and their proxies claim.

gulf leaders

Credit: Xinhua

Championed by the Saudi oligarchy, the oil-rich authoritarian dynasties of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are doing all they can to mobilize the international community, specifically the US, to attack and topple the Syrian Alawite (Shiite) regime, ostensibly to save the Syrian people from their regime’s onslaught.

This is hypocritical to say the least because these regimes, especially the Saudi and Qatari ruling dynasties, have been arming and financing the Syrian opposition groups, some of whom are known terrorists and executioners such as Al-Qaeda and Al-Nusra.

These groups are also supporting an American attack on the Assad regime, on whose defeat they hope to “capitalize,” ascend to power, and turn Syria into a Taliban-like fundamentalist Islamic state.

The intent of both the Gulf rulers and the current dominant extremist opposition in Syria is to use the US not to “rescue” the Syrian people as these monarchs and their proxies claim.

Their objective is to create an environment in which Iran and its Hezbollah proxy in Lebanon, Assad’s major regional supporters, will come to the Alawites’ defense. This could provide the US and/or Israel with a justification to go after Iran’s nuclear and military infrastructure and dismantle Hezbollah’s economic and military capabilities for decades to come. If this were to happen, a scenario that is being shelved at least for now, the Gulf’s ruling dynasties will be in a position to dominate any regime replacing Assad directly or through Sunni jihadi groups.

By dismantling Iran and Hezbollah, Shi’a influence in Arab and Muslim countries will be diminished, providing further opportunities for the Gulf Sunni regimes to expand their influence, especially in Iraq, whose ruling Shi’a regime they consider a threat to their regional economic and strategic domination.

In addition, these Gulf regimes are expecting and perhaps hoping that their oppressed and restive Shi’a citizens will take to the streets, not only to protest against the US attack on their Shi’a brethren, but against their governments’ support for the US attack, if it were to occur. This will provide the Sunni dominated societies with an excuse to clamp down on their Shi’a citizens, as exemplified by the current crackdown in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

The question is, will empowering the Gulf and other Sunni Muslim regimes, and by extension their extremist proxies around the world, bring peace, social justice, and stability to the Greater Middle East? Or will it empower anti-democratic elements and increase sectarian conflict as is occurring in the Gulf States and elsewhere?

Given the current bloody sectarian conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, one would predict that empowering Sunni extremists, whether regimes or individual groups, will not eradicate the root cause of destabilizing sectarianism, the oppression of religious minorities.

However, the authoritarian Gulf regimes’ objectives of overthrowing Assad of Syria and crippling Iran and Hezbollah may not be realized in the near future, if ever. Not only has the US been reluctant to attack Syria, but the GCC overture has been rejected by the Arab League and major world powers.

In August 2013, the top Saudi deal-maker, Prince Bandar, was dispatched to convince President Assad’s staunch supporter, Russia’s President Putin, to let go of Assad’s regime, but Bandar was rebuffed despite lucrative economic and strategic offers by the Saudis. On September 1, 2013, the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal made a passionate plea to the foreign ministers of the 21 members of the Arab League (Syria was expelled from the Arab League in November 2011) to endorse the US intent to attack Assad’s chemical and other military targets, but he was turned down.

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The Saudis and other Gulf rulers claim that their objective is to stop the massacres in Syria. However, the overriding reasons for lack of international support for their campaign against Syria’s Alawite regime include the increasing foreign mistrust of the Saudi monarchy and the international community’s deeper understanding of its intended objectives.

The Saudis have made it clear that their objective is to foster a regime in Syria that they can control and use as a bargaining tool. This is why the intense Saudi efforts to topple Assad at any cost are met with cynicism among Arabs, Muslims, and major world powers, especially Western democracies.

Despite overt praises for the Saudis by their Western supporters, the US and European governments are becoming more suspicious of and less susceptible to Saudi pressure. This is partially due to discoveries of more energy sources and decreasing dependence on Saudi oil.

The West no longer relies on Saudi territory for military bases and surveillance facilities. The bulk of the West’s military installations have been relocated to neighboring countries such as Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, UAE, and some former Soviet Asian territories. Moreover, the West has realized that it’s only a matter of time before the Arab revolutionary fervor engulfs the Gulf Arab autocratic ruling dynasties.

Western democratic governments’ beneficial economic collaborations with the despotic ruling Arab dynasties of the Persian Gulf have lasted for more than a century. However, these arrangements were destined to take a jarring nose-dive because the relationships were based on greed, manipulation, and mistrust.

The democratic West was (and still is) mostly interested in economic gains regardless of how it’s obtained and at whose expense. The autocratic Gulf Arab rulers were (and still are) interested in sharing the loot and buying protection to stay in power by oppressing their populations.

This century’s old collaboration is fraying because of rapidly evolving domestic, regional and global variables. Prominent among these variables are the Gulf peoples’ increased restlessness due to their awareness of their usurped rights, their autocratic regimes’ mismanagement of national wealth, women’s insistent demands for their rights, as well as political and sectarian repression.

These factors, combined with the West’s decreasing dependence on the Gulf rulers and the ongoing revolt of the Arab masses against tyranny, have created a new environment in which the West has been compelled to re-evaluate its commitment to these autocrats who are heading for a disastrous end.

Dr. Ali Alyami is the founder and executive director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, CDHR, in Washington, DC. CDHR focuses on promoting peaceful and incremental democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia, including empowerment of women, religious freedom, free flow of information, free movement, free press, privatization of government industries, free elections, non-sectarian constitution, and codified rule of law, transparency and accountability. Read other articles by Ali.