Saudi Arabia can be saved if the current Saudi rulers see the world for what it is as opposed to clinging to their skewed version of reality.
Former Crown Prince, now King Salman, stated recently that Saudi Arabia (and other Gulf monarchies) is “… passing through the most delicate situation in its history as a result of highly dangerous challenges.”
The unprecedented and unexpected sudden mass revolts in the Arab world (“the Arab Spring”) caught the Saudi oligarchs not only unprepared, but more vulnerable than at any time in their history.
Having taken their disenfranchised population for granted and purchased protection from external powers and regional defense buffer zones, the Saudi rulers found themselves alone and unprepared after their absolute like-minded supporters and defenders like former President Mubarak of Egypt, were trampled on by their marginalized populations.
The seismic impact of the Arab Spring on the stability and security of the Saudi ruling family also affected the Saudi royals’ relations with their traditional powerful allies, specifically the United States, which came down on the side of the revolting Arab masses, especially in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen.
Instead of looking into the root causes that led to the “Arab Spring” and creating an environment of hope for its ruthlessly oppressed population, the Saudi regime embarked upon a costly and vicious counterrevolution campaign, domestically and regionally. The Saudi monarchy, with the help of some of its neighboring oligarchs, assisted in the overthrow of President Mubarak’s elected successor, sent its troops to crush the revolution in Bahrain and tried to drag the US into undermining the Arab people’s struggle to rid themselves of despotic regimes, some of which were socially and politically less tyrannical than the ruling Saudi political and religious autocracies.
Despite their lucrative payments to recruit dependent and submissive dictatorial substitutes for their fallen comrades in Egypt and elsewhere, to create buffer zones as in Lebanon against Iran and its proxies and despite promises of rewards for Putin of Russia if he were to support their efforts to overthrow the Syrian dictator, the Saudis failed on all fronts. This is due to the Arab peoples’ determined pursuit of their objectives of transforming the Arab world into modern democratic systems, the practice of self-rule which is alien to most Arabs.
Not only did the Saudi rulers fail to recruit supporters to achieve their counterrevolutionary objectives, but they also failed to prevent some of the extremist ideologue groups which they have financed and armed (to topple their Shi’a Alawite enemy in Syria) from joining ISIS, which poses an ominous threat to the kingdom and its rulers.
Gripped by fear of their many enemies, domestically and externally, the Saudi rulers seem to seek help from anyone, including groups they have declared terrorists as this article demonstrates. The autocratic Saudi regime’s desperate attempts to save itself and its kingdom from the many formidable threats encircling them is a matter of fact as summarized in this appraisal,
“From the available data, one may say that the situation in Saudi Arabia is not all good, externally or internally. The crises plaguing the region and surrounding the Saudi regime are taking a serious toll on the kingdom. In Yemen, Riyadh’s rival, the Houthi movement, now controls most of the countries (sic) bordering Saudi Arabia. These countries’ geography and populations are historically linked with Saudi Arabia, especially in the heavily Yemeni Asir region. In Bahrain, the Shiite conflict with the Sunni regime backed by Riyadh is still heating up. The situation in Iraq is on the verge of exploding, with the Islamic State (IS) near the Saudi border, putting the Saudi regime under a kind of geographical siege.”
These threats could be circumvented if the Saudi regime chooses to avert an internal social cataclysm that is likely to prove more calamitous than the consuming carnages in different Arab countries. This means that the Saudi rulers should focus on transforming their autocratic system of governing and on sharing power with all citizens regardless of gender, regional identity, ethnicity or religious orientation. By empowering the people voluntarily, the Saudi monarchs will not only remove major reasons prompting people to resort to the violence of the “Arab Spring,” but will give the Saudi citizens tangible incentives to defend their country.
National unity based on equality, full participation in the decision-making processes and a sense of belonging is the best, safest and cheapest available option to save the country from the spillover of the current contagious and anarchic turmoil in the Arab world. This can be done if all Saudi citizens feel that the country is theirs instead of belonging to the few who think and act as if the state belongs to their families by birthright.
Saudi Arabia can be saved if the current Saudi rulers see the world for what it is as opposed to clinging to their skewed version of reality. To start, the regime should release all peaceful human and political rights activists and those imprisoned for advocating social justice, rule of law, religious freedom and equality. Prominent among the unjustly imprisoned peaceful promoters of political participation, freedom of expression (religious or otherwise) and social justice are the founders and members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, as well as lawyer Abu-Alkhair, Raif Badawi, Souad Al-Shamari and Shaikhs Al-Rashudi and Al-Nimr, just to name a few.
This group along with many well-known patriotic and peaceful reform minded Saudi men and women, such Hatoon Al-Fasi, Wajeha Al-Hwaider, Bidriyah Al-Bisher, Samar Badawi, Samar Fatany, the Almaeena brothers, Madawi Al-Rasheed, Ali Aldumaini,Eman Al Nafjan, Khalid Al-Dakheel Faiza Ambah, Fawzia al-Bakr and members of the ruling family such as Princes Talal and Al-Waleed (father and son), Princesses Basma Bint Saud, Amirah Al-Taweel and Adela Bint Abdullah (the King’s daughter), would form an ideal group to construct a framework for transition to a constitutional monarchy along the line of current European monarchies.
This is a logical and pragmatic approach to abort the multitude of external and internal threats facing the country and its people.
Ali Alyami, PhD, 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.