The Chaos in The Kingdom?

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The Chaos in The Kingdom?
Article 35-A
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Analysts are of the opinion that the oil is to remain in the $45-55 range in 2017 & 2018. However, the events will surely push oil prices forward.  A study conducted at Seaport Global Securities maintained that $70 was now more likely for oil than a drop back down to $50.


Sumera B. Reshi

There is squabbling in the House of Saud, the royal family of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman has struck again by dismissing several senior ministers and detaining over 11 princes and 38 officials at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Riyadh.  The detention of these high-ranking, wealthy Saudi Arabian officials indicated the initiation of impulsive events that have climaxed in the most precarious situation in the Gulf in 50 years.

With Tunisia and Egypt shaken by mass protests, Middle East rulers have been busy making concessions in an effort to placate their people and prevent their regimes from collapsing. One country stands apart from the rest, at least on the surface, that is Saudi Arabia.

The current turmoil has engulfed Jordan, Bahrain, Yemen, Iran and Lebanon. The Saudi political arena seems relaxed.  The message coming from the government officials demonstrates suspicion of intentions of the protesters and support for the regime.

Moreover, Saad Hariri, Ex-Prime Minister of Lebanon, who is a Saudi national with a Saudi passport announced his resignation from his premiership in Lebanon on Saudi national television channel. He cited the danger to his life as the reason for his resignation. He said the threat to life comes from Hezbollah. Hariri’s resignation surprised power cohorts in Lebanon and Hezbollah as well. Hariri further added that Lebanon was ungovernable as long as Iran interfered in its affairs.

Hariri,  a longtime Saudi Arabia’s ally, was forced to step down to effectively wreck the Prime Minister’s delicate compromised government with the Iran-backed Hezbollah group and in doing so, the kingdom throws Lebanon into potential turmoil, forcing the small nation to become a new front in the regional fight for supremacy between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The move comes at a time when Iran and its allies are seen to have won the proxy war against some of the Saudi-backed forces in neighboring Syria.

Further, Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince is in the spotlight since he vowed to leave his stamp on the region through an ambitious plan to prevent his country of oil and assertive foreign policy. Also, it intensifies the battle for influences between Saudi Arabia and Iran as they fight. 

The Saudi Prince has asserted to transform Saudi Arabia into an economically sustainable country since Saudi Arabia faces the multitude of long-term issues crucial to its survival as an economic and political power. On the economic front, the country has to face challenges in future since its oil reserves will no longer be capable of sustaining the country.

Analysts are of the opinion that the oil is to remain in the $45-55 range in 2017 & 2018. However, the events will surely push oil prices forward.  A study conducted at Seaport Global Securities maintained that $70 was now more likely for oil than a drop back down to $50.

The events in Saudi Arabia might lead to turbulent politics. In June this year, King Salman named Mohammed bin Salman crown prince. The succession had been unclear and murky. King Salman’s declaration that his son Mohammed would succeed him, shook the extended family.

Mohammed, 32 was already serving as the defense minister since 2015. The day King Salman declared Mohammed his heir; he (Mohammed) took the charge of the state affairs. He talked highly about modernizing the Kingdom and allowed women to drive as was promised by his father King Salman. He and his father also cracked down severely on corruption.

Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman — the 32-year-old known as “MBS” who will take over when King Salman, 81, abdicates the throne later this year or early next — is seen by analysts as the man behind those moves in an effort to consolidate power to his family and its allies before he takes the throne.

Since 2015, crown prince Mohammed has been behind an aggressive endeavour to reassert dominance in the region in the face of an increasingly assertive Iran. He actually engineered Saudi Arabia’s war with Iran backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Hariri’s resignation is also a part of the plan of the broader strategy of keeping Iran hovering.

According to a senior fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, Tamara Cofman Wittes, crown prince Mohammad bin Salman has taken a very assertive approach to Saudi foreign policy. “It is happening simultaneously with his efforts to consolidate internal control”, Tamara added.

Saudi Arabia under crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has been escalating hostility with Shia powerhouse Iran. These two regional powers are supporting rival sides in countries across the region, thus worsening conflicts in Yemen, Syria and elsewhere.

Both Saudi Arabia and Iran are playing proxies in Lebanon, however, Lebanon has tried to prevent those tensions from blowing up into full-scale violence in a country still unnerved by memories from 1975-1990 civil war. Further, Shia rebellion group Hezbollah dominates Lebanon, however, they have not tried to inflame the Sunni community, which in turn has avoided crossing the armed group. Now there is a growing fear among some Lebanese that Saudi Arabia might disturb the balance and try to compensate for losses incurred on them in proxy wars in the region.

In addition, Hezbollah and other Iranian backed fighters allied with the Syrian regime in Syria and have succeeded in recapturing large areas and are working to take a much-prized land corridor from Tehran to the Mediterranean through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. On the contrary, Saudi Arabia has been stuck in a futile war in Yemen against Iranian backed Shia rebels. Also, Saudi Arabia has failed to isolate Qatar and achieve its goals.

Since Saudi Arabia is outraged with Iranian backed Houthi rebel in Yemen who struck missile in Riyadh, so Saudi Arabia announced temporary closure of all of Yemen’s ground, sea and airports. It is believed that the blockade will exacerbate the already dire humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Yemen has already suffered in two devastating years of civil war. Additionally, there is an outbreak of cholera and it is estimated that roughly 7 million Yemenis are on the brink of a famine, according to aid workers.

Also, Carnegie’s Middle East Program visiting scholar, Bahout warned that Saudi Arabia is seeking ways to compensate for the loss of Syria as a place where it could bleed Iran. He further added that “A renewed desire to reverse their regional fortunes could lead them to try regaining a foothold in Lebanon”.

Keeping the region politics in view, Saudi authorities have vowed to squash Hezbollah and recently have been inciting Lebanese to rise up against the Shiite militant group. Saudi Arabia, which along with Western nations considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization, says the group should not be part of a future Lebanese government.

Hezbollah’s leader has been one of the kingdom’s harshest critics, and it is not uncommon for Hezbollah supporters to chant “Death to Al Saud” at their rallies — a reference to the Saudi royal family.

Moreover, Hariri’s resignation could mean another long period without a government for Lebanon. At this precise juncture, Lebanese economy is struggling under a public debt that has reached more than $75 billion — 140 per cent of its gross domestic product, a debt-to-GDP ratio that is among the highest in the world.

Lebanon comprises of many ethnic groups and not a single ethnic group can rule the country. According to Lebanon’s power-sharing deal, the president should be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni and the parliament speaker a Shiite. But given Hariri’s wide support among Sunnis, it may be difficult for any Sunni politician to assume the post of a Prime Minister without alienating the Sunni community. It will be impossible to form a cabinet without Hezbollah since the militant group and its allies enjoy wide support among both Shiites and Christians.

Under the young leadership of bin Salman, Saudi Arabia has gone from micro-managing the Syria opposition to losing interest in the rebels altogether. Everywhere in the Middle East, bin Salman has earned another title: the Prince of Chaos. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman only listens to his mentor, Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi. Bin Zayed gave bin Salman two advises in order to reach to the higher power echelons. One is to open the channels of communication with Israel and another to diminish the power of the religious authorities in the Kingdom.    

Bin Salman has already started communication with the Israel. Under bin Salman, the kingdom has started trade links with Tel Aviv.

Secondly, the Crown Prince has shrunken the influence of the religious clerics. Thus, bin Salman has acted upon the advice of his mentor to gain power. Furthermore, bin Salman-bin Zayef axis accidentally shapes new alliance to counter their dominance. The closure of Saudi borders with Qatar has already hastened the arrival of Turkish troops in Doha. If the bitterness with Qatar persists, it might force Turkey, Kuwait and Oman to reconcile with Iran. Fissures created by the Syrian war between Hezbollah and Hamas may also be quickly healed.

When King Salman acquired the reins of power, after the death of King Abdullah, it was believed that he could unite Sunnis and provide leadership when the need arises. Instead, with his emergence in the power, all the sections disintegrated and polarized beyond repair. Present upheaval is just a start, let the world watch what the prince of chaos is in offing for his own people and for the entire Middle East. 

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