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Saudi Arabia's Weakness Is Showing After a Week of Bad Publicity
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Over the past half century, critics have often predicted the fall of the House of Saud or emphasised the fragility of its rule. They were invariably proved wrong because the Saudi monarchy enjoyed limitless oil revenues, had the support of the US, and avoided becoming a front-line combatant in Middle East crises.

Saudi strengths and weaknesses may have been long debated but the Kingdom’s vulnerabilities have seldom been so starkly on display as they were last Tuesday because the coincidence of two very different events. Before a rally in Mississippi, President Trump stated – brutally and without qualification – the dependence of the Saudi monarchy on US support and the price it must pay for such backing.

“We protect Saudi Arabia,” Trump told the cheering audience. “Would you say they’re rich? And I love the King, King Salman. But I said ‘King – we’re protecting you – you might not be there for two weeks without us – you have to pay for your military’.” Outbursts by Trump tend to be more calculated than they sound and he only humiliates allies in this way when he knows he can get away with it.

Trump’s contemptuous reference to the instability of Saudi Arabia was given greater significance by another dramatic event which happened a few hours earlier some 6,000 miles away in Istanbul. The prominent Saudi journalist and critic of his country’s government, Jamal Khashoggi, failed to emerge from the Saudi consulate where he was doing some paperwork relating to his divorce and impending marriage.

Khashoggi has not been seen since. The Turkish authorities, no doubt delighted to be able to present themselves as defenders of journalistic freedom, say he is still inside the consulate. Saudi officials claim that he left the building, though surveillance cameras prove he did not do so on foot, so, if he did leave, it was presumably in a diplomat’s car, possibly in the boot. Khashoggi’s fiance was left waiting disconsolately outside the consulate gates.

The best that can be hoped for is that the blast of international criticism over the incident will lead Khashoggi to reappear, perhaps denying that he was ever detained. This was the bizarre experience of the Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri in November last year when he disappeared during a visit to Riyadh and resigned his post on television before reappearing thanks to French government pressure.

The fate of Khashoggi, whatever the outcome of the present furore, carries an important message about the present state of Saudi Arabia. If he has been forcibly detained, as the Turkish government says, then it is a self-harming act of stupidity. It elevates him from being a minor irritant to a cause célèbre and a continuing mystery about his whereabouts ensures that the story is not going to go away.

It is early days yet but the Khashoggi disappearance has released a torrent of negative publicity about Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. This was wholly predictable. It is a curious fact about publicity that horrendous events – like the Saudi-led war in Yemen that has brought five million children to the verge of starvation – has failed to make its way to the top of the international news agenda. The slaughter is too great and the place too distant and ill-reported for most people to take on board and react to the horrors underway there.

Something on a smaller scale, like the disappearance of a critic of the Saudi government while his fiance waits for him in the street, is much easier to understand and respond to. Often, the all-too-common disappearance of journalists has the simple objective of silencing them and intimidating others. “Let them hate us so long as they fear us,” is the point being crudely made.

But the crown prince had hoped for a more positive image in the international media and his expectations have seldom been disappointed. Take a look at the piece by The New York Times columnist Thomas L Friedman in November last year about the four hours he spent with him: “We met at night at his family’s ornate adobe-walled palace in Ouja, north of Riyadh,” he writes. He describes Saudi Arabia as being in the throes of its version of the Arab Spring that ‘”will not only change the character of Saudi Arabia but the tone and tenor of Islam across the globe. Only a fool would predict its success – but only a fool would not root for it.”

Khashoggi was one of those fools who balanced between reasoned criticism and outright dissent. Going by Friedman’s account of Saudi public opinion he was a lonely voice because “not a single Saudi I spoke to here over three days expressed anything other than effusive support for this anticorruption drive.” But could it be that this impressive display of unanimity might have something to do with the fact anybody expressing a hint of criticism – like economist Essam al-Zamel – may find themselves clapped in jail on charges of terrorism and treason.

Hagiographic journalistic reports on Saudi Arabia may be more difficult to retail in future in the wake of the Khashoggi scandal. Already, some longtime backers of the country are jumping ship. One of them, Elliott Abrams, is quoted as saying that “the Saudi government is either keeping him [Khashoggi] in the consulate building or has kidnapped him and taken him to Saudi Arabia.” He warns that the reputation of the current Saudi government could “be harmed irreparably.”


The proposed economic reforms in Saudi Arabia have always sounded like wishful thinking. Deep scepticism is the correct approach to government-backed radical change in any country dependent on revenues from oil and other natural resources. Anticorruption campaigns simply redistribute the spoils to a new gang of well-connected predators. Much of the population has got too used to getting well-paid patronage jobs in return for little or no work. Domestic industry and agriculture cannot compete unless heavily subsidised. The system is too convenient to too many to be uprooted: opposition to corruption and patronage gets a thumbs up so long as it involves no personal sacrifice of any kind.

Saudi economic problems are serious, but not necessarily disastrous. More destabilising for the Kingdom is the extent to which Saudi Arabia is now demonstrably operating beyond its real strength in the region as its its more adventurous foreign policy over the last three years backfires.

The list of failures is impressive: Saudi-led bombing in Yemen since 2015 has not defeated the Houthis, but it has produced the greatest manmade famine on earth; increased help for the Syrian armed opposition the same year provoked Russian military intervention and has brought President Bashar al-Assad close to victory; the quarrel with Qatar has weakened all the Gulf monarchies; confrontation with Iran is a conflict that can never be won.

As Mikhail Gorbachev discovered after the first heady days of trying to change the Soviet Union, reforms are more likely to capsize an existing systems of government than improve it.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: American Media, Saudi Arabia 
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  1. EagleEyeX says:

    Excellent op-ed……

  2. Art says:

    It is a curious fact about publicity that horrendous events – like the Saudi-led war in Yemen that has brought five million children to the verge of starvation – has failed to make its way to the top of the international news agenda.


    The reason that our current news system is fake, is because what it reports – is not the most important news. Clearly we get the news that is inconsequential on Saudi, compared to what is going on in Yemen. What is reported is of fake importance. What is really important is NOT reported.

    Trump exaggerates everything – he cannot utter a sentence without embellishing. News about the latest Trump exaggeration lie gets maximum coverage (but not the good economy). After lie # 5000 – is lie # 5001 really news? The answer is NO.

    The news on Yemen is not reported because Jews do not want it reported. This applies to almost all Western news.

    The West is in war trouble because of JEW FAKE NEWS!

    Think Peace — Art

  3. Renoman says:

    America, mercenary nation! What a disgrace that you are selling yourselves to those evil crooked slavers, shame on your leaders I know the people are against it. Down with the sauds.

  4. Khashoggi was smuggled back to Saudi Arabia, according to some sources:

    Also, another article about the internal weakness of S.A.:

  5. It was so funny to see how Trump did embarras the Saudis.

    Would it have been an other president from an other country the Saudis would have cancelled contracts and diplomatic relations immidiately.

    But the Saudis will “punish” Trump only with cancelling participation in the palace without dancing of the swords….

    With friends like the US and Israel the Saudis have a problem to convince other muslim countries about their leadership in the muslim world.
    Sooner or later the Saudi Royals will end like the Shah of Iran.

    Politics is a chess-game. But it is hard to understand why US and Israel are friends of a country who is sponsering terrorism and most 9/11 pilots were coming from.

    On the other side was Iran, who had shown solidartiy at 9/11 with the US and Trump and his president from a small state are the opinion Iran is the evil of the world.

    May the light of truth punish the lies of the darkness.

    • Replies: @Fredrik
  6. Fredrik says:
    @Scripted Reality

    It’s not so hard to understand. Americans are still outraged by the events of 1979. Or maybe it’s because Iran threatens another country in the Middle East. On the other hand the Saudis have never done anything against Americans.

    I’m sure there’s something wrong with the logic here but I can only go by what I see with my own eyes.

    • Replies: @Gazza
    , @Scripted Reality
  7. This article leaves out one significant little fact: Saudi Barbaria’s deliberate and systematic encouragement of al Qaeda and ISIS abroad while suppressing them at home. The original kingdom of al Saud dates back to 1744, when the cleric Ibn Wahb was expelled from his tribe and took shelter with the Saud tribe. He made a bargain with the power hungry chieftain, al Saud: he would give him religious cover for a war of conquest in return for religious control of the resulting kingdom. Al Saud agreed, and Ibn Wahb then came up with doctrines that were startling by then Islamic standards, such as permitting jihad against fellow Muslims and the doctrine of takfir (declaring a fellow Muslim an apostate) which had been strongly discouraged by no less than the Prophet Muhammad himself. The new Wahhabi creed gave Al Saud the cover he needed to destroy neighbouring tribes, and then attack Iraq, where he massacred Shia in Basra. The then colonial power in Iraq, the Ottoman Empire, was less than impressed and sent its army to destroy the Wahhabis, which it did; but the creed merely retreated to Arabia until it revived in the early 1900s. During WWI, the British and French, as is well known, encouraged Arab uprisings against the Ottomans, and the by now resurgent al Saud tribe took full advantage of the situation. Once in power, of course, like many an empire before it, it had to control the very fundamentalists who had brought it to power. Some could be bought off, but the Ikhwanis, the sword arm of Wahhabis, got so out of control that they were about to invade Jordan and had to be crushed with British airpower and all but open Saudi support. This was less than popular with the Ikhwanis, not surprisingly, but they could do nothing about it for many years except fume as the royal family grew fat and corrupt and decadent.

    Then in 1979 two very important things happened. First, the Amerikastani Empire began arming, training and funding jihad in Afghanistan against the socialist and secular Afghan government and its Soviet backers. The second was that the Ikhwanis, having gathered strength, stormed the Grand Mosque in Mecca, something that Amerikastani propaganda still sometimes tries to blame on (Shia, anti-Wahhabi) Iran.

    The Saudi Barbarian monarchy immediately saw both the danger and a great opportunity. It could channel the hatred and violence of the Ikhwanis abroad, against the Soviets, instead of facing their wrath. And from that moment on it began assiduously exporting jihad and Wahhabism, in order, above all, to protect itself and its decadent, corruption soaked, lifestyle. It does not seem to have occurred to it what would happen if the Ikhwanis (under their new names, al Qaeda and now ISIS) were both defeated and not destroyed. It’s one thing to send young men boiling with religious fervour to fight in faraway lands, hopefully to be killed there while destroying secular regimes that might grow up to be an alternative power centre in the Muslim world. It’s quite another when those defeated jihadis come home, raging at their “betrayal”, and seeing with new eyes the corrupt decadence of the royal scum who had sent them off to die.

    This is the moment that is at hand. That it coincides with a lost war in Yemen, the supreme incompetence of Muhammad bin Salman, and the brewing socioeconomic disaster of unemployment in Saudi Barbaria is just fortuitous. The only thing bin Salman can depend on is Western support; he will claim that since the only alternative to him is ISIS, Amerikastan and its British colony have no choice but to back him to the hilt, no matter what he does. This is already clear in the Western aiding of the Yemeni genocide.

    It won’t last, of course. Bin Salman has made too many enemies, too soon, from his fellow princes to business houses to Qatar, which has its own pet stable of terrorists, to of course the Ikhwanis. His yatch may soon be bearing him off to exile

    If he’s lucky enough to live that long, that is.

    • Replies: @Gazza
  8. Gazza says:

    “It’s not so hard to understand. Americans are still outraged by the events of 1979.”

    ..and if the US had only handed the Shah over to the Iranian gov for trial and punishment (rather than shielding him from justice), the Embassy would not have been touched. The US only has itself to blame.

    “Or maybe it’s because Iran threatens another country in the Middle East.”

    Really? Who? If you mean Israel, well that sh*tty little p!ssant nation is always threatening Iran, so it’s all fair and square. Iran supports the aspirations of the Palestinians, and refuses to abandon them. That is the REAL reason for Iran-Israel tensions.

  9. @Fredrik

    Hi Frederik,

    you shouldn’t change action and reaction.
    Because it is the US itself who is responsible for this.

    In the 1950’s the US and GB were responsible for a coup against the democratic elected President Mossadegh. He was about to change something in the case of oil production US and GB didn’t like.
    They installed their puppet the Shah of Persia with his terror secret service SAVAK.

    Of course under the Shah of Persia was a successful country.But ..with a US puppet.
    Because it is all about oil,business and money.”Democracy” and “Western values” are a fairy tale for the average people who believe what TV says.

    The US was the main sponsor of this terror regime / dictator.
    But as long as he plays on the side of the US nobody cares.
    Like with the Saudis today.

    So maybe you understand why Iranians after 25 years went crazy and stormed the US embassy.
    Of course this was illegal.But tit for tat.The US did install and sponsor the Shah.

    The US did sponsor Saddam Hussein after this to topple Chomenei.
    Iranians did fight desperateley.They did send iranian children with plastic keys for paradise around their neck in Iraqi mine-fields so that Iranian troops could storm Iraqi positions.

    Action and reaction
    The US did shoot down a Iranaian passenger jet in the late 1980’s
    Although this happened Iranians did demonstrate for 9/11 victims in 2001 to shooow solidarity.
    I call it a great heart.
    By the way, Saudis did sponsor ISIS and 9/11 terror pilots.And they are allies of US….

    Action and reaction
    Hisbollah was founded as a resistance movement to fight Israeli Troops in from them occupied Lebanon territories.It’s not hard to understand when foreign troops are uninvited in Lebanon.
    Regular Iranian troops never were been uninvited outside of Iran.Revolutionary Guards are invited to fight with the russians against US and Saudi supported Islamists.Yes, the US knows that weapons delivered to FSA land to 90 % in the hands of Islamists.

    Tell me in which counry US never was involved.Lesotho,Palau,Kiribati,…

    The US does complain about Russians and “highly likeley” without real proof in US election.
    But under Obama the US has wiretapped the mobile from German Chancellor Merkel…

    Some cuntries seems to be more equal than other ones.
    US has no right to do this.

    But the US soon won’t be able to be#1.
    In 2050 white people in the US will be a minority, US society will be splitted and divided.
    The US will become a regional superpower with less and less accepted Dollar’s.

    Because Chine will become #1 and Europe is islamized or lost – thanks to the US and their wars in the Middle East.They did wake up an sleeping giant in 1979 who did stand up in 2001.

    With “friends” like Saudis and Israel the US always will lose.

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