The counter-revolution, paraphrasing the late, great soul jazz poet Gil Scott-Heron, will not be televised; it will float downstream flush with hard cash. Take Egypt. The House of Saud has just given Supreme Military Council leader Field Marshall Tantawi US$4 billion in cold hard cash – although not even the Sphinx knows for sure how much power Tantawi, 75, deposed tyrant Hosni Mubarak’s former minister of defense, really wields.
Washington extended Cairo $1 billion in “debt forgiveness” and another $1 billion in loan guarantees. Not much – compared to what Washington extends to Israel, but still a signal. And then the International Monetary Fund extended an extra $3 billion in loans. The “new” Egypt will start to do business already bound in unforgiving chains.
This goes a long way to explain how the “opening” of Rafah – the border with Gaza – was not really an opening. The quota of free-moving Gazans is a maximum of 400 a day; and no less than 5,000 Gazans remain blacklisted. So essentially the gulag situation remains similar to Mubarak-sanctioned levels.
This also goes a long way to explain why now you see it/now you don’t tentative Egyptian presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei is now on an overdrive charm offensive on Saudi media – singing the praises of King Abdullah while performing the contortionism of ignoring frenetic Saudi support for Mubarak until (and beyond) the last minute.
Cash is king
In Yemen, the House of Saud is – what else – buying Yemeni tribes with cold hard cash, in the name of “stability in the region”. Even though it is living up to its reputation of prime asylum for fleeing Arab dictators, the House of Saud officially is in favor of President Abdullah Saleh stepping down in the name of “less bloodshed and less unpredictability”.
The House of Saud insists – no irony intended – Saleh is being hosted for “humanitarian motives”. Officially, the House of Saud also abhors a “power vacuum”. Said vacuum nonetheless remains quite persistent, now coupled with fears of “rising chaos”. Washington, meanwhile, scans the horizon frantically trying to spot any dronable al-Qaeda in the Arabic Peninsula (AQAP) “targets”.
If Saleh ships himself back to Yemen that could only happen because the House of Saud said so. So we have a situation where Saleh’s son Ali is commanding the elite Republican Guard – from inside the presidential palace – and his four cousins are also in control of key military units. The current “acting” leader, Vice President Abdu-Rabo Mansur Hadi, is a figurehead.
Saudi Arabia seems to condone, for now, this theoretically vacuum-cleaned power arrangement. As for the wide-ranging Yemeni protest movement, their only shot now would be to force Hadi to hang on, push for a transitional government, and try to quell the counter-revolution, directed by Saleh’s family, with people power. If that’s the case, the House of Saud will brutally – and directly – step in.
In Bahrain, the House of Saud explicitly supports the National Human Rights Organization; no wonder, its head was appointed by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa last year, so the organization must support the ruling dynasty – yet not as much as the Saudi masters. Bahrain’s really independent human-rights organizations, meanwhile, have had their leading activists arrested and facing military trials.
And just like a thief in the dead of night, who sneaked into Washington to be received at the White House by US President Barack Obama this past Tuesday? No one else than Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman al-Khalifa.
There was no press conference. There were no pictures. It’s like this conversation would self-destruct in five seconds – but it did take place, between a drone-heavy Nobel Peace Prize and the head of the military of a Persian Gulf American satrapy which is busy toppling its own people. No amount of rhetoric will alter the math: Washington fully backs outright repression all across the Persian Gulf – to the extreme delight of the House of Saud.
He is heavy, he’s no brother
Then there’s the Muslim Brotherhood question – essential in the context of the carefully orchestrated US/Saudi counter-revolution.
The Muslim Brotherhood is being instrumentalized by the House of Saud all across the board, from Syria to Egypt. In Egypt, the reactionary old guard Brotherhood is working very close with the Military Council; “rewards” for good behavior by both Washington and Riyadh should be in the works.
Clearly this won’t translate as an endorsement of ElBaradei – whose appeal is towards disenfranchised young people, liberals, a few leftists and a smatter of progressive Islamists who defected from the “traditional” Muslim Brotherhood.
As for the even more reactionary Salafis, they are now getting into Facebook groups, in a public relations offensive to try to improve their dreadful image and sort of mingle with “other intellectual and political currents”.
Saudi media meanwhile is awash with their own public relations extolling the merits of the kingdom and denigrating the “corruption of the ruling family and its cronies” in selected Arab republics such as Syria and Libya. According to the official platform of the Gulf Counter-Revolution Club, also known as Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), all Arab monarchies are as virtuous as virgins in paradise.
As the cold hard cash counter-revolution goes on, the future of the great 2011 Arab revolt looks grimmer and grimmer. It all depends on how forcefully the Tahrir Square spirit will keep the Military Council in Egypt in check. And how progressive forces in Egypt, Yemen and beyond find ways to counterpunch the relentless impact of the House of Saud oil wealth.