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Saudi Arabia’s tantrums are age-old and its sense of entitlement only a pretense. Two types of countries are normally unaffected by Saudi mood excesses: Their arch-enemies who can speak in a tough language and those who have surrendered in a sycophantic way.
Most countries have a relationship with the Persian Gulf kingdom falling somewhere between the two radical positions. Three groups of countries matter to the fear-driven Saudi ruling family a lot: Western countries with economic and military might, Arab states with considerable populations and resources, Muslim countries with good economies, proper political systems and robust diplomacy.
The kingdom uses every relationship to obtain approval for its self-appointed leadership of the Islamic world and the regime’s long-term survival without any public discussion around this subject. The United States and other Western powers can exploit these Saudi desires to their utmost advantage, offering protection in return for the monarchy advancing their interests in the Islamic world as well as in tilting the balance of global power in the West’s favor.
Why under control?
Most Arab countries are under the kingdom’s significant influence due to economic pressures as well as the relationships the Saudi royal family has developed with Arab administrators on a personal level. The more authoritarian a country, the easier it becomes for Saudi Arabia to cultivate a relationship with it.
Low levels of intellect are always a great force in forging such alliances.
With Muslim countries, Saudi Arabia never hesitates to use Islam as a tool to reap political and economic benefits for itself and its Western protectors.
When the interests of Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries do align, it is often a matter of chance or something obvious rather than due to deliberate strategic arrangements.
The kingdom always insists on its interests taking precedence over other people’s concerns and most often Western powers would give minor political concessions in return for major cash rewards in terms of export orders, contracts to their corporations and weapons deals.
Muslim countries have been at the receiving end of Saudi Arabia’s churlish tantrums because either they want to be nice to the custodian of Islam’s holiest cities or lack the courage and cards to play against Saudi subversive tactics.
The Western desire
Non-Arab Muslim countries, in particular, have lost out on opportunities in their wider international engagements due to a clash with Saudi interests in multilateral relations. The Saudis have also intervened on behalf of the West to influence Muslim diplomacy to the detriment of the Ummah’s, i.e. the Muslim Community’s well-being.
On issues such as Palestinian statehood, stopping Israeli aggression, Iran-U.S. tensions, the Pentagon’s wars, and global issues affecting the community, the Saudi kingdom wants to be the sole arbiter.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan discovered to his international embarrassment how far the Saudis would go in arm-twisting leaders.
Pakistan was forced to withdraw from the Kuala Lumpur summit of Muslim leaders because the Saudis thought the event undermined their self-styled guardianship of Islam.
Pressure on Pakistan
In classic attributes of power, Pakistan is far superior to the combined strength of both Saudi Arabia and its troublemaker ally the United Arab Emirates, but Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman managed to exploit the situation, aided by the traditional churlishness and tantrums.
The Saudis conducted themselves in a brutish manner, despite the assurances that the summit’s objectives were to find solutions to the problems being faced by Islamic countries and there was no agenda to undermine them.
Yet again, those who complain that Saudi Arabia is good for nothing and the Jeddah-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) deserves to be derided as “Oh I See” (and do nothing) proved right.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the Saudis used economic threats against Pakistan to prevent its participation in the summit.
“Unfortunately, we see that Saudi Arabia pressures Pakistan. Now, there are promises that the country has given to Pakistan regarding the central bank (fund deposits). However, more than that, 4 million Pakistanis are working in Saudi Arabia. They [threaten by saying that they] would send [Pakistanis] back,” Erdoğan said.
There is frustration and anger in the Islamic world that Saudi Arabia has facilitated the Pentagon and Israel’s war plots against other Muslim countries.
With Saudi hobnobbing with Zionists no longer a secret, Muslims are bound to ask who really controls their holy places.
Rest assured, anyone raising tough questions about the Saudi kingdom will face its irrational rage.
In 2003, Abdullah Ahmad, group editor-in-chief of Malaysian newspaper New Straits Times, had to quit following an article critical of the Saudis.
That article is immensely readable and I would like to quote some passages: “The legitimacy of the House of Saud rests on its allegiance to the severity of Wahhabi doctrine, which has not only encouraged militancy and fanaticism but elevated the hypocrisy of the royals, who live alternate lives in their luxury Manhattan penthouses, London townhouses and mansions in the English countryside, and fritter away millions in the casinos of Las Vegas, Monte Carlo, Cannes, St. Moritz, et cetera.”
“Wahhabi belief, even the pretense of it, makes the Saudi monarchy resistant to change and democracy. Like any other totalitarian system, an attempt at pluralism will weaken both the regime and the dogma that upholds it.”
Abdullah wrote that “like any other totalitarian system, the Saudi regime is nothing if not adept at its own preservation” and “it has played a double-edged foreign policy of Wahhabi proselytization on the one hand and pro-Americanism on the other.”
The article reflected the writer’s erudition and his deep historic understanding of what Saudi Arabia stands for. “The Treaty of Sevres [Aug. 10, 1920] caused the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, ironically by Arab collusion with the West. Since then, Islam has lain prostrate in defeat and humiliation,” he wrote.
The war on all
Clearly, Saudi Arabia wanted no more of such articles and the editor lost his job, reportedly due to Saudi intervention.
Such appeasement can give Saudi Arabia a sense of entitlement, the arrogance to undermine the sovereignty of others, and removes any motivation for it to correct its behavior.
They may even get emboldened to commit a murder. The assassination of Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul is too fresh in our minds to mention its details here.
A powerful message has to be sent to Saudi Arabia to either align its interests with other Muslims or stop becoming an obstruction to those who commit themselves to end conflicts and work for improving people’s lives.
There are 57 OIC members and even if five or seven of them get together for a cause, they can make a difference.
The days of conducing a diplomatic theater under Saudi leadership are gone. It’s time for real work and real outcomes. Massaging Saudi egos is not the job of Muslim leaders.