Saudi Arabia’s quiet revolution
The least one can say about Saudi Arabia these days is that this usually conservative kingdom is going through a quiet revolution.
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is monitoring every little detail of this revolution. He has entrusted his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, with implementing the necessary steps to place the kingdom on equal footing with the rest of the developed world in all domains, including entertainment.
Saudi Arabia is ushering in an era of non-dependence on oil revenues. The new Saudi Arabia is betting on its human resources and on investments in its other natural resources. It is adopting a firmer and clearer foreign policy. The world witnessed the new face of Saudi Arabia when King Salman stood in the way of Iranian presence in Yemen by launching Operation Determined Storm.
This was no ordinary decision. Many people did not understand the significance of the fall of Sana’a to the Houthis on September 21, 2014, just four months before King Salman’s enthronement.
One of the first things the Houthis did after taking over the Yemeni capital was to send a delegation to Tehran to sign an air travel agreement between Iran’s air carrier and Yemeni airlines for two daily flights between Sana’a and Tehran. Just like that, Yemen had become a tourist destination for Iranians and Iran had turned into the one place that all Yemenis wanted to visit.
The Houthis did not take long to start behaving as if they were the legitimate authority in Yemen. They also did not take long to start provoking Saudi Arabia. In addition to the air travel deal with Tehran, they conducted military manoeuvres along the Saudi border. They were delivering a message from Iran: “Hey, look. We’re here!”
The recent anti-corruption campaign in Saudi Arabia and the arrests of princes and important officials and business people is part of the revolution started by King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed. Vision 2030 is another part. So is the NEOM mega-city project, which is the kingdom’s biggest challenge in terms of investment in human resources, renewable energies and robotics.
The changes seen by the kingdom in just two years would fill volumes. The important thing is that Saudi Arabia is over the complex created by the extremist Juhayman al-Otaibi and his gang when they attacked the Holy Mosque in 1979.
Just as important, Saudi Arabia is no longer trying to outdo Iran in religious conservatism.
In foreign policy, the Saudi revolution finds its best expression in steadfastness in opposing Iran’s expansionist project. Iran has been trying to plant roots in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Just to take one example, the regime in Lebanon must decide whether or not to be enslaved by Iran.
The matter is quite simple: Lebanon is facing a grave political crisis coupled with a teetering economy. The cause behind that is Hezbollah. Lebanon has become a training ground for Iran’s dirty tricks against Arab regimes. Check out the scandal discovered in documents seized from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. Iran had offered to have Hezbollah train al-Qaeda fighters in Lebanon.
Lebanon could never rebuild itself and its institutions as long as Hezbollah, which is, in reality, just another brigade of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, has a free hand in the country. Iran and Hezbollah had gone as far as to ask Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government to provide political cover for their dirty tricks. They want Lebanon to be part of Iran’s war on the Syrian people. They also want to turn Beirut into a propaganda base for the Houthis in Yemen.
Some observers of Saudi affairs simply don’t want to believe that what is going in Saudi Arabia is a revolution. It no longer makes sense to analyse the new Saudi reality through the lenses of previous practices. If you don’t believe that, ask Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz or Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal. It never crossed their minds that one day they’d be asked to justify their fortunes.
In any case, Lebanon must make a choice. It can’t enjoy Riyadh’s largesse and oppose Saudi Arabia at the same time. There are profound changes going on in Saudi Arabia and the kingdom is over many previous taboos. Just as an example, the new Saudi Arabia is willing to let go of the Gulf Cooperation Council.