Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The End of al-Saud Might Not be Too Far Off

The newspaper this morning is dominated by Saudi Arabia's provocative execution of Shiite Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and its aftermath. The Gray Lady features not one but two frontpagers; two additional stories (both superior to the frontpagers) after the jump; and two opinion pieces, one by the editorial board, "Saudi Arabia’s Barbaric Executions," and the other a topnotch editorial, "Saudi Arabia’s Dangerous Sectarian Game," by Rutgers academic Toby Craig Jones (who appeared on Democracy Now! yesterday).

To begin with Jones, he emphasizes something that is repeated in almost every story I laid eyes on this morning: The Saudi execution of Sheikh Nimr was meant not only to derail Iranian integration into the global economy following the P5+1 nuclear deal, but also to obscure serious domestic budgetary problems that the House of Saud is struggling to handle following an oil price drop that it helped to bring about:
The Saudi authorities have good reason to be concerned about new calls for reform. About a week before Sheikh Nimr’s execution, the kingdom announced that it was facing an almost $100 billion deficit for its 2016 national budget. Declining oil revenues may soon force the kingdom to slash spending on social welfare programs, subsidized water, gasoline and jobs — the very social contract that informally binds ruler and ruled in Saudi Arabia. The killing of a prominent member of a loathed religious minority deflects attention from impending economic pressure.
But what is refreshing about Professor Jones' editorial is the coherent big picture of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that it draws. That picture looks something like this: The Saudis have fomented sectarianism for a long time to maintain their absolutist hold on power. But the Saudi fueling of conflict between Sunni and Shia took a quantum leap after the Arab Spring uprising, with the Iranians always being cast as the foil. The problem now, as Professor Jones articulately notes, is that all al-Saud is capable of is sectarian-fueled warfare; it can do nothing else. Hence, the sole public rationale of the West for sticking by these despotic Gulf sheikhdoms, that they provide essential stability in an otherwise turbulent region, is no longer true:
The danger in Saudi Arabia’s ongoing sectarian and anti-Iranian incitement — of which Sheikh Nimr’s execution is just one part — is that it is uncontrollable. As is clear in Syria, Iraq and even further afield, sectarian hostility has taken on a life beyond what the kingdom’s architects are able to manage. This has already proved to be the case in Saudi Arabia, where terrorists aligned with the Islamic State have carried out several suicide bombings on Shiite mosques in the past year. 
The real problem is not just that Saudis are willing to live with violent sectarianism. They are now beholden to it, too. That the kingdom’s leaders have embraced sectarianism so recklessly suggests that they have little other choice. This should be frightening, considering more is likely to be in store. But it should also be clarifying for those who believe that Saudi Arabia is a force for stability in the Middle East. It is not.
And that is the message that beams out of today's newspaper, a kind of waking consciousness that the Saudis are not going to accept Iranian integration and that more warfare is inevitable -- a particularly unsettling proposition for Europe since the nations of the EU are the ones that have recently become the chosen destination for the U.S. and al-Saud war refugees. Sewell Chan takes notes of this in "European Sympathies Lean Toward Iran in Conflict With Saudi Arabia," summed up by a quote from establishment academic Vali Nasr:
In an interview, Vali R. Nasr, the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington and an authority on the Sunni-Shiite regional conflict, said that Western opinion in this case was weighted in Iran’s favor — in part because of the European Union’s desire for rapprochement with Iran. 
“Europeans think the dispute is serious but they think — and so does the White House — that Saudis don’t want reconciliation with Iran, want to exclude Iran from all regional discussions and want to provoke Iran into an action that would then derail engagement with West,” Dr. Nasr said. “This crisis was started by Saudi, and Riyadh was quick to use it to break ties, which means an end to any broad regional engagement like the Vienna talks.”
War can't continue forever without some form of breakdown or correction of course. And that is what we are approaching now. Europe is haltingly shaking itself free of U.S. hegemony. That process is going to have to pick up steam for there to be a breakthrough. As for us here in the homeland of "Great Satan," any of the potential presidential candidates, regardless who wins the general election in November, is going to preside over a continuing fracturing of the nation.

For instance, a company that is doing PR for the Saudis in the wake of the fallout over the Sheikh Nimr execution is none other than the Podesta Group, co-founded by John Podesta, chairman of Hillary's presidential campaign. This is from Ben Hubbard's must-read "Shiite Cleric Gained in Status as a Rivalry Deepened":
Saudi Arabia arrested Sheikh Nimr in 2012 and later sentenced him to death for charges that included breaking allegiance with the ruler, inciting sectarian strife and supporting rioting and destruction of property during protests, according to Human Rights Watch.He was killed in a mass execution with 46 other prisoners, most of them linked to Al Qaeda.
Many Saudis defended that pairing of crimes. 
“We are speaking of a terrorist person,” said Salman al-Ansari, a Saudi commentator provided by the Podesta Group, a public relations firm working for the Saudi government.
So don't look for any "Hope & Change" from Hillary.

Interestingly, though Nimr al-Nimr was a conservative cleric, he was not what you would call a Iranian stooge. He spoke out against Bashar al-Assad and supported Kurdish self-determination. He seemed to be something a leveler:
In one sermon, he spoke out against “oppressors,” Sunni or Shiite, and called for the oppressed to unite against them. 
“In any place he rules — Bahrain, here, in Yemen, in Egypt or in any place — the unjust ruler is hated,” he said. “Whoever defends the oppressor is his partner with him in oppression, and whoever is with the oppressed shares with him his reward from God.” 
He broke rank with other Shiite clerics by criticizing President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who is backed by Iran, and supported rule by the Kurdish majority in northern Iraq. 
In another sermon, he spoke against the use of arms and said protesters should be willing to die for their cause: “Our strength is not in weapons; our strength is in martyrdom."

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