The notion that what is going on in Saudi Arabia is an “anti-corruption” drive is fooling no one. The most important aspects are the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s consolidation of power and the stiffening of resolve against Iran that it represents. Austin Bay has a good column about the matter up this morning:
Since fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979, Iran and Saudi Arabia have confronted each other across the waters of the Persian Gulf. The presence of the U.S. naval forces in the region still deter overt Iranian military action in the Gulf. Iran’s Shia regime, however, is expansionist. The ayatollahs seek to control or influence Shia Muslim communities globally, but particularly in the Middle East. . .
The Saudis conduct air strikes on Houthi targets [in Yemen], which is why the Houthis portray the SRBM attacks as retaliatory. The Saudis, however, are certain that the November 4 missile was fired by members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and Lebanese Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia militia that Iran trains and finances. Hezbollah also provides proxy fighters for Iran elsewhere in the region (Syria).
One interesting question here is the extent to which the Saudis may be actively collaborating or cooperating with Israel, which has to eye Hezbollah constantly in next door Lebanon and Syria.
On the social revolution front in Saudi Arabia, it is worth taking in this report from The Guardian:
“The message is that everything that used to be Saudi Arabia is no longer the case,” said a senior minister, who like all other officials refused to put his name to his views. “This is a revolution,” he explained. “Everything is so sensitive. We must be patient until it all settles down.”
Underpinning the cultural reforms is Prince Mohammed’s pledge last month to “return Saudi Arabia to moderate Islam”, in effect a commitment to break the founding alliance between clerics who adhere to the rigid teachings of 17th century preacher Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab and the kingdom’s modern rulers.
The crown prince said a hardline interpretation of Islam had taken root in Saudi Arabia after the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. “We didn’t know how to deal with it,” Prince Mohammed told the Guardian. “And the problem spread all over the world. Now is the time to get rid of it.”
No Saudi leader has previously come close to confronting the accommodation between clerics and rulers.
If this is true it is yuuuge, as someone notable might Tweet. Curious this all comes on the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing of the 95 Theses on the church door, setting off the Reformation. I’ve always said the problem with Islam in one sentence is that it had its Enlightenment before it had its Reformation.
Meanwhile, as the American stock market takes the turmoil in Saudi Arabia in stride (with only energy shares spiking a bit on potential oil price instability), Middle Eastern markets are reflecting the nervousness about what will happen. The Daily Shot people send along these charts:
Curious, by the way, to note when the Kuwaiti stock market index took off: shortly after Trump’s election.
P.S. That Guardian article linked above also has this interesting detail near the end:
In the same hotel as the arrested royals, highly paid consultants from Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey and Deloitte have been drafting plans to overhaul an economy that has been anchored by patronage networks, which have often required foreign companies to partner with a royal to start any venture. A sclerotic public sector has made the going tough for investors and locals alike, and the economic reforms are seen as essential to winning the backing of a sceptical – and conservative – base, many of whom are unsettled by such change.
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