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Saudi Hegemony vs. the Arab Spring

[Image from al Jazeera] [Image from al Jazeera]

The day the Bahraini authorities demolished the Pearl monument at the center of Bahrain’s ‘Tahrir Square’ on March 18th, the state-run Bahrain News Agency announced to a puzzled public that the “GCC monument” had been removed for a “facelift” in order to get rid of "bad memories.” Amidst the rubble, it came to light that the symbol known locally as the ‘Pearl roundabout’ in reference to Bahrain’s pearl diving and trading history was in fact officially known as the “Gulf Cooperative Council roundabout”—with each pillar of the now-destroyed structure representing a member state of the “cooperative” council. Meanwhile in the areas of Sitra and Karranah, 29-year old Ahmed Farhan Ali and 40-year old Mohammed Abd’ali were buried by throngs of enraged mourners after being shot by troops in the head and chest respectively earlier in the week.

Now that the dust has settled in the grim light of a demolished social movement, the equation seems all too obvious. If recent events have shown anything, it is that any movement for social change in Bahrain not only has to take on the bulwarks of its own regime, but the entire matrix of power that maintains the status quo in the Gulf, with Saudi Arabia at its apex (and the United States on the other end of the phone). The deaths of Ahmed Farhan, Mohammed Abdali, and the twenty-four others who were killed as well as the hundreds detained since the beginning of the uprising are the heavy price of maintaining that decaying status quo.

Aiding, abetting and sustaining this matrix are of course other ‘great powers’ and that most odious of terms in international relations: ‘interests.’ In this light, an important equation that has emerged is the alleged deal between the US and Saudi Arabia. According to diplomats from Europe and the BRIC group, GCC support for the UNSC Resolution 1973 regarding a no-fly zone over Libya came at the price of US silence in return for a license for Saudi Arabia’s free reign in Bahrain.
As the Peninsula Shield Forces effectively reduced Bahrain to the status of a Saudi vassal state dependent on the latter for military and financial survival, American soldiers at the largest naval fleet in the Gulf slept soundly at their base in Juffair. Let us not forget also, the quagmire of Saudi and American financiers and their chosen "cops on the beat," the Pakistani government, which effectively outsources its poorer citizens to work as the ruthless messengers of the Bahraini regime’s zero-tolerance message to its people. A major non-Nato ally which has allegedly been struggling to sustain sweet deals on oil supplies from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan has been promised greater military, economic, and trade ties with Bahrain since the GCC offensive began.
Add to the balance sheet the hypocritical Western governments in their bid for contenders of ‘acceptable revolutions’ in the Arab Spring. Robert Cooper, former personal assistant to Tony Blair and current advisor to EU Foreign Affairs Chief Catherine Ashton issued a statement effectively green-lighting the Bahrain-GCC violence and repression of civilian protesters by saying, “accidents happen.”
As the local uprising was dragged into the international arena, the GCC was quick to raise the tired old specter of a belligerent Iran, with the Bahraini rulers claiming the regional effort ‘thwarted a 30-year old foreign plot’. The Bahraini regime could only have issued such a revelation to impress the necessity of its brutality upon Western governments. In Bahrain, however, people have surely become accustomed to such heroics. Looking back over the last twenty years alone: in June 1996 the Bahraini government foiled a “foreign-backed plot” by arresting forty-four alleged plotters; in December 2008 the authorities arrested fourteen citizens for allegedly receiving training in Syria; in September 2010 the nation was spared once again as another twenty-three citizens were arrested for being part of an ‘international terrorist network.’
The flimsy allegations of Iranian involvement—which, according to American intelligence reports released by Wikileaks cables, are baseless- have enabled international players to shuffle into predictable geopolitical positions. The US has already warned Iran over its alleged intervention in Bahrain, with the European Union more concerned about possible Iranian influence than the GCC troops’ actual lethal violence. On their part, Iran and Hizbollah have criticized Saudi intervention and made statements in support of the Bahraini protesters. All the while, voices of the Bahraini opposition categorically denying and rejecting Iranian involvement are all but unheard and summarily dismissed.
So what has the Saudi hand, which last month threatened to “cut off any finger” raised against its own regime, brought to Bahrain? Almost-daily raids are carried out in villages across the country, where residents have attempted to maintain limited and subdued acts of protests against the military repression. Nightly arrests of opposition figures, human rights activists, journalists and most recently commentators on social networking sites such as twitter have also persisted. As the death toll quietly rises, international journalists are being detained for reportedly failing to produce identification papers, and the only independent local newspaper was suspended and faces legal action for "unethical coverage" of recent events.
Saudi hegemony, built with the greasy palms of petro-dollars and maintained by a ruthless regime—one that enjoys diplomatic support from the world’s most powerful democracies—already has to answer for violence and instability in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Pakistan. Bahrain is only the latest client on the list; and we certainly fit the bill, with a ‘shared’ Saudi oilfield already providing most of the Bahraini regime's budget and the economy dependent on Saudi investment and expenditure. And so the answer is clear: any challenge to the stalwart system of oppression, coercion, and crooked economics of the ‘GCC’ will be met with the guns of those regimes. The deaths of the civilians who christened the roundabout with their hope of reviving Bahrain’s glow as the ‘pearl of the Gulf’ are a testament to this. As the Bahraini Prime Minister chillingly reminded us this week, “we will help those who help us, but we will not let bygones be bygones.” So it seems a democratic spring will not be allowed to flourish in the Gulf this Arab Spring. We are to accept our new masters, the nefarious princedom of the House of Al Saud, along with their dirty and reprehensible international and domestic policies.
In 1965, the British newspaper The Guardian wrote of the Bahraini ‘March uprising’ against British colonial presence that, “nationalism has become such a potent force in the Middle East that attempts to resist it by providing artificial support for regimes such as the one now ruling Bahrain may delay, but will not deflect, the success of the movement in establishing its power throughout the Arab world.” Once more we face a delay, and once more we (the people) must unite—across the Gulf, the region and beyond—on the basis of our political identity and rights as nationals. And we must not be divided by the identity politics of sect, ethnicity, religion, class or gender, knowing that these splits only allow those who work to keep us divided and oppressed to continue to destroy our social fabric and our aspirations for a better future for all.
Protesters outside the Bahraini embassy in Oman condemn foreign interference in Bahrain
[Image from]


Kuwaitis protest in solidarity with peaceful protesters in Bahrain

[Image from]

6 comments for "Saudi Hegemony vs. the Arab Spring"


“Saudi hegemony, built with the greasy palms of petro-dollars and maintained by a ruthless regime—one that enjoys diplomatic support from the world’s most powerful democracies—already has to answer for violence and instability in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Pakistan.”

When I reached this Incongruous statement I could not contain myself from snickering!

Why don't you throw in what's happened in Libya, Yemen, Syria, etc (for good measure)!

Here is a ludicrous generalization if you ever see one!

Don't let the drama take the best of you.

Khalid DeKhayel wrote on April 11, 2011 at 06:58 AM

Thanks for your comment. There is an abundance of literature and analysis on this subject. As an introduction I offer some information from the Guardian readings of the Wikileaks cables, from which you can have a look at the actual cables;

Lebanon: "Saudi Arabia proposed creating an Arab force backed by US and Nato air and sea power to intervene in Lebanon two years ago and destroy Iranian-backed Hezbollah, according to a US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks. The plan would have sparked a proxy battle between the US and its allies against Iran, fought in one of the most volatile regions of the world."

Afghanistan & Pakistan: "... Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaida, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist groups," says a secret December 2009 paper signed by the US secretary of state. Her memo urged US diplomats to redouble their efforts to stop Gulf money reaching extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide," she said."

Iraq: "Hill and his Iraqi interlocutors are not alone in their suspicions of Saudi policy. At a meeting in Ankara in February this year a senior Turkish foreign ministry official, Feridun Sinirlioglu, told an American envoy that "Saudi Arabia is 'throwing around money' among the political parties in Iraq because it is unwilling to accept the inevitability of Shia dominance there"."

* I don't know enough about Libya or Yemen to comment, take your point about the drama - but the greasy palms is the only comment thrown in for good measure.

Tahiyya Lulu wrote on April 12, 2011 at 09:38 AM

I appreciate your response for which I am both impressed and depressed! But, then again, we do not have to try very hard to find fault anywhere we look. I do object to your choice of the term 'hegemony' when apllied to Saudi Arabia. I am sure you'll agree that that term is best suited to fit Iran. I have to admit, however, that Saudi Arabia is a difficult pill to swallow; but it is not a poisonous pill (unlike Iran, for instance.)

Now, if you allow me, I would like to comment on the list in your response: Lebanon: If the so-called Saudi proposal is ever-enacted; only Iran would lose sleep from the degradation of Hezbollah: Iran's terrorist proxy in Lebanon and the entire region.

Afghanistan & Pakistan: The Secretary of State Saudi said ''Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding...'' etc. but she did not say the Saudi government! You should know better! I am sure you're aware that Saudi Arabia is the favourite target of AQAP and of Iran, on the one hand, for its relationship with the West; as well as the target of many in the West -inside and outside of government- for all the known reasons.

Iraq: "Hill and his Iraqi interlocutors are not alone in their suspicions of Saudi policy...'' etc. By the way, who are Hill's interlocutors? And as far as 'hegemony' in Iraq goes: Iran is the sole 'hegemonic' power in Iraq; NOT Saudi Arabia, or the US for that matter!

Khalid DeKhayel wrote on April 12, 2011 at 12:53 PM

If one still needs ANY proof of how dirty hand of USA imperialism and its lackeys Saudis are messing everywhere, just read Khalid DeKhayel :)

He sees Iran under his bed - just like USA/Saudi propaganda does, so it must be real!

Seriously, a repugnant obscurantist dictator regime of Saudis which poison the world with its brand of fanaticism based on petro-dollars, is "better than Iran"? I got it - because Iran supports ANTI-imperialist and anti-Zionist forces, while Saudis support Zionism and imperialism. So, Saudis ARE much better - for Zionists and imperialists, that is.

lidia wrote on April 13, 2011 at 01:00 PM

Good discussion here. I support lidia as far as imperialism and Zionism is concerned.

Irony is that rivalry of Saudi and Iran is satisfying the interests of the US imperialism and its closest ally Israel in the Middle-East region. Your local feud is directly helping the imperial needs of the world police the US and its European allies. If you people are enlightened with this fact, I think, you will find an urgent need of uniting to fight the hegemonic US imperialism.

What do you say?

Sekhar wrote on April 14, 2011 at 11:21 AM

Dear Khalid,

I wouldn't simplify my argument about Saudi Arabia as a case of 'finding fault wherever you look'. I can agree with you that the Iranian-Saudi contest for domination of the region is constantly in effect through proxy struggles. I used the word hegemony in reference to the Saudi position vis-à-vis Bahrain. In fact in 2005, the Bahraini Crown Prince recognized this Saudi dominance, saying to the American ambassador that; "Bahrain has worked hard not to become a vassal of Saudi Arabia, and we're certainly not going to let ourselves become a vassal of Iran."

I don't get into the business of comparative evils; 'poisonous pills' vs. 'hard pill to swallow', when you get into an argument like this you are really just talking about which suits your own interests or mindview better. And frankly neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia suit my own and I daresay my country's interests. Again when you talk about the Iranian pill to swallow, let me tell you that Iran had no hand in the uprising here - the only pill being shoved down our throats is the Saudi one, as it pursues its own interests.

As for Hizbullah; as the commentators here allude to, its degradation would certainly be a great victory for Israel, which again the leaders of the Gulf are edging closer and closer to. Just see this for an example:

"4. (C) The King spoke at some length on Israeli-Palestinian developments, expressing satisfaction at the positive turn of events. This is a good moment, he said, that can be important for stability in the region. He said that he had instructed newly appointed Minister of Information Dr. Mohammed Abdul-Ghaffar to make sure that official announcements or statements coming out of the Ministry of Information do not refer to Israel as the “enemy” or “Zionist entity.” He revealed that Bahrain already has contacts with Israel at the intelligence/security level (i.e., with Mossad), and indicated that Bahrain will be willing to move forward in other areas, although it will be difficult for Bahrain to be the first. When asked if Bahrain might look into developing trade contacts at some point, he said that this would have to await the establishment of “side-by-side” states. He added that he planned to travel to Jordan on February 19 to meet with King Abdullah and show his support for moving forward.

5. (C) The King stated that Israeli-Palestinian peace, by helping stabilize the Middle East, will facilitate economic growth throughout the region. But he also suggested that, when the Palestinian question is removed from the equation and the Arab-Israeli dispute is settled, Iran’s ability to cause mischief will be lessened. The Iranians will no longer be able to exploit the Palestinian issue for their own objectives." If you are sincerely interested in reading about the Saudi government's influence in Afghanistan Pakistan and Iraq I recommend Ahmed Rashid, As'ad Abukhalil or Nir Rosen (who actually has a very interesting and detailed reading titled, 'Prospects for the Sectarian Terrain' on this website).

This below, an introduction to the issue taken from the Council on Foreign Relations website:

Saudi Arabia's ties to Afghanistan exploded into view on September 11, 2001. Saudi national Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 mastermind and al-Qaeda chieftain, was given refuge by the Taliban in Afghanistan. But the kingdom's connections to Afghanistan predate the U.S. terror attacks. Beginning in the late 1980s, Saudi Arabia--along with the United States, Pakistan, and others--began supporting the Afghan resistance movement against the Soviet occupation. Saudi Arabia funneled money and fuel directly to Afghans, as well as through Pakistan's covert intelligence agency, the ISI. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid writes in his 2000 book, Taliban, that the Saudis gave nearly "$4 billion in official aid to the [mujahadeen] between 1980 and 1990, which did not include unofficial aid from Islamic charities, foundations, the private funds of Princes and mosque collections."

There is a lot more to discuss on this issue and I can only touch on major themes in this response; but hope it is of some use.

Tahiyya Lulu wrote on April 18, 2011 at 05:39 AM

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