Destabilizing Lebanon after burning Syria; plotting putsch at home: King and Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia

French President Emmanuel Macron delivered a Press conference in Dubai on Thursday 9 November. The same day he flew to Riyadh and was received at the airport by the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (French Presidency photo, from elysee.fr).

Last week the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman, son of King Salman placed the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Saad Al-Hariri under house arrest in Riyadh and forced him to resign his premiership. The Sunni Lebanese premier has a double citizenship, Lebanese and Saudi Arabian. His family has extended business interests and wealth in the Saudi kingdom. This was a treacherous development, threatening the fragile sociopolitical equilibrium in Lebanon’s mosaic of Sunni, Shia, Christian and Druze communities.

Since France is having a long relation with Lebanon, an old colony, the French President Emmanuel Macron rushed to Riyadh and urged the Saudis to release Hariri, who is still considered abroad and in his country as prime minister. Sunni Saudi Arabia accuses Hariri of tolerating the powerful Shia military/social organization Hezbollah, which is supported by Iran and prevails in the Lebanese political and military reality. This arrangement has secured peace in the tiny country for years. The power sharing between the main ethnic and religious groups has proved as the only way to avoid civil warfare which has repeatedly devastated the Lebanon in the past.

A war torn Lebanon?

Obviously, the Saudis prefer a war torn Lebanon, than a peaceful arrangement, with Hamas prevailing. This is exactly what they did in Syria, where Riyadh played the more destructive role in order to exterminate the Shia-Alawite President Bashar al-Assad. Pushing Syria to destruction was a ruthless and shortsighted Saudi policy, given that Damascus had not the power to threaten Riyadh in any way. In the end, the Syrian destruction allowed Iran, the traditional foe of Saudi Arabia, to salvage Assad and thus further its influence up to the borders of Israel, through its sway on Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

The US, under Barack Obama had not endorsed this Saudi craziness in Syria, at least not at the beginning of the civil war. The Trump administration only lately decided to support it, after the Saudis actually bought Washington’s support with $100 billion in armament purchases and another $120bn in Aramco contracts with American companies. For the same reason Aramco’s bourse enlistment and Initial Price Offer will most probably be realized in the New York Stock Exchange, (NYSE).

Putsch at home

Almost simultaneously with the arrest of Hariri, Mohammed bin Salman had arrested a large number of important Saudi government ministers, princes, businessmen, top military and administration officials accusing them of corruption and embezzlement of state funds. Hariri was one of them. In this way Mohamed and his father have subdued all the other branches of the extended Saudi royal family and also disabled some very powerful businessmen. In short, the Salmans have neutralized all the possible sources of counteraction to their scheme of completely controlling the country.

It was like a Stalinist political purge used in Russia and the communist Warsaw Pact countries last century. The rest of the world is taken aback. It remains to be seen if the Salmans’ dictatorial way of governance will destroy or save the Saudis from the quicksands of the oil markets. In many respects the purge is the only way for the Crown Prince to become king. However, the coup has repercussions all around the Middle East and beyond. Let’s dig a bit deeper into the Saudi affairs.

Desert Princes

From the historical moment, when Saudi Arabia, her princes and her hideously rich ‘businessmen’ woke up and though it’s not enough going about the world and spending God’s hydrocarbon gifts, the globe has felt the impact. It all started with the 9/11 horrific act against New York, complotted by some immensely wealthy Saudis, bored with just spending money. A mixture of bigotry and jingoism led them to search for national and personal self justification in killing ‘kaffirs’, aka non believers. Their conformist Sunni Al-Qaeda death machine is still alive in some parts of the world.

The destruction of Syria is also a mainly Saudi plan. However, their aggressive chauvinist-religious Sunni bigotry was confronted there by Shia Muslim Iran’s similar but directly opposing motives and goals. So they both waged war at the expenses of the Syrian people. Of course, the bloodshed attracted other vultures too. The US, Russia and Turkey intervened in order to have their ‘fair’ share of the flesh. The proxy wars are still taking their toll on Syrian lives.

Death machines

All of these foreign warmongers are now also in haste to eliminate the remnants of the other Sunni death machine, the ISIS butchers. The birth of those last blood thirsty animals must be also ‘credited’ to Saudi Arabia and the US. They both decided to destroy the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq after he unsuccessfully fought – with their backing – Shia Iran. The relics of the Saddam regime plus some Sunni tribal warriors, suppressed for decades by Bagdad, started the ISIS death instrument. Then they attracted the world’s Sunni left behinds, by paying handsome wages too. Now they have to go.

If Saudi Arabia didn’t possess this mammoth hydrocarbon wealth, the world and of course the wider Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean regions would have been much more peaceful. However, the oil reserves are there. Sharing the riches was done the usual desert way; the leader and his extended family take the cream and the rest of the people live rather well. The founding family of Saudi Arabia, the House of Saud, kept this tradition. The sons of Abdulaziz ibn Abdul Rahman ibn Faisal ibn Turki ibn Abdullah ibn Muhammad Al Saud, the founder of the state,  (1875-1953) have being sharing between them wealth and power. All the six Kings who succeeded the founder, including the incumbent King Salman, (born 1935) are sons of Abdulaziz.

Oil curse?

The oil wealth was immense and everybody was happy. Nevertheless, the baby boom of the 1980s exponentially increased  the population together with the aspirations of the many. The country probably has the youngest population of the world, with 75% of people under 30 and 60% under 21. All of them consider themselves as rightful heirs of the oil riches and are invariably salaried by the government budget. Naturally, power and wealth goes with the proximity to the extended royal family. By the same token, the administration of the wealth by the hundreds of princes is far from competent and fair. The close family members enrich themselves at will. As a result, corruption and fraud has been standard, not an exception.

Last July, census shows a population of 31.2 million of which 22.7 nationals and 8.5 foreigners. The fast increase of the salary and subsidy expenses for the nationals and the costs for the pharaonic public projects led two years ago to the first attempt to cut down the government deficits. The fiscal containment was very negatively received by the population and had to be withdrawn. The younger generations didn’t want to hear anything about economic tightening, while seeing the royal family spend and invest billions abroad.

Dictatorship after autocracy

At the same time, the autocratic rule, with the regular beheadings and the total intolerance of criticism started to shake, especially after the ‘Arab Spring’. On the foreign front, the Sunni Saudi Arabia proved totally impotent to crush the impoverished Shia – Muslim Houthis rebels of Yemen, despite the billions Riyadh spends on American armaments. At the same time, the arch rival Iran managed to strike an agreement with the West. Tehran thus ended a decades old crippling embargo, opening a new era of economic and technological progress.

The decision of King Salman to name his 32 years old son Mohammad bin Salman as his successor came as a surprise to many. The young crown prince is in a way followed by the country’s younger generations. Many think that he can save the kingdom from the lethargy and the risks of the next fifty years, possibly in a post gasoline world. The fall of the price of oil showed that Saudi Arabia is not immune from the unrest engulfing the Middle East. In such an environment, Crown Prince Mohammad has undertaken a herculean task to modernize the country, as he understands it.

His first major move however was to arrest on corruption charges all his cousins and uncles who participated in the traditional power and wealth sharing. It’s a bad joke though to accuse Saudi dignitaries of corruption and embezzlement. In any case concentrating the economic and political powers in his hands, it will be a massive bet for the Crown Prince. He will be held solely responsible for what is to follow.

The two Salmans

Seemingly, the Salmans, father and son, don’t restrict themselves in reshaping the country within. They vie to rearrange the entire Middle East. The two, after having obliterated Syria and Iraq, now target Lebanon. This country is considered something like the Switzerland of Middle East, being an amalgam of faiths and races. All the civil confrontations which have plagued Lebanon in the last decades are almost exclusively externally instigated, forcing the inhabitants to take sides. This is exactly what happened in Syria and Mohammad wants to repeat it because Iran has expanded its sway in both countries. Without the effective involvement of Iranian military units, the groups  that were supported by the Saudis (ISIS prevailed here) would not have been exterminated. Now Bagdad and Damascus, both of the Shia dogma, have very close and trustful ties with Tehran, crediting the Iranians and with the extermination of ISIS. In the case of Syria the Russians plaid a key role in that.

In view of the strengthening of Iran’s sway in the region, Saudi Arabia now feels cornered. That’s why it paid dearly for the support of the American President. Donald Trump after having secured armament and business contracts worth of $220 billion accused Iran for terrorism and repudiated Tehran’s efforts to open itself to the world. Not to forget that compared to Saudi Arabia, Iran is a functioning democracy regularly holding  presidential and legislative elections. Undeniably, the Saudis are culpable of having nurtured both Al Qaida and ISIS. Trump was paid to misleadingly reverse that and falsely hold Iran culpable for terrorism.

Poor Lebanon

In the case of Lebanon, the Saudi disparaging interference is supported by the Americans, for one more reason than money. The tiny country was an old European colony, currently with strong ties with the EU. Paris is alarmed with the prospect of a new catastrophe in Beirut. That’s why Macron rushed to Riyadh last Thursday. It’s not only France though that cares much about what is going on in the Lebanon. The wider region is very close to the European Union and constitutes the soft underbelly of the Old Continent. Cyprus is only one hundred miles away.

All in all, if Saudi Arabia has it her way in the Lebanon, the entire region will be once more on fire and the Syrian war will be reignited. Let alone the dangerous repercussions from a possible direct confrontation between Iranian / Hezbollah military units with Israel in the Golan Highs. Or even worse, what about an unthinkable conflict between US and Russia in Syria? Alas, warmongers never have had enough.

 

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