A Kingdom Descending

International Desk
A Kingdom Descending
A Kingdom Descending

Hope, like so many other things in the Middle East, was already in short supply. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is now doing a terribly fantastic job to ensure that whatever little is left of it is buried soon.

Two separate stories with one actor in the leading role last week demand closer scrutiny. The infamous role belongs to the House of Saud.

One was a Bloomberg piece on the Global Defense Trade Report related to the contribution of the monarchy to push global arms sale up more than 10%, which is unprecedented in the past decade.

According to the report by the consulting company HIS Inc., Saudi weapons expenditure has jumped 50% to reach $9.3 billion.

The second was about the large-scale condemnation of the diminishing oil kingdom by human rights groups for quashing the global censure of its shocking role in the war in Yemen and the slaughter by Saudi-led forces of innocent women and children in the world’s poorest Arab country.

Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the Arab League and the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Counci, rushed to pile pressure on the United Nations to remove the Saudi-led coalition from a blacklist of countries killing and maiming children.

In its “List of Shame”, the UN attributed 60% of the 1,953 children casualties in Yemen in 2015 to the US-backed Saudi-led coalition. There is documented evidence of 101 attacks on schools and hospitals by the coalition in the UN report.

The story on the killers of defenseless people going free hardly came as a surprise to children rights groups. They recall that the name of Israel was also excluded from a similar list in 2014 despite killing 500 children in clashes with Palestinians in Gaza. The pressure lever: money and power!

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon decried the “undue pressure” from Riyadh to have the name of its war team deleted from the UN list by shamelessly threatening the world body of cutting funds to millions of children. Although Ban officially said the removal is temporary, the oil kingdom’s envoy to the UN, Abdullah al-Mouallimi, cut him short. The rare delisting is “final, irreversible and unconditional”, he said.

And mind you, it is not only Yemen. Saudi bankrolling of terror groups in Iraq and Syria, namely the genocidal Islamic State and Nusrah Front, is an open secret.

  Prince Smuggling Drugs

Back in October 2015, a Saudi prince was detained in Beirut airport and after Lebanese authorities seized a huge quantity of amphetamine with Saudi Arabia’s emblem of palm tree and crossed swords on all the boxes.

Prince Abdul Mohsen bin Wali bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud was smuggling two tons of Captagon pills in his private jets to be distributed in war zones of the Middle East. Small wonder IS terrorists are capable of committing mind-boggling atrocities.

One question: From where does all the money come from? With about 16% of the world’s proven petroleum reserves, Saudi Arabia ranks as the largest exporter of petroleum. The oil sector accounts for roughly 45% of the country’s $753 billion GDP.

Apart from oil, the pilgrimage industry is the second top revenue earner. Hajj and Umrah contribute $12 billion to its GDP. The estimated annual revenue from the annual hajj is $5.3-6.1 billion.

According to a report by Forbes, 100,000 Iranians visit Saudi Arabia for the hajj every year. Another 500,000 visit for Umrah (lesser pilgrimage). Pilgrims from Iran constituted 5% of the two million Muslims who went for hajj in 2015.

After relations were severed in January when protesters attacked the Saudi vacant diplomatic missions in Tehran and Mashhad following the Saudi illegal execution of eminent cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, Iranians have been unable to make the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina.

What the future holds for Iran-Saudi ties is not the subject of this write-up. The two regional powers have had their share of stress and strain in relations for almost four decades and not for unknown reasons.

Where the two countries are today is visible for all to see. With wisdom and vision, the two sides should be able to narrow their grievances and not allow their disputes to turn into wholesale crisis that would be to the detriment of regional peace and stability, to say the least.

  Wrong Side of History

However, impartial Middle East observers are quick to ponder over the fact that Riyadh now stands on the wrong side of history, thanks to the lack of leadership of the ailing King Salman and the destabilizing policies of his upstart son and defense chief, Prince Mohammad (aka Mr. Know It All).

The aggressive and hostile policy of the inexperienced prince is now on full display in the Yemini and Syrian war theaters. Saudi men, money and arms at the service of the regime’s decision to sustain stone-age terror outfits of different stripes have spread death and destruction in the two Arab countries and displaced millions of people.

Add to this the colossal financial damage Riyadh has engineered in all oil exporting nations due to its dangerous crude oil production and export policies in the last two years.

Whether it’s the destructive activities of Saudis in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and Afghanistan, or their bid to empty coffers into its ineffective war machine to challenge Iran and its influence in the strategic region, one thing is certain. The House of Saud is confused, desperate and showing its agitation more by blaming others for what Riyadh could not, and will not, accomplish.

Had it been otherwise, at least a semblance of reason and rationality should have come out of the kingdom’s claims to put the volatile region back on the stability trajectory.

Sadly, that has not happened so far and the possibility of logic, reason and wisdom prevailing is getting bleaker, as more terror and trauma flow out of the Saudi misadventures in and outside its chaotic neighborhood.