Saudi Policy Change Demands New Iranian Approach

Saudi Policy Change Demands New Iranian Approach Saudi Policy Change Demands New Iranian Approach

The recent wave of hasty, and apparently ill-considered, Saudi regional and domestic decisions that have given rise to tectonic changes inside the oil kingdom might lead to harmful consequences for regional, and to some extent extra-regional, countries, an expert on Middle East affairs said.

"The new Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salam, aka MBS, is a young man who has suddenly risen to power inside the formerly conservative system. His meteoric rise to power has now set about a power equation made up of a change-seeking prince versus conservative, cautious princes with no clear end in sight," Abbas Parvardeh also wrote in a recent article for Iranian Diplomacy news website.

The expert noted that old Saudi princes followed a predictable policy based on caution, cost-benefit decision-making and preserving the House of Saud, but the new generation in power has changed this policy with rash and unpredictable decisions.

"Obviously, this situation requires a new mechanism in Iranian policy toward Saudi Arabia," he said.

As far as foreign diplomacy is concerned, Parvardeh said the pattern of Saudi Arabia's behavior points to "unpredictable and risky measures" that have presently overshadowed other countries' ties with Riyadh.

"The unprecedented and undiplomatic resignation of [Lebanese Prime Minister Saad] al-Hariri is an example of decisions that do not fit into the traditional Saudi policies," he said, adding that the decision cannot be evaluated on the basis of known diplomatic rules.

Hariri resigned from his post in a speech from the Saudi capital Riyadh in a surprise announcement on Nov. 4, citing fear of assassination and denouncing Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah over their alleged subversive regional roles.

After a peculiar nearly three-week stay in Saudi Arabia where many, including Lebanese President Michel Aoun, said he was held as a hostage, Hariri came back to his homeland last week and announced that he was shelving his decision to quit to clear the way for negotiations.

Parvardeh pointed to former Yemeni president, Abd-Rabbu Mansur Hadi, who is reportedly being held under house arrest against his will in Saudi Arabia as yet another case of things going awry in MBS's House of Saud.

On Nov. 7, Yemeni officials told AP that Saudi Arabia has barred Yemen's president, along with his sons, ministers and military officials, from returning home for months. This is while the stated Saudi stance in Yemen is to reinstall Hadi to power. The US-backed Saudi-led coalition's devastating war against the impoverished nation has seen more than 13,000 people killed and millions on the verge of starvation.

  Domestic Front

On the domestic front, the traditions-busting policies under MBS have defied the "reactionary and kingdom-preserving policies," Parvardeh said, highlighting two recent sweeping decisions by the young crown prince to promote "moderate Islam" and "crack down on corruption".  

MBS, the de facto ruler, has vowed to return the country to "moderate Islam" and asked for global support to transform the hardline kingdom into an open society that empowers citizens and lures investors.

In an interview with the Guardian on Oct. 24, MBS said, "We are simply reverting to what we followed—a moderate Islam open to the world and all religions. 70% of the Saudis are younger than 30, honestly we won't waste 30 years of our life combating extremist thoughts; we will destroy them now and immediately."

It's easier said than done, as the Saudi regime has been funding networks promoting extremist, Wahhabi ideology for decades across the world.

Expressing reservations about the new policies, Parvardeh believes one cannot say with certainty whether these decisions are the result of calculated measures to avoid a revolution inside the kingdom or just injudicious moves that could entangle the Saudi regime into a quagmire. But one can certainly say that these moves face many hurdles, the most important of which is the shifting of the establishment's reliance on influential hardline clerics to a foreign-backed military.

"The perception is that the clerics would disagree with the revolutionary reforms taking place in Saudi Arabia, so they must be confronted. But how these influential clerics would respond is not yet known," he said.

Saudi Arabia has detained many prominent clerics, some with millions of followers on social media, as part of a crackdown intended to muzzle influential voices who could speak out against the regime's policies and reform agenda, activists say.

This comes as more than 200 people, including some of Saudi Arabia's richest and influential princes, have been detained at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh since an anti-graft operation was launched earlier this month. There have been many reports indicating the use of torture to extract an apparently wealth-for-freedom deal. At least two princes have been killed since the crackdown.

"It is apparent that these rash decisions have not been taken on the basis of the traditional cost-benefit Saudi policy," Parvardeh said.

"All these moves indicate that Iran needs a different policy approach on Riyadh," he concluded.

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