To say that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman –MBS- is blunt is truly an understatement through and through. During his recent visit to the US he gave the reputable magazine The Atlantic an interview in which he did not mince his words and spoke candidly on a host of issues never brushed upon, any time before, by a Saudi official, let alone a prince. For many observers this prince is truly “a riot” and an unconventional Arab politician. For some political analysts, on the other hand, he is a guy “formatted” by Americans to reform the traditional and patriarchal Middle East, while for the emasculated youth of the region, he is an inestimable hope to enter modernity at long last. Will he succeed?
Recognition of Israel
MBS is the very first Gulf Arab leader to recognize the existence of Israel on its "own land" officially. A real first worth taking note of and following up.
In the past all those who tried to come close to this country were eliminated physically: President Anwar Sadat. He paid with his life on October 6, 1981 his historic visit to Israel on November 19, 1977. Nevertheless, the visit shook the status quo and led to the Oslo Accord between the Palestinians and The Israelis.
However one wonders why on earth is MBS recognizing Israel without anything in return? What is the gain? Well, actually, Saudi Arabia has something in return: the Israeli nuclear umbrella and the determination of the latter to strike at Iran sooner or later, with the help of the US. Up to now Saudi Arabia and Israel were bound by a “cold” alliance that was in the closet but now has come out into the open dramatically.
MBS needs Israel to fight the Iranian looming danger in the region. Iran has a massive, well-trained army and most of all probable nuclear capabilities. In the past, Saudi Arabia used to admonish any Arab country that befriended directly or indirectly Israel, which was referred to in the official rhetoric as kiyan sahyouni i.e. “Zionist entity” and, of course, not recognized as a full country. Politicians who made friends with Israel were either killed: President Anwar Sadat, or labeled as traitors: King Hussein of Jordan and King Hassan of Morocco and attempts to kill them were foiled by their able intelligence institutions.
MBS is undeniably scared to death by the Mullahs of Iran and their secret plans to take control of his country. He is right when he says that the Iranians want to control the world, he actually meant the Muslim world. They made it clear from the very beginning of their revolution in 1979 to want to export their ideology, religion and might to the rest of the Muslim world. In this they are no different from the Saudis, who, themselves used their money to export Wahhabism to the rest of the Muslim world and vestiges of that still exist today. MBS knows that and he is lying about that flat. Saudi Arabia was well behind al-Qaeda and a myriad of other organizations bent on spreading fundamental Islam by means of coercion and terror, but they failed utterly.
Today Iran is close to making an atomic bomb that will allow it to become a member of the nuclear club and what is more, it is, also, able to manufacture its own weapons and has, somewhat, become self-sufficient in many other areas, while Saudi Arabia is dependent on the West and the rest of the world for all its armament and everything else.
Today, more than ever, Saudi Arabia is feeling alone and fragile. The Arabs cannot help. Its army is handicapped and its performance in Yemen is below the average, not to say really catastrophic. In the past, Saudi Arabia relied on Egypt for protection, today Egypt is totally entangled in its own domestic problems with the army busy keeping the lethal Salafists at bay.
In this environment, Saudi Arabia needs Israel to do the donkey work, not to say the dirty work for it: strike and cripple Iran and probably allow the rise of a liberal government in lieu of the Mullahs, but this is easily said than done. Israel would need America to undertake the suicidal mission of régime change in this country. Besides the regular army, most of the defensive work will fall on the Revolutionary Guards, a lethal army that has for mission regime protection, not to forget the Basij (eleven-million strong paramilitary volunteer militia.) The war on Iran is not going to be a leisurely stroll but a bloody campaign that would destabilize the whole region and put at risk oil production.
Is Iran a rogue nation?
For MBS Iran is a rogue country that wants “to control the world,” this is a figure of speech (exaggeration) accepted in Arab rhetoric with the expressive intent to deliver a stern message but does not make sense elsewhere. Iran and Saudi are engaged in a deadly feud to control the Muslim world since 1979, if not before. Israel is part of the picture because it has its own agenda for controlling the Middle East and removing, sooner than soon, an existential threat that is Iran. The United States wants to protect Israel, in the first place as well as its vital interests in the region.
MBS says that Khameini is worse than Hitler: “I believe that the Iranian supreme leader makes Hitler look good.”, this is, obviously, another exaggeration to get the Europeans on board, a task which would be difficult to achieve, not to say impossible, because they all have economic interests in Iran and besides Iran did not commit any atrocities or crimes against humanity, as it were. On the contrary, it helped the West topple Saddam.
If both America and Israel engage in a war against Iran, would Saudi Arabia finance totally the onslaught? Does it have the means or would it be tempted, yet again, to round the rich of the country, quarantine them in the Ritz Carlton Hotel, once more, and demand payment for their release? Would this work again if undertaken?
In the interview with The Atlantic MBS seems to deny that the Saudi state has actually adopted Wahhabism as state religion since its creation in 1930 and that the establishment has since duly sponsored hundreds of religious associations and organizations that were entrusted with spreading austere Islam worldwide. The local chapters of Wahhabism still exist today and function according to action plans previously laid out by these state institutions.
His denial does in no way take away the responsibility from the state for adopting this tribal form of Islam: austere and inhuman. Criminals had no fair trial and some of them were executed publicly by severing their heads with swords: a practice reminiscent of the Middle Ages. Women are kept away from public space and have to wear an integral veil called khimar. They could not drive and could not travel without male guardianship maharim, who could even be an underage son. These strict rules and many more were enforced by a religious police or rather a vice squad called mutawwa’ which on behalf of the state, enforces Sharia law in respect to religious behavior (morality) and is , often, seeing beating people, in public, for failing to go to prayer on prayer times.
Everybody knows for sure that current fundamentalism became a powerful Islamic current after the Iranian revolution of 1979 that brought Shiism to prominence and power.
Afraid of the world repercussions of the Shiite Islamic school of thought, the Saudis empowered their state organizations such as: رابطة العالم الاسلامي Rabitat al-‘alem al-Islami (World Islamic League), founded in 1962 by, the then, Crown Prince Faisal bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud.
Since coming to power MBS, under pressure from the US, is trying to repel this austere form of Islam by allowing women to drive and to go to such public spaces as football stadiums, but he has still a lot to do to shed fundamental religion for good.
The reforms undertaken by this young statesman are a revolution, a massive revolution that will change the socio-religious landscape of the whole Middle East and by extension the Muslim world. As such, things that were taken for granted, for ages, as corruption, embezzlement, power abuse, patriarchy, male domination, etc. will have to cease to make room, later on, to some form of democracy in a prelude to the end of oil bonanza. MBS's Vision 2030 is an ambitious action plan to sever dependency of the country on oil.
MBS shock treatment
MBS wants a modern Saudi Arabia not in appearance only such as food, dress, idiom, but, mainly, in belief and practice of modernity, equality and equity. To achieve this goal, dear to him, he chose the shock treatment approach. Will he vanquish the dark forces of tradition, tribalism and patriarchy to drag Saudi Arabia fully into the third millennium or will he fail and things will return to reactionary Arab normality, after all the Arab Spring withered in spite of many youth uprisings in the whole Middle East?
Only time can show and tell.