While the left is distracted by futile attempts for more gun control, the world continues to be an eventful place. Flying under the radar of many, Saudi Arabia is making waves. A young prince has shaken things up in ways the country has never seen before, and the consequences are difficult to predict.
Culling the Elite
The big news happened when the recently promoted crown prince arrested a number of prominent figures in the country. The tally included 11 princes and a number of elite business owners, at least one of whom is a current billionaire. For those who haven’t followed Saudi news over the years, this is a huge deal. Saudi is ruled through a combination of traditional monarchy and Islamic theocracy. As such, the politics tend to be tribal in nature, and rampant corruption has long plagued the country.
The current crown prince (next in line to rule), Mohamed bin Salman, pledged to curb corruption when he took power this summer. True to his word, this mass arrest is the first major move to combat nepotism and large-scale money laundering. Many in Saudi are happy with the maneuver, but here in the states we have a more cautious attitude.
Those arrested were likely guilty of corruption (almost every elite in Saudi is), but the targets for arrest also happen to be the biggest political opponents for the prince. In the name of progress, he is clearly solidifying the power of his position. How he uses that power remains to be seen, but thus far he has painted a few clear pictures.
Modernizing the Country
Mohammad bin Salman’s biggest promises to the country have been to modernize everything. He started with Islamic law. The country officially claims the Koran as their constitution, but the nitpicking of the rules within is open to interpretation. Salman has pushed towards eventual desegregation of men and women. He has convinced the religious authorities to reduce punishments for women caught showing their hair, and women have begun to drive. These progressive policies come in tandem with his push to diversify the country’s economy.
Saudi Arabia is one of the great oil powers of the world, but the prince views this as a liability. He has begun a campaign to build a new industrial sector near Egypt. He has plans to take one of the biggest oil drilling companies in the world public (modestly valued at $1 trillion), and he has worked to reduce Saudi’s deficit spending.
In all, it looks like an aggressive push for diversity, but so far the impacts have been minimal. Saudi’s economy still rides and dies with the value of oil, and it will take decades to change that. Still, there are a lot of policies that seem positive for the country, and the prince has a popular streak behind him.
Controlling the Middle East
This is where the prince’s apparent benevolence fades. Saudi Arabia has long been a military ally of the U.S., and they have contributed in the war against ISIS. That doesn’t mean they always see eye to eye with the west.
With ISIS abandoning all of their held territory, the immediate threat has subsided. This has flared old tensions between Iran and S.A., and Prince Salman has been at the fore of the issue.
As the country’s defense minister, he started a proxy war in Yemen in 2015. It has torn the country in half and left millions on the brink of starvation and without medical aid. Just last week Saudi forces intercepted a rebel missile fired from Yemen at the Riyadh international airport. Many wonder if the prince will use the event as an excuse for additional aggression. Similar conflict in Lebanon has ravaged the populace.
Overall, Saudi’s conflict with Iran is viewed by many in the west as an enemy of my enemy situation. The U.S. still officially supports the Saudi military through weapons sales and training, but it’s not a country we prefer to outfit any more than we must. Like most Middle Eastern regimes, the Saudi government is prone to volatility and quick to abandon the negotiation table. The fact that a prince is able to consolidate unprecedented power is alarming, but does not yet pose an immediate threat.
President Trump so far has adapted a wait and see approach with Saudi Arabia, but even with his proactive approach the issue will likely take a back seat to tensions with North Korea. Until then, the Saudi situation will demand a close watch so we can be ready if they push aggression in the Gulf region.
~ American Liberty Report