Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), 34-year old, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, has ascended to the throne in 2015, after the death of King Abdullah. The Crown Prince’s reckless policy has resulted in an unprecedented series of economic and political failures to his country, which has rarely happened in such a scale before. MBS, who was the Defense Minister between 2015 and 2017, refused to be less powerful than his father and the former Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef.
Following MBS’s meteoric rise to power and under his guidance, the kingdom has witnessed the most dramatic events in its history, from his alleged reforms, to his aggressive assault against Yemen, to the Arrest of 11 princes, to the forcible abduction of Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri, followed recently by the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
Four years after MBS seizure of power, what is the situation of Saudi Arabia?
The answer, indeed, would show whether MBS’s policy is going to serve the Kingdom’s interests or not.
Saudi Failures 4 years after MBS Rise to Power
Definitely, the biggest diplomatic mistake has ever been made by the Saudis is the abduction of Saad Hariri. In November 2017, just a few months before Lebanon’s May 6th parliamentary elections, Hariri mysteriously disappeared and abruptly announced his resignation during a trip to Saudi Arabia. Hariri has served as prime minister twice: from 2009-11 and from December 2016 up to date. The abduction was the headline of all news agencies except for the Saudi and their affiliated media, which persistently denied the news, almost many, including Lebanon’s president Michael Aoun, accused the Saudis of “kidnapping” the Prime Minister. Shortly after releasing Hariri, who had been under house arrest, General elections were held in Lebanon on 6 May 2018. Hezbollah and Amal, dubbed as the “Shiite duo” won along with other political parties aligned with the duo the majority of Lebanon’s 128-seat, i.e. more than the “obstructionist third” needed to block the most important actions of parliament. The biggest loser was Hariri’s Future Movement, which won only 21 seats, compared with 34 seats, esp. in the movement’s strongholds of Beirut, Saida and Tripoli. Many analysts believe that this failure was because of the humiliation, which was imposed on Hariri by the Saudis. Accordingly, the pro-Saudi block fell before the pro-resistance one.
After the formation of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), also known as al-Hashd ash-Shaʿabi, it became certain that Iraq is not going to be split into three parts: Kurdish, Shia and Sunni. In such context, MBS truly realized that Riyadh’s strategy towards Post- Saddam Government in Baghdad has failed and ought to be changed. Hence, Thamer al-Sabhan, now the minister for Gulf Affairs, was sent to Baghdad as Saudi Arabia’s first charge d’affaires of the Saudi embassy in Iraq, since Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Nine months later, al-Sabhan caused controversy and sparked outrage, so Iraq called on Riyadh to withdraw its ambassador and demanded that it does not interfere in its internal affairs. MBS sent another ambassador, Abdulaziz Al-Shammari, to boost Riyadh and Baghdad’s bilateral relations and to empower Haider al-Abadi in the election. At the same time, MBS met Moqtada al-Sadr, where Riyadh agreed to pay Baghdad an additional $10 million to ”help the internally displaced persons via the government of Iraq,” a statement from al-Sadr’s office said then. However, al-Sadr’s recent meeting between Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani during Ashura ceremonies in Tehran has come as a great surprise and reflected powerful messages. Now Al-Abadi has a weak position in parliament esp. after al-Sadr emerged as the biggest winner in Iraq’s general election last May. Besides, the PMU is an indelible political and military actor in the region and many of the Sunni blocks, which were traditionally pro-Saudi actors in the Iraqi parliament, have formed well relations with Iran recently.
To maintain his powerful alignment with the US, MBS tries hard to act per Washington’s orders and thus pay the bill. Trump, on the other hand, works compulsively to empower the establishment of the so-called “Great Israel.” Subsequently, Riyadh should compromise with Israel; the actor which nowadays is implementing “maximum expansionism.” Jordan, among other states, has become an opposing player to the Zionist ambitions, and for this reason, Israel has become an anti-Abdullah ll and has called the US to stop supporting him. Further, The White House has asked BMS to stop providing Jordan with monetary assistance. Meanwhile, Amman witnesses a rare wave of protests over a range of economic challenges, chief amongst them tax increases needed to help plug the state’s gaping budget deficit. Abdullah II of Jordan has explicitly said that the economic crisis is because of Jordan’s rejection of Israeli annexation plans and its pro-Palestine stances. Amman has criticized the Saudis for waiving their financial supports, but despite the pressure, it has chosen not to comply with whatever Riyadh says. It has, instead, normalized diplomatic ties with Iran, apparently during Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and Jordan’s King Abdullah II meeting in Istanbul, on the sidelines of an emergency session of Organization of Islamic Cooperation, on the recent developments in Palestine. Bilateral ties between Amman and Tehran have been tepid for decades, reaching their lowest level during the Iraq-Iran War in the 1980s. In other words, MBS by approving the “Deal of the Century” and by punishing King Abdullah ll for not accepting it, has weakened Amman-Riyadh’s relations and, on the contrary, brought it closer to Ankara.
The biggest multidimensional mistake, which has been made by the Saudi Crown Prince, is indeed invading Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition has waged its brutal war against the long-impoverished Arabian Peninsula nation, under the pretext of defending the “legitimate state of Yemen and to thwart Iran’s ambitions in the country.” However, the “legitimate State” had officially resigned before the invasion and the charges of “Iran’s ambitions” in Yemen brought while Iran has no land border with Yemen, unlike Saudi Arabia, which has around 1000 KM long border with the country. Meanwhile, four years have passed after the aggression, which the Saudis thought it would take just 4 weeks, as put by Iran’s Foreign Minister. The coalition has failed to capture the main cities, due to the firm resistance of the Ansarullah and their allies. Yemen’s former President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi along with his sons, ministers and military officials, have been barred from returning home. The ban was prompted by enmity between Hadi and the United Arab Emirates, which has failed to dominate southern Yemen. Besides, Abqaiq and Khurais oil facilities and many other locations are under the mercy of Yemeni missiles.
At the Int’l Arena:
If we run a comparison between the Saudi position in the world public opinion, before and after MBS, we will notice how it has negatively and dramatically deteriorated. In the eyes of many analysts from different nations, twenty million Yemenis, some 70 per cent of the population, are one step away from famine due to the Saudi arrogant strategies. Ironically, Riyadh, which on a daily basis threatens Iran, cannot even defend its own borders and facilities from the besieged barefoot, so-called “Iran-Proxies.”
The Kingdom is trying to embellish its face by giving women the right to drive, but, at the same time, beheads political oppositions and mutilated a journalist, who had just criticized MBS. In sum, and per Trump’s rhetoric, Saudi Arabia is nothing more than a “milk cow” or “ugly rich bride” that is “not able to resist more than 2 weeks in front of Iran” by itself.
MBS is expediting the Saudi regime’s demise, due to his aggressive policies, systematic corruption and suppression of dissents. Based on these facts, it is better for MBS to spare effective efforts within his country, to implement his alleged reforms and to stop trying to expand his influence in the region, otherwise, his policies will backfire on him.