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The Saudi Royals’ Perilous Responses

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Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, CDHR, Washington DC

January 3, 2016

CDHR’s Commentaries and Analyses

The Saudi Royals’ Perilous Responses To External Conflicts, Economic Downturn, Domestic And Regional Threats And Declining Influence

Saudi Mass Executions: A Colossal Miscalculation

CDHR’s Commentary: While most people in the world are celebrating the dawn of 2016 and are hoping for a better year that is free from extremism and terrorism, the Saudi people are forewarned by their absolute ruling princes of a year of increased institutionalized state terrorism, costly repercussions of external wars and punishing economic hardships due to the drastic decline in oil revenues. The beheadings and death of 47 people by the state’s executioners and death squads in different cities in Saudi Arabia today (Jan. 2, 2016) are a reminder of the lethal ideology (Salafi/Wahhabi dogma) upon which the Saudi judicial system is based. It’s the same ideology upon which ISIS’s, Al-Qaeda’s and other Muslim terror groups’ manifestoes are founded.

Among the people killed today by the Saudi regime is a prominent social justice promoter, cleric Shaikh Nimr Al-Nimr of the Saudi Shi’a minority, whom the Saudi state and the majority of Sunni Saudi citizens consider heretics. These barbaric beheadings and murder by death squads are being carried out at a time when the Saudi oligarchs are mired in destructive wars in Yemen and Syria, in an ongoing occupation of Bahrain, and faced with a destabilizing economic downturn.

The Saudis may have thought that by executing these people (whom they label “terrorists”), they would avert international condemnation, given the recent murders of hundreds of innocent French and American people by Muslim terrorists, as well as the downing of a Russian aircraft and murder of its 224 vacationing passengers and crew. The Saudis have made a colossal miscalculation because the international community views the Saudi regimes’ mass executions as more barbaric and heinous than attacks by terrorists who can be hunted and “brought to justice,” while the Saudi regime is not only exempt from punishment for murder, but is dubbed “an ally in the War on Terrorism.”

By killing the prominent and popular Shaikh Nimr Al-Nimr, the Saudi regime may have intended to provoke a violent reaction by eastern Saudi Arabia’s sizable Shi’a population, which could include attacks on the massive oil facilities in the Shi’a region. If this were to occur, it would provide the Saudi oligarchs with an excuse to ruthlessly punish the Shi’a in the hope of provoking Iran to come to their rescue, an act that could draw the US into a confrontation with Iran, a long held Saudi objective.

Today’s action by the Saudi government has already provoked mass demonstrations in Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region, especially in Iran. The Saudis’ belligerent domestic and regional policies contradict the regime’s claim of being the only country that can stabilize the Middle East and defeat terrorism.

Apprehensive Saudi Response to Emerging Global Unity Against Terrorism

CDHR’s Analysis: Shaken by the November 13th carnage in France, the downing of a Russian plane and killing of its 224 passengers and crew in Egypt, carnage at a hotel in Mali, and the impact of these lethal events on Europeans and others  (as demonstrated by the curfew and shutdown of public schools and transportation in Brussels), the major European powers and Russia have no choice but to work in unison to defeat their formidable and ambitious common enemy, the Muslim/Islamist terror movements. The United Nations’ Security Council’s immediate unanimous passage and adoption of a quick resolution, which was followed by meetings between Western and Russian leaders go beyond the normal rhetoric of bombing terrorists in Iraq and Syria. “The (UN) resolution, introduced by France in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris a week ago, calls on the international community to mobilize and to organize efforts against the global threat posed by terrorism, to block the flow of foreign fighters and to crack down on terrorist finances.”  -

Noticeably lacking are any efforts by the French, Russians or even by the Obama Administration to mention, let alone involve, any Arab or Muslim regime, specifically the Saudis, other Gulf States or the Islamist government of Turkey. This can be interpreted as an admission by non-Muslim powers that Muslim regimes share ISIS’s lethal ideological project, expanding and implementing the supreme values of Islam worldwide.

Bypassing Arab and Muslim regimes is a drastic departure from the West’s repeated glorification of the efforts made by oil rich Arab oligarchies and Turkey as allies in the fight against Muslim terrorist movements. Ironically, the West has praised Gulf Arab regimes despite their well-known financial support for extremists and terrorists worldwide. The West, specifically the Obama Administration, has repeatedly maintained that the Gulf Arab states are true allies in the war against extremism despite the fact they adhere to the same religious dogma   practiced by ISIS and other bands of Muslim terror groups.

The fact that President Hollande did not include any Arab or Muslim country in his efforts to forge a more aggressive partnership to “bring ISIS to its knees” indicates that he and other European and Russian leaders are finally conceding that Arab and Muslim regimes created and perpetuate the problem, therefore, cannot be trusted to contribute to its solution.

The livid global reactions to the terrorists’ barbaric attack on Paris, followed by the swift passage of the UN Security Council’s resolution and by President Hollande’s promise to go after terrorists and their financiers “wherever they are,” seem to be taken seriously in places like Saudi Arabia, a country described as “an ISIS That Has Made It.” For instance, the Saudi Mufti, who is known for his fanatical religious intolerance and public support for extremists, told Muslims that “Islam encourages Muslims to deal with opponents and violators in a gentle manner.” This cannot be a sudden change of heart or the instant redemption of a man who in September 2015 called on Sunni Muslims to rid the world of the enemies of Islam, which is understood to mean Christians, Jews, Shi’a and those Sunni Muslims who reject the Saudi brand of intolerant Wahhabi Islam, or ISIS operatives, who threaten Saudi claims to Sunni leadership.

The head of the Saudi religious establishment (the Mufti) is not the only Saudi official feeling apprehensive about possible repercussions against Saudi Arabia by the non-Muslim coalition’s strategy to “destroy ISIS” and eliminate (Muslim) fanaticism, as stated by President Hollande in his solemn memorial speech.

At a gathering of the Interior Ministers of the   Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in the capital of Qatar, Saudi Crown Prince and Interior Minister, Mohammed Bin Naif, re-iterated the customary Saudi condemnation of acts of terrorism. However, he went on to express what sounded like Saudis’ fear of being targeted by the new non-Muslim coalition, namely Russia, France, Britain and other members of the European Union, whose citizens are being murdered by terrorists, most of whom are inspired by Saudi dogma and financed by Saudis and other Gulf Arabs. Prince Mohammed said that “Countries (non-Muslims) should not blame entire communities (Arabs and Muslims) for actions carried out by those claiming to represent them (ISIS and the likes), whether based on race, belief or nationality.” This is the first time this Prince (dubbed an anti-terrorism czar) has ever expressed concern about retribution leveled against Muslim communities by foreign powers.

Is it possible that the Saudi/Wahhabi regime has come to realize or has been warned by the new non-Muslim coalition to eliminate the root causes of terrorism (“Muslim fanaticism”) and that the Saudi role in spawning, financing and exporting terrorism is being reassessed? Additionally, are the Saudi rulers trying to escape possible global retaliation for their role in sponsoring extremism by announcing their intent to decapitate 55 Saudis the regime has labeled terrorists?

Given the strength, expansion of and devastating terror blows against the centers of Western and other non-Muslims civilizations, it might only be a matter of time before the terrorist-targeted non-Muslim populations force their governments to take drastic actions, including severe sanctions and/or military actions against the root causes of terrorism of which Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States stand accused.

Saudi Arabia Is Underwriting Terrorism” versus “Jihadism Is Not Saudi Arabia's Fault”

CDHR’s Commentary: The Saudi political and religious oligarchs can always count on American intellectuals and their institutions to defend them and promote their policies even at a time when many countries (including the US) are reeling from Saudi/Wahhabi inspired and financed terrorists’ attacks. In a recent article, apparently motivated by personal and institutional intent for financial gains, one of the critics of Saudi Arabia’s lethal dogma, Dr. Bernard Haykel of Princeton, calculatedly joined many Western intellectual Saudi apologists/defenders. This transformation from being somewhat critic of the Saudi establishment's Jihad incitements (including destruction of Christian churches) and support for extremists and terrorists to being a born again vindicator of the Saudis’ well-known role in exporting and financing Jihadis worldwide, is curious at best. By reversing his position on Saudi culpability for Jihadism, Dr. Haykel did not only contradict some of the most well-informed and credible Muslim historians, scholars, politicians and authorities at centuries old institutions, but denied well-known and documented Saudi/Wahhabi links to violent Jihadism.

Among the most intimately informed critics of the Saudi/Wahhabi use of violent Jihadism is Mansour Al-Nogaidan, a former jihadist Saudi/Wahhabi preacher, who wrote an account in this newspaper of his reasons to denounce the Saudi dogma as a violent, intolerant and anti-modernity creed. “I cannot but wonder at our officials and pundits who continue to claim that Saudi society loves other nations and wishes them peace, when state-sponsored preachers in some of our largest mosques continue to curse and call for the destruction of all non-Muslims.”

In April 2010, scholars and historians of Muslim movements at the Al-Azhar mosque (the oldest and most reputable Muslim institution) described the Saudi/Wahhabi doctrine as an idea and movement to be the most lethal enemy of Muslims and non-Muslims, which must be fought with all permissible means available. The same condemnation was repeated by a Muslim scholar who happened to be the president of the largest Muslim country, Indonesia. Dr. Abdulrahman Wahid stated that “Muslims and non-Muslims must unite to defeat the Wahhabi ideology.” He went on to implore the international community, “It is time for people of good will from every faith and nation to recognize that a terrible danger threatens humanity. We cannot afford to continue ‘business as usual’ in the face of this existential threat. Rather, we must set aside our international and partisan bickering, and join to confront the danger that lies before us.”

One cannot help but question why, at a time when Saudi Arabia is not only described as an “ISIS state that has made it,” but blamed for “underwriting terrorism,” American intellectuals like Dr. Haykel continue to absolve the Saudi dogma (Wahhabism) of “responsibility” for any Jihadi violence. Given his knowledge of the Saudis’ support for violent Jihadis, the most plausible explanation for Dr. Haykel’s reversal from critic to defender of the Saudi doctrine is that he and his institution, Princeton, aspire to obtain large grants from the Saudis and other Gulf Arab rulers comparable to the $10 million that was given to their prestigious competitor, Yale, to establish an Islamic/Shariah law center at the latter institution.

Tragically, these intellectuals and their institutions are not in bed with the Saudis because of their commitments to promotion of democracy, social justice, defense of human rights and protecting America against Saudi-inspired jihadist terrorism, but for financial gain.

Saudi Economic Downturn=Dire Consequences

CDHR’s Analysis: Consecutive Saudi kings have declared and reiterated (one king after another) that they would embark on economic reforms and creation of desirable and secure jobs (Saudization) for their millions of unemployed subjects, especially for the burgeoning male and female youth. None of this has ever materialized. The downright failures to implement any meaningful economic reforms are due to many factors which include, but are not limited to, the government’s fear of a financially self-reliant society, which is less likely to be held hostage to those who control their means of income and public services, such as healthcare, electricity, water, education and property ownership.

Most Saudis, especially women, depend upon the state’s (kings’) handouts, not only in the form of social welfare, but for pocket money for marriages, buying homes, long term interest-free loans (most of which are never re-paid) and other expenses.

At no time does the Saudi population get more showered with handouts (purchasing loyalty) than when a king dies. Every new king tends to outspend his predecessors in this bribery process, especially if the inheritor of the throne is less popular than his predecessor, as in the case of the current King Salman. When King Salman inherited the throne in January 2015, the first announcement he made to his expectant subjects was, ‘Dear people: You deserve more and whatever I do will not be able to give you what you deserve.’ And a gigantic handout it was.  “The massive handout, estimated to total more than $32 billion, includes a two-month basic stipend for all state employees, soldiers, students, and pensioners, as well as generous grants to various professional associations, and literary and sports clubs.”

The Saudi regime “employees 3 million out of the estimated 5.5 million-strong (indigenous) work force,” which extends the handouts to every household in the kingdom. As the major employer of Saudis and the absolute owner and dispenser of the country’s revenues, the regime is not subject to any accountability, transparency or public scrutiny. This arrangement allows for and encourages rampant corruption, especially at the top where the royals siphon public wealth with impunity.

Prior to and since the establishment of the Saudi state, the Saudi rulers have been able to ensure their subjects’ submission via handouts and fear of severe punishment. In recent decades, the regime has been able to provide generous handouts due to its massive income from oil exports. However, the Saudi regime is facing economic hard times due to the recent drastic decline in oil prices upon which the Saudi economy depends. According to Saudi businessman Prince Alwaleed, "Our country is facing a threat with the continuation of its near-complete reliance on oil, especially as 92% of the budget for this year (2013) depends on oil.”

Saudi income from oil exports has shrunk considerably and the regime’s expenditures have skyrocketed in the last two years, due to military interventions in Bahrain and Yemen and to costly underwriting of regime change, as in Egypt and Syria.

Given this new reality, how could the Saudi oligarchs reform their economy and create desirable jobs for their millions of aspiring, but frustrated youth, who are more likely to revolt or join extremist groups if the system continues to ignore and take them for granted? The recently proposed plan by Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the chairman of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs (who happens to be the King’s son, Defense Minister and Deputy Crown Prince), to “reshape the (Saudi) economy to withstand low oil prices” sounds like a normal reaction to the current economic crisis.

The question is how can the Saudi economy be reformed without addressing the endemic institutionalized obstacles such as rampant corruption throughout the Saudi economic and political system (especially at the top) and the total lack of accountability and transparency at all levels of the public and private sectors?

As a beneficiary of the current status quo, it’s dubious that the intent of Prince Mohammed’s plan is to institute a universal (applicable to all, including royals) reform of the Saudi economy as much as it is to eliminate and/or drastically reduce social programs and subsidized public services such as electricity, water, education, healthcare and other allowances. Hence, the burden of the economic hardship the country is facing now (which is expected to get much worse) will fall on the shoulders of the repressed Saudi people, many of whom live below the poverty line.

Given the current impenetrable economic and political domination by the thousands of Saudi princes and princesses and their privileged non-royal business partners, it’s unlikely that any economic burden-sharing, let alone comprehensive economic reforms, can be implemented without a major restructuring of existing political and economic arrangements, from the King’s Palace down to appointed regional governors, all of whom are royals.

The state’s revenues have been and remain totally controlled and distributed by a budgetary arrangement lavishing generous payments on the royal family despite fluctuations in national income. For example, the “birthright” payments to the estimated 40 thousand members of the extended royal family are siphoned off the top of the national budget. Managed by the "Office of Decisions and Rules," which acts like a kind of welfare office for Saudi royalty, the royal stipends in the mid-1990s ran from about $800 a month for "the lowliest member of the most remote branch of the family" to $200,000-$270,000 a month for one of the surviving sons of Abdul-Aziz Ibn Saud, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia. Grandchildren received around $27,000 a month, ‘according to one contact familiar with the stipends’ system, the cable says. Great-grandchildren received about $13,000 and great-great- grandchildren $8,000 a month.” Extra payments are allotted for marriages, palace-building and other expenses for extravagant royal social events, which in some cases include wild cocaine and call girls’ parties in major Saudi cities, like Jeddah and Riyadh, where non-royal drug traffickers are punished by death.

Given this royal birthright claim to the absolute control of the country and its wealth, it’s inconceivable that the inexperienced and ambitious Minister, Prince Mohammed, or any of his family can or will be allowed to wean the thousands of royals off their long-accustomed pillaging of public wealth without provoking a palace coup that could end the entrenched absolute Saudi rule.

On the other hand, if the intent of “reshaping” the faltering Saudi economy is to further squeeze the population, the outcome will be amplified public discontent. When this inevitable result occurs, the regime will increase its already razor-sharp repression to avoid a public uprising, as it did on March 11, 2011. This time around, it’s likely to boomerang. The country is mired in many conflicts, more isolated than ever, viewed (by Muslims and non-Muslims) as the swamp where ISIS, Al-Qaeda and other lethal ideologues are conceived, hatched and nurtured. Additionally, the royals’ regional and global influence is steadily declining, the majority of its multitudinous princes is marginalized by King Salman, many of the country’s zealot clerics are more loyal to ISIS than to the Saudi royals and the royals’ ability to buy domestic loyalty and foreign protection is diminishing.

It remains to be seen how the bloated royals tiptoe through this minefield. They need to decide whether the safety, security and general welfare of the Saudi people supersede their long-held belief that the country is their private property.

To offset the drastic decline in national revenues, the Saudi regime will be wise to accept reality and embrace safer options. The regime can: 1) terminate lavish stipends to royals; 2) stop foreign adventurism, including the war in Yemen, ending the occupation of Bahrain, discontinue financing the Egyptian military dictatorship and the financing of regime change in Syria, stopping exporting and financing extremism and terrorism; 3) repatriate billions of dollars ransacked from the public and invested in foreign economies; 4) transform the educational system to train Saudis to work in a newly-created technologically diversified economy; and 5) last, but not least, clean up corruption, especially at the top.

Without embarking on reforms like these, Prince Mohammed’s plan may just represent rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

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