Sunday, June 11, 2017

Trump’s Ally: Saudi Arabia’s drive for Aristocratic Hegemony in the Middle East. By Juan Cole

Saudi Arabia is making a drive to become a regional hegemon. It has long used its oil wealth to achieve a great deal of influence among neighbors, of course. But it is now flexing military muscles. From a Saudi point of view, they have suffered decades of dangerous reversals, and they are determined to push back foes and ensure not just their security but their control.

The dangers the Saudis see include the revolutionary, Shiite Islam of Khomeinist Iran. It is not only a hated rival branch of Islam but Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who came to power in 1979, said “there are no kings in Islam.” It is republican with a small ‘r.’ The Saudis hate it just as the Austro-Hungarian emperors hated the French Revolution. Inasmuch as Hizbullah in Lebanon adopted Khomeinism and is close to Tehran, it is also seen as a threat by the Saudis. 

The anti-Wahhabi, Zaydi Shiite Houthi movement in Yemen has made the error of imitating Hizbullah and speaking of overthrowing the House of Saud in Riyadh, and Saudi Arabia has gone to war against the Houthis in Yemen. The Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, dominated by Alawite Shiites who are secular socialists, is seen as an enemy mostly because it is allied with Iran (the Saudis used to support the al-Assads back in the 1970s and 1980s). The Saudis have supported radical fundamentalist guerrillas in Syria such as Jaysh al-Islam.

It so happens that along several dimensions, the groups the Saudis see as threats are the same as those tagged as dangerous by the right wing Likud Israeli government, creating a Saudi-Israeli tacit alliance. Hence the influence in the campaign against Qatar of American Israel lobbies. Riyadh feels that the Bush administration deprived them of an ally in the form of the Sunni Saddam Hussein, and replaced him with a pro-Iranian, Shiite dominated Iraq that they fear.

On the Sunni Side, the Saudis are anxious about the populist Sunni movement, the Muslim Brotherhood... read more: