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Is Saudi Arabia The Middle East’s Next Failed State?

Is Saudi Arabia The Middle East’s Next Failed State? thumbnail

Reports are growing that Muhammad bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s hyperactive crown prince, is losing his grip. His economic reform program has stalled since his father, King Salman, nixed plans to privatize 5 percent of Saudi Aramco. The Saudi war in Yemen, which the prince launched in March 2015, is more of a quagmire than ever while the kingdom’s sword rattling with Iran is making the region increasingly jumpy.

Heavy gunfire in Riyadh last April sparked rumors that MBS, as he’s known, had been killed in a palace coup. In May, an exiled Saudi prince urged top members of the royal family to oust him and put an end to his “irrational, erratic, and stupid” rule. Recently, Bruce Riedel, an ex-CIA analyst who heads up the Brookings Institution’s Intelligence Project, reported that the prince is so afraid for his life that he’s taken to spending nights on his yacht in the Red Sea port of Jeddah.

A statue of Ibn Khaldun in Tunis, Tunisia. (Kassus / Wikimedia)

Channeling Ibn Khaldun

What does it all mean? The person to ask is Ibn Khaldun, the famous Tunisian historian, geographer, and social theorist. You might have trouble getting him on the phone, though, since he died in 1406. But he’s still the single best guide to the deepening Saudi crisis.

If you do somehow channel him, the message might be grim. In a nutshell, it’s that if MBS goes, he’ll likely take the Al-Saud with him, and that the people waiting in the wings will not be the “moderates” beloved of Washington, but ISIS and al-Qaida. A modern state bristling with shopping malls, superhighways, and high-tech weaponry thus will succumb to a ragtag militia riding Toyota pickups and waving AK-47s.

Ibn Khaldun, a member of an upper-class Spanish-Muslim family that fled to North Africa after the fall of Seville in 1248, was one of the most remarkable personalities of the late Middle Ages on either side of the Christian-Muslim divide. He wrote The Muqaddimah, a book-length prologue to his six-volume world history, which British historian Arnold Toynbee praised “as undoubtedly the greatest work of its kind that has ever yet been created by any mind in any time or place.” The anthropologist Ernest Gellner described Khaldun as a forerunner of modern sociology. The Muqaddimah, a strange blend of faith, fatalism, and science, is best known for its musings on the subject of the urban-nomadic conflict and the process by which dynasties rise and decay.

As Ibn Khaldun put it:

[T]he life of a dynasty does not as a rule extend beyond three generations. The first generation retains the desert qualities, desert toughness, and desert strategy. … They are sharp and greatly feared.  People submit to them. … [T]he second generation changes from the desert attitude to sedentary culture, from privation to luxury and plenty, from a state in which everybody shared in the glory to one in which one man claims all the glory for himself while the others are too lazy to strive for glory. …  The third generation … has completely forgotten the period of desert life and toughness, as if it never existed…. Luxury reaches its peak among them, because they are so much given to a life of prosperity and ease.

Decadence leads to collapse as fierce nomadic fundamentalists gather in the desert and prepare to mete out punishment to the city dwellers for their religious laxity. “[A] new purge of the faith is required,” summed up Friedrich Engels, who evidently read Ibn Khaldun, “a new Mahdi [i.e., redeemer] arises, and the game starts again from the beginning.”

It’s a recurrent cycle that has held true for a remarkable number of Muslim dynasties from the seventh century on.

Evidence of Instability

The big question now is whether the pattern will hold true for the Saudis.  

The answer so far is that it will. Events are proceeding on course. Ibn Saud, the founder of the modern Saudi state, by allying himself with Wahhabism, the local version of Islamic ultra-fundamentalism, embodied Ibn Khaldun’s concept of a ruthless desert warrior who uses religion to mobilize his fellow tribesman and battle his way to the throne in 1932. Once Saud took power, he proved to be a tough and cagey politician who put down rebellion and expertly played Britain and America off against one another to solidify his throne.

But the half-dozen sons who followed were different. The first, Saud, was a heavy spender who brought the kingdom to the brink of bankruptcy. The second, Faisal was an autocrat who was so out of his depth that he believed Zionism somehow begat communism. Khalid, who took power in 1975, was an absentee monarch who was gripped by paralysis when hundreds of rebels took over Mecca’s Grand Mosque in November 1979 and had to be rescued by French commandos flown in specially for the occasion. Fahd, who succeeded to the throne in 1982, was obese, diabetic, and a heavy smoker who ultimately fell victim to a massive stroke.  Abdullah, his successor, also was sickly and obese, while Salman, who assumed the throne in 2015 at age 79, has suffered at least one stroke and is said to exhibit “mild dementia.”

A video of the king landing in Moscow in 2017 shows a doddering old man who can barely descend a staircase.

Muhammad bin Salman and Ash Carter in 2016. (Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley / Department of Defense)

The upshot is a group study in decrepitude. MBS, who all but took over the throne in 2015, meanwhile personifies all the foolishness and decadence that Ibn Khaldun attributed to the third generation. He’s more energetic than his father. But as one would expect of someone who has spent his entire life cosseted amid fantastic wealth, he’s headstrong, impractical, and immature. Appointed minister of defense by his father at the ripe old age of 29, he declared war on Yemen, Saudi Arabia’s neighbor to the south, two months later and then disappeared on a luxury vacation in the Maldives where a frantic Ashton Carter, Barack Obama’s secretary of defense, was unable to reach him for days.

A year later, MBS unveiled Vision 2030 a grandiose development plan aimed at bringing Saudi Arabia into the 21st century by diversifying the economy, loosening the grip of the ultra-intolerant Wahhabiyya,and putting an end to the country’s dual addiction to oil revenue and cheap foreign labor. In a country in which young men routinely wait years for a comfortable government sinecure to open up, the goal was to rejigger the incentives to encourage them to take private-sector jobs instead.

It hasn’t worked. In a rare moment of candor, a pro-government newspaper recently reported that thousands of employers are evading government hiring quotas by paying Saudi workers not to show up. “Employers say young Saudi men and women are lazy and are not interested in working,” it said, “and accuse Saudi youth of preferring to stay at home rather than to take a low-paying job that does not befit the social status of a Saudi job seeker.”

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (lawepw / Wikimedia)

Some 800,000 foreign workers have left the country while capital is fleeing in the wake of last November’s mass roundup in which hundreds of princes and businessmen were herded into the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton and forced to turn over billions in assets. Foreign direct investment has plummeted from $7.5 billion to $1.4 billion since 2016 while a series of super-splashy development projects are in jeopardy now that Saudi Aramco privatization, which MBS was counting on as a revenue source, is on hold.

While granting women permission to drive, MBS has imprisoned women’s rights advocates, threatened a dissident cleric and five Shiite activists with the death penalty, and cracked down on satirical postings on social media.  He preaches austerity and hard work, yet plunked down $500 million for his yacht, $450 million for a painting by Leonardo da Vinci, and $300 million for a French chateau. The hypocrisy is so thick that it’s almost as if he wants to be overthrown.

Fundamental Enemies

As for the lean and hungry fundamentalists whom Ibn Khaldun said would administer the final blow, there’s no doubt who fits that bill: ISIS and al- Qaida. Both are fierce, warlike, and pious, both inveigh against a Saudi regime drowning in corruption, and both would like nothing more than to parade about with the crown prince’s head on a pike.

In May, al-Qaida denounced Saudi religious reforms as “heretical” and urged clerics to rise up against a “moderate, open Islam, which all onlookers know is American Islam.”

In July, Islamic State took credit for an attack on a Saudi security checkpoint that claimed the life of a security officer and a foreign resident.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2004

In August, ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi accused Saudi Arabia of “trying to secularize its inhabitants and ultimately destroy Islam.”  

These are fighting words. Both groups meanwhile enjoy extensive support inside the kingdom. Prior to the attack on the World Trade Center, wealthy Saudis, including members of the royal family, helped fund al-Qaida to the tune of $30 million a year, according to Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan’s 2011 best seller, The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden.

In 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confided in a diplomatic memo that “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” More than three thousand Saudis have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join up with al-Qaida, ISIS and other Islamist forces. Once they return home, such jihadis might constitute a fifth column threatening the royal family as well. A crumbling royal family could fall like a ripe date into their outstretched palm.

Could Saudi Arabia become the Middle East’s next failed state? 

Washington is filled with so-called Middle East experts contributing to one disaster after another. Could it be that the best Mideast hand worth listening to is a North African scholar who died more than six centuries ago?

ConsortiumNews.com



12 Comments on "Is Saudi Arabia The Middle East’s Next Failed State?"

  1. joe on Mon, 8th Oct 2018 9:55 am 

    Isis and al qeada are created by the Saudis and CIA. That ideology is false and will die with the Saudis. The shariff of Mecca before ibn Saud was a Hashimite and grandfather of the king of Jordan. It was his house which freed the Arabs from Ottoman rule but it was the Wahabbis who were able to win Arabia because nobody knew that so much was in the desert wastes. The British thought they had won the oil wars when the put Prince Faisal on the throne in Iraq. They let him rot some decades later when geology put the gold medal on US backed al Saud. A stroke of luck. Oh well.
    Who can topple the house of Saud? Nobody. Cause Trump is propping them up. He said so himself. Saudis aren’t going anywhere.

  2. onlooker on Mon, 8th Oct 2018 10:13 am 

    Let’s see. KSA is propped up by two things. Its considerable reserves of Oil and Gas and by the support of the US especially military. Given the importance of the ME is supplying FF, and the importance of FF to both the US and KSA, no KSA is not the next failed State.

  3. Cloggie on Mon, 8th Oct 2018 12:24 pm 

    KSA is too rich to become a failed state any time soon. But the country is vulnerable because of its alliance with the infidel USA-Israel. In this respect KSA could very well become subjected to regime change, this time not organized by Washington for a change, but by the MB, supported by Qatar, Turkey and Iran. It worked in Egypt (until the US intervened), so why not in KSA.

    Prior to the attack on the World Trade Center, wealthy Saudis, including members of the royal family, helped fund al-Qaida to the tune of $30 million a year, according to Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan’s 2011 best seller, The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden.

    https://documents1940.wordpress.com/2018/10/07/donald-trump-on-9-11/

  4. boney joe on Mon, 8th Oct 2018 3:02 pm 

    Obviously, so long as MBS plays by America’s rules, the US will not allow external intervention to rid the kingdom of its parasitic dynasty; however, MBS in short order, has made many enemies internally by robing Saudi families of billions of dollars, and there’s little the US or Trump could do in the event of coup d’etat

  5. Davy on Mon, 8th Oct 2018 3:06 pm 

    Spoken like a true Canadian, boney greg t.

  6. boney joe on Mon, 8th Oct 2018 4:00 pm 

    “Spoken like a true Canadian, boney greg t.”

    DavyTurd words of garbage spoken by a true, blue hypocrite always complaining about comments not adding to the discussion.

    Another example in a long list from the site’s most consistent and reliable liar, fraudster, and hypocrite.

    What a sad little clown :(…….

    Welcome to fantasy farming…… da plane, da plane.

  7. Roger on Mon, 8th Oct 2018 6:14 pm 

    KSA could fall…but, not before Iran.

    “Sheba and Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish with all its villages will say to you, ‘Have you come to capture spoil? Have you assembled your company to seize plunder, to carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to capture great spoil?'”‘”
    ‭‭Ezekiel‬ ‭38:13‬ ‭NASB‬‬

    http://bible.com/100/ezk.38.13.nasb
    https://gracethrufaith.com/ask-a-bible-teacher/who-are-the-onlookers-of-ezekiel-3813/

  8. nostradamus on Mon, 8th Oct 2018 6:17 pm 

    The USA will never allow the oil fields of Saudi Arabia to be taken over. They will defend the House of Saud until the last barrel of oil is pumped out of the ground.

  9. I AM THE MOB on Mon, 8th Oct 2018 6:43 pm 

    Saudi Arabia ‘may run out of oil to export by 2030’
    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/oilandgas/9523903/Saudis-may-run-out-of-oil-to-export-by-2030.html

    The collapse of Saudi Arabia is inevitable
    http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/collapse-saudi-arabia-inevitable-1895380679

  10. print baby print on Thu, 11th Oct 2018 1:18 am 

    Iran is the real threat to the Izrael USA and Ksa . Especially their missile program. The war will be with Iran if it doesn’t bow down , which I doubt

  11. Rogers a cunt on Thu, 11th Oct 2018 10:38 pm 

    Good job Roger. You fucked up the comment with your retarded post and your stupid link. Is being a ducking idiot a prerequisite to being religious?

  12. Richard Guenette on Fri, 12th Oct 2018 5:18 pm 

    The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia is a psychopath.

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