In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

Death in Arabia: Saudi conundrum

Posted by seumasach on June 19, 2012


17th June, 2012

The sudden death of the Saudi Crown Prince Nayef brings to focus the Saudi conundrum. The problems facing the country are challenging — archaic monarchic system, rampant corruption and venality, growing socio-economic challenges, Shi’ite empowerment, regional upheaval and a tough neighborhood. But the mother of all ironies is set to unfold in the next 30-day period when Nayef is laid to rest and a new Crown Prince to be selected.

Saudi Arabia is today the flag-carrier of ‘reform’ and ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’ in Syria. And yet, it has one of the most opaque political systems in the world. Thirty-four obscure gentlemen who claim descendence from the founder of the Kingdom Abdul-aziz Ibn Saud (who had 34 children) will take the momentous decision as to who will be the Crown Prince to succeed King Abdullah in the event of death. And they aren’t answerable to anyone. It is a veritable cabal that makes a mockery of representative rule. The ‘unknown unknown’, of course, is the near-total influence of the United States’ security and intelligence establishment over these ‘decision-makers’ whose assets lie in the vaults of the western banks.
The list of dignitaries at Nayef’s funeral will be like a compass to navigate the choppy waters of regional politics. From Pakistan, both Prime MInister Yousuf Gilani and army chief Ashfaq Kayani are heading for the funeral. Army chief Kayani? Yes, indeed. Who says Pakistan’s ties with Saudi Arabia have lost their verve because of the perceived Saudi gravitation toward India, as our pundits and establishment writers concluded?
World leaders are lavishing praise on Nayef’s legacy. But it is more a case of saluting the importance of Saudi Arabia as the world’s number one oil producer and paying homage to petrodollars. But at the end of the day, what is Nayef’s legacy? Curiously, he died on a day that a small group of Saudi women had chosen to openly defy him — by driving a motor car.
Nayef used extreme violence and resorted to brutality to put down so-called al Qaeda, Islamists, liberals and women, Shi’ites and all dissenters alike in Saudi Arabia. The backlash, which is sure to come day, will prompt a reappraisal of Nayef’s role at a critical period of regional transition. He was a key figure in the Saudi intervention in Bahrain, where the jury is still out. Most ominously, Islamist radicals based in Yemen are marking time.  Nayef was never a ‘popular’ figure in his own country, but then, who likes police chiefs anyway? In the eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia, his demise was apparently an occasion for celebration.

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