The Ritz Carlton Hotel in downtown Riyadh is now serving as a temporary prison, holding some of the 201 people that have been detained on the orders of Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman. 1800 bank accounts have been frozen.
The drama is escalating on the international front as well. The Saudis are blaming Iran for a recent missile attack from Yemen. The Prime Minister of Lebanon has resigned from his post, while in Riyahd, and echoes Saudi rhetoric against Hezbollah. The price of oil is rising again, the highest its been in two years, approaching $58 per barrel.
What’s going on? Something is clearly boiling below the surface on the Arabian Peninsula. How can we interpret these chaotic moves?
Middle-Men for Wall Street & London
Why does the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia exist? Did it simply arise naturally? Does the mindset of the people living in the region simply long for this Wahabbi autocracy? This is what certain forces would like us to believe. But the reality is that the rise of the House of Saud, and the prolonged life of this absolute monarchy that beheads and tortures, is closely linked to forces outside the region, namely, western oil bankers.
The British empire discovered in their efforts to dominate the region that Ibn Saud, known as Abdulaziz in the Arab world, was a great middle man. In 1915, a “friendship and cooperation” pact was signed with this autocratic ruler, and the British supplied him with huge amounts of weapons. It was mainly due to British military and financial support that Ibn Saud was able to beat down all his rivals, and dominate the Peninsula. In 1938, oil was discovered, and the third Saudi state, established due to British intervention, became even more valuable to its western backers.
In 1944, the oil bankers of the United States moved in on the game. While British Petroleum and HSBC have kept a finger in Riyahd, it was the Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, predecessor of today’s Exxon-Mobil, along with other American petro-billionaires who became the primary purchasers of Saudi crude.
At this point Saudi Arabia is a top purchaser of US military hardware, and has the fourth largest army on earth. The Kingdom sits at the center of a network of “gulf states” with similar political and economic models. In the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and other oil states in the region, an autocratic monarchy presides over an un-developed country. These countries have oil fields controlled by American and British corporations and purchase large amounts of US weapons.
In 1973, the USA experienced fuel shortages caused by the OPEC boycott. Americans were told that US involvement in the Middle East was necessary in order to keep the oil flowing in.
The 1979 Iranian Revolution, toppling a brutal US backed dictator, shook the region. The Shia workers of the Saudi oil fields, a religious minority in the Kingdom, took inspiration and began fighting for their rights. The USA supported the Saudi King in crushing this mass uprising demanding democracy. A prominent figure in the Reagan administration later announced that the USA would intervene to protect the monarchy “if there should be anything that resembled an internal revolution in Saudi Arabia.”
Locking Down For War?
Among those recently arrested are some big players in Saudi power circles, such as Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, previously the head of the National Guard. Al Waleed bin Talal, a big player on Wall Street, who owns big shares of Citigroup, Microsoft, Four Seasons Holdings Inc., and Apple Inc. has also been arrested.
Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the son of the King, seems to be the director of this sweeping crackdown, not on dissidents, but within the ruling family itself. Bin Salman has been pushing for reform in Saudi Arabia’s economy, arguing that it should move away from being completely oil-centric. He has also recently announced huge cuts in public spending.
The old policy of “rule by consensus” among the royal family seems be long gone. Now, even members of the ruling family will have no choice but to march behind the King. And where are King Salman and his son leading them? It appears that they are looking for a wider war.
Already, Saudi Arabia is bombarding its southern neighbor, Yemen. The people of Yemen have asserted their independence in a popular revolution. Saudi cruise missiles and invading mercenaries are fighting to crush the Supreme Political Council. Thousands are already dead, and malnutrition is affecting millions, as the Saudis desperately seek to reinstall Mansour Hadi, their handpicked ruler.
Saudi Arabia is backing extremists in Syria as they seek to topple the Syrian government. The anti-government fighters in Syria have used chemical weapons, according to Carla Del Ponte and other UN officials, and have slaughtered Christians and other religious minorities. The Saudis have also sent troops into Bahrain in order to crush the popular uprisings demanding democracy. Now, they are echoing Israeli officials and rallying against the government of Lebanon.
US ‘Energy Independence’ & The Saudi Existential Crisis
In 1991, when Iraqi forces moved against the Saudi-aligned Kuwaiti autocracy, the USA swung into action. Americans were reminded of the OPEC boycott, and told that we had no choice but to protect the Saudi and Kuwaiti regimes, in order to secure the flow of oil. Democrats raised the idea of “energy independence” as the road to peace. “If only we didn’t need their oil,” liberals and environmentalists told us, “then we could leave the middle east alone.”
Yet, in 2017, the USA has already established energy independence. Hydraulic Fracking, a method of extracting oil and natural gas from the shale below the soil, has made the US a top domestic oil producer. With the American oil sector in the hands of competing capitalists hungry for profits, deeply irrational things are taking place, as usual. The US still imports Middle Eastern, African, and Latin American oil, while exporting its own oil around the world, with the 1975 oil export ban lifted.
US meddling in the Middle East has not decreased due to “energy independence,” but it has increased. With a greater abundance on the market, American oil companies are even more desperate to remove competitors. The drive to move against countries like Iran, Venezuela, and Russia, with state run oil companies that function as competitors, is even stronger.
However, the position of Saudi Arabia in this global drive for monopoly is no longer what it once was. The USA doesn’t need Saudi oil the way it once did, and while it has no desire to see competitors sweep up the Saudi oil fields, the “sweet spot” the Saudis once occupied as irreplaceable suppliers, is slipping away. They are no longer sacred cows in American foreign policy.
Donald Trump openly criticized Saudi Arabia during his Presidential campaign, winning lots of applause and no real condemnation for it. The redacted pages from the 9/11 commission report, documenting the links of the Saudi government to the hijackers, have been released to the public.
Saudi Arabia is now facing an existential crisis. The Kingdom must prove its value to those who prop it up in Wall Street, London, and Washington. While it no longer has the same economic value, the regime in Riyadh is now working to prove its worth in military terms.
More Chaos, Not America’s Interest
The main target of Saudi Arabia’s saber-rattling rhetoric is the Islamic Republic of Iran. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran established a political order based on the principles of “War of Poverty Against Wealth” and “Not Capitalism But Islam.” Iran’s economy is centrally planned, with state controlled oil as its lynchpin. Iran is aligned with various anti-imperialist forces throughout the region who call themselves “the Axis of Resistance.”
Saudi Arabia presents the conflict in the region as a war between Sunni and Shia. In reality, the targets of Saudi attack are the forces demanding independence and economic development. They are not religiously sectarian, or even unified. The majority of the fighters in the Syrian Arab Army are Sunnis, not Shias like the Iranian leadership. The Zaidi Shias in the Ansar Allah (Houthi) organization in Yemen, are a small minority in the country. Most of the Yemenis fighting against the Saudi onslaught are not Shia either. Hezbollah in Lebanon is a Shia organization, but it sits at the center of a united front, aligning with secular anti-imperialists, nationalists, christians and communists in a political bloc opposing Israel and the United States.
If Saudi Arabia escalates its actions against forces asserting independence throughout the region, this will likely result in more chaos. Syria, Libya and Yemen are already in turmoil due to Saudi meddling, in cooperation with the United States. Iraq and Afghanistan have been in chaos ever since their governments were toppled by US-led invasions.
Iran has never attacked the United States. Neither has the Syrian Arab Republic. The people of Yemen, the people of Bahrain and Lebanon, pose no threat to the American people. In fact, Hezbollah and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards of Iran are battling the ISIS terrorists every day in Syria, alongside the Syrian Arab Army.
Wall Street certainly sees more chaos in the region as beneficial. For the billionaire elite that runs the USA, further chaos in the Middle East means lots of weapons sales, and the destruction of independent governments that function as competitors on the oil markets. But for average Americans, the prospects of further instability in the Middle East only means more danger from terrorism, and more tax money wasted on foreign wars.
Polls show that average Americans want less foreign involvement, and have a low opinion of the Saudi autocracy. Only 36 percent of Americans consider Saudi Arabia to be a friend or ally. However, US leaders seem to be accountable elsewhere. The gap of interests, between those of the American people, and the profit hungry oil-banking elite are growing bigger each day.
Caleb Maupin is a political analyst and activist based in New York. He studied political science at Baldwin-Wallace College and was inspired and involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.