Watching the news reports this morning about the Yemeni president fleeing the country, as well as the escalating border violence in Israel, I suddenly realized that no one has been talking about largest of all unforseen possibilities: that the Saudi regime falls? Could it happend, what would be the effects, and what would the US do, if anything?
The “Arab spring” has dominated the news for months. First Tunisia, then Egypt, LIbya, Yemen, and even Syria. My intent here is not to rehash the details of what has transpired in each country, nor to predict what the outcomes might be. But to be honest, virtually no one saw the Egyptian uprising coming. We all assumed that Mubarek had the country, via the military, firmly in control. Indeed, it made sense for the Egyptian military to support the regime, for they had enjoyed a very comfortable life style over the last 40 years. So, why rock the boat? Yet, inside of a week, the Egyptian military folded, and now they will probably have to face the prospect of dealing with a government dominated by the Egyptian brotherhood. One suspects that the military in the land of the Pharoahs will soon resemble that in Iran.
And now we have Syria. The Assads have dominated the country for decades, ruthlessly exterminating any opposition to their despotic regime. And I, like most, thought that they’d be easily able to stamp out the first attempts at dissent. But no. More than 1000 lives later, the opposition seems stronger, more determinded than ever. Right now, it’s not considered lunacy to imagine a scenario where the Syrian regime falls. Unlike Egypt, it will most likely be bloody.
But absolutely nobody’s talking about Saudi Arabia. Though not a “closed” nation, it is very insular. Several thousand members of the Royal family control everything. It is an absolute monarchy. There are no rights, freedoms, political parties, unions..nothing, nada, zip, zilch.
But Saudi Arabia is completely different from all the other Middle Eastern states in one key respect. It is the heart of the Islamic faith. The ruling dynasty has to date successfully used that to keep themselves in power. They embrace Wahabiism, secretly fund terrorists, play all sides against each other.
If the Middle East were a game of chess, one could say that many of the pieces have already come off the board, or are threatened. Including the King himself, the head of the Saudi dynasty. The leadership ( the senior princes) is old, likely tired, and the next generations seem more interested in dissipating their vast wealth.
I am no expert, no Arabist, other than what I read, but I am starting to sense that Saudi Arabia could crack wide open, and rather easily. We really have no idea of the loyalty of the armed forces to the House of Saud. We all know that radical Islamists have infiltrated the Pakistani military. Why should we assume that anything different is occuring in Saudi Arabia?
And if it does, then what happens? The battle, on the face, will be about control of the Muslim holy sites. Would there be a protracted civil war, like we are seeing today in Libya? Would the regime fall quickly, and the military move to protect the religious sites and institutions? Would Iran move to fill the vacuum, if “invited” to do so by a faction, under the guise of protecting Mecca?
And of course, what about the oil? Chaos in Saudi Arabia would wreck the world economy in a matter of weeks, as oil prices would spiral upwards. And who would protect the oilfields and the pipelines, the key oil ports? Would the US intervene? Would Hama and Hezbollah use this “diversion” to open hostilities on Israel?
I have no idea. In looking at the Middle East to date, I am only certain that the situation in Egypt will soon deteriorate. The Muslim brotherhood will have power, and we will start to see massive religious strife between the Muslims and the Copts. Tourism will collapse, and the Egyptian economy will tank.
Yet no one is even looking ahead to what is a fairly predictible scenario, other than mouth incessant platitudes about the “Arab spring.”
Saudi Arabia is the biggest piece of the puzzle, and everyone is buying their heads in the sand, and just assuming that Riyahd will go on as it has been.
That’s not going to happen.