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Arab Princes in A 5 Star Jail and Trump’s Daft Declaration: It’s Getting Even Hotter in The Middle East.

Events in the Middle East since November 2017 have taken some dramatic steps even for this politically volatile region.

Wars in Syria and Iraq grind on against now a much reduced ISIS threat however the Syrian Defence Force/Kurdish (YPG led and US supported) coalition are now vying for land and political control in regained territories. Libya’s civil strife continues with little notice given by the rest of the world until something dramatic happens.

The war in Yemen recently claimed its former president Ali Abdullah Saleh a victim of an attack by Iran backed Houthi rebels in Sana’a. The war is a proxy fight between Iran and Saudi Arabia who back the incumbent Sunni government. If these troubles weren’t enough US President Donald Trump has recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

This unnecessary declaration has not only infuriated Palestinians and Muslims everywhere but also Christian sensibilities and stunned western allies who have criticised the announcement including the UK, Germany and France. There were vehement widespread protests immediately afterwards which will undoubtedly continue in the coming months.

However in the Kingdom Saudi Arabia there have been stunning power-broking and regime realignments taking place by the young crown prince Muhammad bin Salman who placed allies in key political offices such as defence, interior ministry and the National Guard. There were arrests of approximately 208 people including several prominent princes, such as globally renown investor Alwaleed bin Talal, as part of a probe into,” systematic corruption and embezzlement,” (FT,2017).

These moves have been to strengthen his succession and establish himself as the de facto ruler by side-stepping the older generation heirs to the frail 81year-old King Salman.

There was also the curious resignation of Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri while in the Saudi capital Riyadh. He’s a Saudi citizen and business owner thus the Saudi authorities may think he’s linked to the financial investigation. Saudi has lost influence in Lebanon in recent years to Iran and Hizbollah. By effecting a change in political leadership it may help reverse that trend and provide a counter weight to their regional rival in a crucial part of the Middle East.

It would sit uncomfortably with any Syrian Assad- led regime, and of course the Iranian backed Hizbollah political/terrorist grouping depending on your own point of view. An increased Saudi presence would bolster Sunni factions which make-up part of the Syrian Defence Force, with Kurdish Sunnis in Iraq and Iran encouraged to ramp up tension with Iranian forces.

Strategic struggles all raise the political temperature of the entire Middle East from Turkey to Yemen as the main protagonists Iran and Saudi Arabia vie for political influence. This creates wider geopolitical ramifications as it involves military support from the USA and its NATO Allies and Russia. The Russian role as counterpoint to the West offers military support to Iran and its allies such as the Syrian Assad regime. This has been most visible in the Syrian conflict.

The ascending Saudi Crown Prince bin Salman, if not the throne yet, certainly in political authority wants to appeal to his young population and modernisers, so allowing women to drive was one such move. Another is arresting wealthy businessman and princes as it attempts to address the cronyism that has frustrated and angered the population over the years. Young Saudi Arabians in particular are aggrieved at the scarcity of employment opportunities in the petro-state while the old guard are seen to continue to benefit from the black gold.

By setting his own authority and agenda early and by placing his own supporters in positions of influence provides the new regime an opportunity to make life-long changes. The big question is will it do enough to satisfy young and ambitious Saudis and international criticism of the autocratic, Wahhabi-based ruling al-Saud regime?

Having princes detained in a 5-star hotel converted in to a prison block in Riyadh certainly makes headlines. It will also make him enemies within the old establishment. How much of a difference it makes to peoples’ lives in the oil rich Kingdom itself depends on how modern a monarch he becomes? An unlikely rapprochement with Iran and stopping further slaughter in various theatres of war would be a massive step forward- in fact a miracle to hope for any Christmas.

For the UK it may get to benefit again from some more arms deals, objectionable business but perhaps necessary for our post-Brexit economy. The arrests in the KSA and the war in Yemen haven’t unsettled markets too much but then again add Trump and Israel and that could change very quickly

 

I wish you a Merry Christmas.

LDC.

References-

Ahmed Al-Omran, A; 2017;”Arrests of Saudi Media Moguls Raise Ownership Fears,” The Financial Times Limited 2017 UK, Website Accessed: 9th December 2017: https://www.ft.com/content/5cda5a0e-c53e-11e7-a1d2-6786f39ef675

 

Further reading:

Borger, J & Beaumont, P; 2017,”Defiant Donald Trump confirms US will recognise Jerusalem as capital of Israel,” 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited, London UK, Website: 9th December 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/dec/06/donald-trump-us-jerusalem-israel-capital

Dehghanpisheh, B; 2016;”To Iranian eyes, Kurdish unrest spells Saudi incitement,”  (Ed. William Maclean and Toby Chopra) 2017 Reuters. Website accessed: 9th December 2017: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-politics-kurds/to-iranian-eyes-kurdish-unrest-spells-saudi-incitement-idUSKCN11A0BD

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