By: Zaheer Ali
The current turmoil in North Africa and the Arabian region of Asia is something that might have momentous consequences for the world that is dependent a great deal on Arab oil. There are all sorts of analyses and predictions regarding the unrest in the Arab lands that have remained or forced to remain politically dormant by the local autocrats/monarchs/dictators and their western political masters. Two things assign a very significant position to the Middle East, oil and Islam. The first one is badly required by most of the countries in the world to keep their industrialized economies moving and the second one is an extremely feared faith especially in Western Europe and the USA which believe that it represents an opposite value-system to that of theirs and for that reason its adherents are potential terrorists who might destroy the Western world by means of violence. These beliefs have always been the cardinal principles of the foreign policies of most of the Western European nations and the USA. However, they are cunning enough to camouflage these guiding principles of their foreign policies by employing various euphemisms such as regional security, geopolitical considerations, respecting local culture and faith, extending technological expertise and so on depending upon the context. Western world, in reality, has three major objectives in relation to their Middle East foreign policy. The first one is obviously to exploit the oil resources of the Arab world to their advantage, the second one is to keep militarizing Israel so that it maintains its dominant position in the region to function as an outpost of the Western world and third is to check the activities of the radical Islamists who might be helping terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda.
In order to protect their interests the Western world, in particular, the USA have been successfully implementing a strategy for decades i.e. to keep the Arab masses politically ignorant so that they remain the loyal subjects of their autocratic and corrupt rulers. It is in this background we may have to gauge the significance of Saudi Arabia, a country ruled by the most ruthless and corrupt monarchy which is totally supported by the USA. In reality the house of Saud and its dominance over the region considered to be the holiest land for the Muslims, itself is the creation of the Western world. Until the end of the World War I, almost the entire Middle East was part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. When the Western world, Britain to be precise, got to know about the oil deposits in the Arab land in the beginning of the twentieth century, they adopted a strategy comprising deceit, conspiracy, immorality and aggression to destabilize the Ottoman Empire with an aim to grab the oil-rich deserts of the Middle East. The clandestine activities of the British spy T E Lawrence (made popular by the movie, Lawrence of Arabia) in the region that is roughly the area of present-day Saudi Arabia, were part of the British conspiracy against the Ottoman Empire.
The turn of events prior and after the First World War helped the British to achieve their objective. Turkey joined the war on the side of Germany and with the defeat of the Axis Powers it provided Britain and France to break up the Ottoman Empire and divide its colonies among themselves. During the course of war, thanks to the machinations of Lawrence, the Arabs revolted against their Turkish masters and helped the British destroy the Turkish fighting forces from inside. The territory of present Saudi Arabia was consisted of three main provinces of Hejaz, Najd and Asir. The region of Hejaz, wherein are located the two holy cities of Islam, Mecca and Medina, was locally under the control of Sharif of Mecca who traced his lineage from the Prophet Muhammad. The present rulers of the country were in fact outlaws and bandits who would always be at war with the Sharif to grab control of the province of Hejaz. The Turkish imperialists, however, had always supported the Sharif. Consequently, the members of the house of Al Saud had to seek shelter in the desert. When the British launched their clandestine campaign to instigate the Arabs against their Turkish masters they made a pact with the outlaw Saudis that on gaining victory the Saudis would be made the rulers of the region. With the defeat of Turkey in World War I the Armistice of Mudros was signed on October 30, 1918 according to which most of the Arab lands were handed over to the British. The Saudis who had helped the British during the course of the war demanded their pound of flesh and the British rewarded them. Thus, the present country of Saudi Arabia came into existence in 1932 with the amalgamation of the three provinces with the house of Saud as the absolute monarchs. The first thing the usurpers of political power did was to name the country after their family name and thus the historical provinces of Hejaz, Najd and Asir came to be known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. There is no parallel in the history of the world when a megalomaniac ruler named the entire country after his family name!
The Saudi monarchy came handy for the Western Powers to retain its control over the oil resources of the country. In the post World War II scenario, the USA took Saudi Arabia in its firm grip to oversee the outflow of oil. In return the unscrupulous and terribly corrupt monarchs have always been given a free hand to treat their people like chattels. Saudi Arabian government is the worst violator of human rights, gender justice, freedom of speech and expression, minority rights, civil liberties and right to freedom of religion. The Muslims in the USA demand to construct a mosque a few blocks away from the site where the Twin Towers stood before 9/11. However, nobody can think of constructing a ten by ten feet church in any part of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi rulers get away with all excesses and barbarism because the USA extends the unconditional support to the most ruthless monarchy in the world.
The winds of revolt that are blowing in the Middle East are no doubt long over due and a healthy sign of people’s aspirations to participate in the affairs of their nations. However, it is difficult to say that these revolts will necessarily lead to the establishment of democracy in the region. The two major stumbling blocks are the USA and Saudi Arabia. While the former enjoys the military and diplomatic supremacy in world politics the latter exploits the religious sentiments of the Muslim world. The USA could not directly intervene in the uprisings of Tunisia and Egypt because the autocrats of the two countries had outlived as the protectors of American interests in the region. In Libya the USA and its NATO allies are directly taking military action because they want to get rid of Gaddafi who is putting up a stiff resistance against the revolutionaries. In Bahrain, a tiny country comprising 70 % Shia population the USA and the Saudi Arabia support a brutal Sunni monarch because it serves their purpose to contain Iran’s political ambitions. For public consumption the Obama administration did express its displeasure over Saudi move to send its troops to Bahrain to kill and torture the protestors. Nevertheless, the Saudi action had the clandestine approval of Washington.
The turmoil in the Middle East is certainly the expression of democratic aspirations of the people of the region who have been suffering under barbaric monarchies and autocracies for long. These rebellions can reach to their logical conclusion only if the USA refrains from interfering directly or indirectly in the affairs of the region and most importantly the people of Saudi Arabia who are politically leading a life of slavery rise against the tyrannical rule of the House of Saud..Unless the Saudi monarchy is overthrown the region would never become truly democratic.
The writer is a political commentator and heads the Centre for Promotion of Democracy and Secularism.