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REALIGNMENT IN THE MIDDLE EAST

REALIGNMENT IN THE MIDDLE EAST

By: Aftab H. Wahla

Will Israel & Saudi Arabia join Hands against Iran? 

The Middle East has long been considered the world’s most important region, given its strategic, economic and religious significance. It is the world’s largest oil- and gas-producing region – 65.5 percent of OPEC’s total output comes from the Middle East. It is the converging point of the jugular routes of global trade (e.g. Strait of Hormuz, the Persian Gulf) and also the custodian of the holiest places of all three revealed religions of the world — Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In addition, this region is the hotspot of wars against the global terrorist networks whose global ambitions and activities are even threatening the liberal orders of the Western countries. All these considerations, coupled with centrality of this region in global realpolitik, have made this area the most conspicuous element in the global and national debates of many countries. 

The political and economic instability that followed the West-sponsored democratization of the Middle East, known as the Arab Spring, is still haunting the region. Chaos, anarchy, civil war and rampant instability have caused near destruction of infrastructure of health, education and other basic amenities in most Middle Eastern countries. The proxy wars and military campaigns against militants resulted into mass killings of civilian people and hundreds of thousands of people have become refugees, migrants or rendered homeless. The toppling of regimes on the pretext of democracy and on fabricated allegations of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) has led bare the fault lines around sectarian, ethnic and religious disputes.

Out of multiple, multilayered and multifaceted underlying reasons responsible for all the chaos, the proxy wars, being waged by Iran and Saudi Arabia to strengthen, reinforce and expand their respective regional clout, is the cause that plagues the region most. From failed adventurism in Yemen on the instigation of Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, to diplomatic and economic isolation of Qatar by members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC); from interference in the domestic affairs of Lebanon by Hezbollah, Iran-sponsored and armed Shia militant organization, to Iran’s support to regimes in Iraq and Syria through arming and training Shia volunteers, all indicate the irrefutable role of these regional superpowers in the deteriorating political and economic situation in the Middle East. In this regard, the political and social developments in Saudi Arabia are worth discussing.

The era of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud precipitated many radical social and political changes in Saudi Arabia. Especially the nomination of Prince Mohammed Bin Salman as the Crown Prince of the Kingdom has proved earth-shaking in the conservative regime. Being impetuous and ambitious, Mohammed Bin Salman, also known as MBS, is fully determined to bring about radical changes to help Kingdom better deal with the imminent end of the oil boom. He undertook many initiatives that are heralding gradual liberalization of Saudi economy and society. Announcement of the establishment of $500 billion-dollar mega city, termed NEOM, that will operate independently of rigid religious framework of government, the decision of allowing women to drive in 2018 and his intention of returning towards moderate Islam that will be open to every religion, throw light on his strategy to diversify the bases of Kingdom’s economy through attracting tourism and foreign investment. Besides economic reforms, he is consolidating power in his own hands and with the incarceration of more than 200 princes, former ministers and governors and business tycoons under the charges of corruption, he is now being considered the most powerful de facto ruler of the Saudi Kingdom after King Aziz Bin Saud, the founder of the KSA. 

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