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Dhaka Tribune

MBS and the decline of Saudi Arabia

A group of Saudi dissidents exiled around the world have put the last nail in the coffin by announcing the launch of an opposition party, the first organized political resistance under King Salman's rule

Update : 24 Sep 2020, 08:05 PM

The ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been going through various crises since the political rise of Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), the son of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

With the rise of MBS, a large number of arrests were made of members of the royal family. At the same time, the Saudi royal family has been embroiled in controversy at home over rising tensions with regional rival Iran, the failed Qatar blockade, the war in Yemen and excessive pro-US-Israeli rhetoric.

Prince Salman himself also has been embroiled in controversy over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the hacking of US millionaire and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos's mobile.

The Muslim kingdom is on the verge of collapse as the second anniversary of the state-sponsored assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi approaches. The country has already begun to lose leadership and influence in the Gulf and the Middle East.

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Recently, Al-Jazeera's senior political analyst Marwan Bishara gave a detailed analysis of the decline of Saudi Arabia in his column.

Bishara wrote that Saudi Arabia's rise to prominence as an influential member of Opec and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) for more than 50 years was now beginning to take a turn for the worse.

Marwan Bishara blamed misguided policies for the kingdom losing its religious and economic influence.  Saudi Arabia is home to one of the holiest sites in Islam and the world's second-largest oil producer.

The rise of Saudi Arabia came after the fall of Egypt’s pan-Arab project following the 1967 six-day war and the death of Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser three years later. The Saudi-led OIC came to the fore, leading to a fading of the influence of the formerly Soviet Union-backed Egypt, Iraq and the Syria-led Arab League.

After the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Saudi Arabia became an important ally of the United States.

As long as King Abdullah was alive, Saudi influence remained intact. However, after his death, the new King Salman took power, with his ambitious son Mohammad bin Salman taking over as defense minister.

But from the beginning, Mohammed bin Salman has practically ruled Saudi Arabia.

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The way Mohammed bin Salman began his work, with commitment and ambition, soon turned into recklessness. Another prince known to be the Crown Prince's advisor is Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ) of the United Arab Emirates.

Marwan Bishara thinks that, inspired by Prince Zayed, Prince Salman started judging everything by his reckless mentality.

As soon as Prince Salman came to power, he started an unjust war in Yemen on the advice of bin Zayed. That war has turned into an endless conflict, and because of MBS’ reckless decision the people of Yemen are now dying in agony.

Bishara notes that in 2017 Mohammed bin Salman forced Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri to resign on the advice of US President Donald Trump. This has had the opposite effect for him.

In the same year, after Mohammed bin Salman was nominated as Crown Prince, he arrested all the princes and officials opposed to him. He even tortured them. Since then, he has arrested anyone he deems to be an opponent. In 2018, the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated on his orders at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Mohammed bin Salman has intervened in Libya and Tunisia and supported the governments of Egypt's Sisi and Syria's Bashar al-Assad. According to Marwan, this was a suicidal decision.  

However, Marwan thinks that Salman's most suicidal decision is to follow Abu Dhabi and take some far-western cultural steps that are in conflict with the ultra-conservative culture of Saudi Arabia.

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Bishara believes that Prince Salman has inspired the UAE and Bahrain in establishing relations with Israel.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “Mohammed bin Salman has previously sought recognition of Israel through the UAE and Bahrain in order to prepare the ground for the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel. King Salman is still adamant that Saudi Arabia will not establish normal relations with Israel without a return of Palestinian territory. Mohammed bin Salman is doing this against his will.”

All of this has caused great damage to Mohammed bin Salman. As the price of oil falls abnormally, the living standards of the Saudi people have begun to decline.

Anger against the government is growing among the people. Regional countries do not respect Saudi Arabia as much as before. If Trump loses the next election, it is almost certain that Mohammed bin Salman will face a huge crisis. That is why he is now getting closer to Israel.

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A group of Saudi dissidents exiled in Britain, the US and elsewhere have put the last nail in the coffin by announcing the launch of an opposition party on Wednesday, the first organized political resistance under King Salman's rule.

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy that does not tolerate any political opposition, but the formation of the National Assembly Party on the anniversary of the kingdom's founding comes amid a growing state crackdown on dissent and freedom of expression.

The development is unlikely to seriously undermine the authority of the Arab world's most powerful ruling family.

But it poses a fresh challenge to Saudi Arabia's rulers as they grapple with low crude oil prices and gear up to host a G20 summit in November amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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