Friday, June 10, 2011

The Saudi Perspective - DECODED!

A Saudi perspective on the Arab uprisings

Editor's Note: Nawaf Obaid is a Senior Fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research & Islamic Studies based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He recently wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post entitled, Why Saudi Arabia is stable amid the Mideast unrest. Previously, Obaid was also private security and energy advisor Nawaf Obaid to Prince Turki al-Faisal when al-Faisal was the Saudi Ambassador to the United States.
By Nawaf Obaid – Special to CNN

The Arab world faces a period of historic upheaval: The economic and social malaise that existed in Tunisia before the revolution remains, and there is no realistic plan to turn the situation around.
Egypt's economy is in free-fall and the Muslim Brotherhood is poised to significantly increase its power through upcoming elections.
Civil war in Libya and escalating violence in Yemen have cost thousands of lives and set back development by decades.
Syria is on the edge of an abyss of nightmarish internecine warfare, which could spill into Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.
The so-called "Arab Spring" has not brought new life to the Middle East, but leaderless anarchy, creating a virtual pan-regional movement that is alarmingly dangerous and ultimately unsustainable.
Recognizing the threat that the spread of this movement represents, Saudi Arabia is expanding its role internationally and mobilizing its vast resources to help countries facing domestic upheaval.
As the birthplace of Islam and the leader of the Muslim and Arab worlds, Saudi Arabia has a unique responsibility to aid states in the region, assisting them in their gradual evolution toward more sustainable political systems and preventing them from collapsing and spreading further disorder.
That the Kingdom has the ability to implement this foreign policy goal should not be in doubt - it is backed by significant military and economic strength.
The foundation for this more robust strategic posture is Saudi Arabia's investment of around $150 billion in its military. This includes a potential expansion of the National Guard and Armed Forces by at least 120,000 troops, and a further 60,000 troops for the security services at the Interior Ministry, notably in the special and various police forces. A portion of these will join units that could be deployed beyond the Kingdom's borders.
In addition, approximately 1,000 new state-of-the-art combat tanks may be added to the Army, and the Air Force will see its capabilities significantly improve with the doubling of its high quality combat airplanes to about 500 advanced aircraft.
A massive new missile defense system is in the works. Finally, the two main fleets of the Navy will undergo extensive expansion and a complete refurbishment of existing assets.
As part of this new defense doctrine, the leadership has decided to meet the country's growing needs for new equipment by diversifying among American, European and Asian military suppliers.
Few countries are able to support such considerable military investment, but Saudi Arabia occupies a unique position in that it has sufficient reserves and revenues to carry out the above plans, while also funding vital domestic social programs.
With 25 percent of the world's oil reserves and over 70 percent of global spare capacity, current projections for the next five years estimate that the Kingdom will earn on average about $250 billion in oil revenue per year (for 2011, the projection is almost $300 billion). In addition, the Kingdom has approximately $550 billion in foreign reserves, a sum it plans to steadily increase.
To maintain current oil export levels while at the same time fulfilling its growing domestic energy needs, the government is investing heavily in solar technology, and will spend more than $100 billion to build at least 16 nuclear power plants across the Kingdom.
Solar energy will fill the gap in the short term, satisfying some incremental domestic energy needs, and within a decade, plans call for nuclear power to play the leading role in augmenting oil as a source of domestic energy.
Thus, Saudi Arabia will be able to fuel the growth of its burgeoning economy without significantly reducing its oil exporting capability.
The Kingdom's more assertive policies are already apparent. It has provided Egypt $4 billion and Jordan $400 million (the latter could form the first installment of a much larger aid package that is being discussed).
Saudi Arabia is also leading the effort to improve regional collaboration by working to include Jordan and Morocco in a Saudi-centric Gulf Cooperation Council alliance.
In Yemen, it is spearheading diplomatic negotiations to effect a peaceful transition of power.
The Kingdom is the main supporter of Bahrain's monarchy, and will maintain a military presence there.
As Saudi Arabia grows more influential, initiatives such as these - which currently stretch from Morocco to Malaysia - will increase in number and reach, regardless of whether they meet with Western approval.
In Saudi Arabia, protests on the so-called "Day of Rage" predicted by pundits never materialized; the country remains stable and the leadership enjoys widespread support.
Those who are similarly skeptical about the Kingdom's ability to rise to its historic role as the indispensable regional power will again be proven wrong. The Saudi government will use its vast resources to steer the Arab world away from anarchy and unrealistic populist movements, and towards steady evolution in a manner that respects each country's unique culture and history.
The views expressed in this piece are solely those of Nawaf Obaid.
Despite the disclaimer at the end, we know that Nawaf Obaid has regular interactions with the highest levels of the Saudi government. Born of a Lebanese mother and Saudi father, Obaid has lived in Switzerland, where his mother resides, and studied in the United States. He holds degrees from Georgetown University, MIT and Harvard. His articles tend to be fairly accurate in terms of the positions taken by the Saudi government and are often prescient.

Nawaf's article DECODED:

  • They will back political political parties that are pro - Saudi in the Arab spring countries and if these parties come to power, the KSA government will back them to preserve a status quo. The KSA will do everything possible to preserve the status quo across the region and beyond (hence incorporating Jordan & Morocco) hence even supporting sunni monarchies such as Malaysia.
  • Interesting that he hints that the Saudi units "could" be deployed abroad. He is referring to the Saudi Special Forces and specifically we believe he is hinting at deployment in either Lebanon (to cut off Hezbollah) or possibly in Iraq to defend the sunni tribes. Cheney had proposed deploying sunni troops in sunni provinces of Iraq such as Al Anbar back in 2006.

  • Mentioning the specific Saudi plans to expand tanks, air force and army is a further confirmation that Saudi's will protect their own interests with minimal help of the US Security agreement. The emergence of a muslim brotherhood dominated Egyptian government is likely to be seen as a threat by the KSA government and particularly an egypt that is renewing diplomatic links with Iran. Therefore, the new air force/Naval purchases and expansion will be so that KSA can deal with a 2/3 front war (Red sea, arabian gulf, Iraqi borders).
  • Tier 1 and 2 (high tech equipment such as Aircraft or Electronic warfare equipment) purchases will be from US/EU defence firms with some Russian systems, but Tier 3 equipment will be purchased from possibly China or India or maybe Russia.
  • Saudi aid to Jordan is an incentive for Jordan to join the GCC. Once Jordan joins the GCC, it will be able to take advantage of larger aid packages.
  • The article hints that KSA is likely to build a permanent base in Bahrain.
  • The last paragraph reaffirms that KSA will do everything to prevent further pro-democracy movements in the region.

    We'd also add that KSA will have to train up a vast number of Saudi defence personell, as it currently relies mainly on deputed Egyptian and Pakistani officers to man aircraft/naval vessels. The large increase in defence assets would also mean that more such officers will be brought in termporarily from Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan and other countries until Saudi officers are able to take over. This further re-affirms the position of Pakistan as a strategic partner to KSA.

    Meanwhile, the Iranian government hasn't sat back to these latest developments. Stay tuned for the next post which will detail the Iranian response!

    Feel free to post a comment or email us your views at eye.on.middleeast "At" Gmail "dot" com.


    1. Actually Pakistanis are hardly involved in Saudi training programs now. The Saudis are very scared that AQ sympathisers are now in PA, PAF and PN branches since OBL assasination and would like to use only foot soldiers as cannon fodder.

      The training is all either French, German or US. In some cases Chinese and Indian as well. If India pushes ahead and provides some training at attractive prices, we can have a bigger ingress.

      Their main idea is to use non-muslims for training as they would be less likely to be radicalised in the name of Islam and Democracy

    2. Hi anonymous. We'd like to learn more. Could you email us at: eye.on.middleeast "At" Gmail "dot" com


    3. What's your opinion about possible actions by US and rest of NATO block ? This show of strength by Saudis will most likely support despotic Islamic regimes contrary to popular public sentiment in most of western nations. Can't rule out public opinion in middle-east either. Can we expect to see a possible Libya like conflict in any other country ?

    4. Thanks for your comment. Could you clarify your first question about US and rest of NATO (actions on which area are you refering to) please?

      With regards to your 2nd point, yes it certainly is. Public opinion in the GCC is pro government, although factions such as the Iranian backed shia groups in Bahrain are anti government - but are not necessarily in support of democracy but a rule similar to that of Iran.

      In Bahrain, where we saw a lot of protests, the government is already a constitutional democracy with a full fledged parliament. Oman has just implemented reforms to become a full fledged democracy.

      Britain took several centuries to develop into a full fledged constitutional monarchy. Some countries in the region have turned into a constitutional democracy such as Kuwait. Although, they are now finding out that democracy may not be the best option as it takes several years for politics to stablise. Even in Iraq - Demcracy has been a relative failure - you can judge this by recent protests across the board there and the fact that the government is ruling in a very fragile coalition.

      A Libya like situation is extremely likely in Syria unless Bashaar al Assad conducts major reforms. Here it will likely be Turkey that will intervene militarily backed by US air and naval cover.

      You may also see a renewed US role in Libya "to finish the job".

    5. I was referring to military action by NATO in any middle-eastern country like Syria, Lebanon or the Gulf Sultanates. It's quite unlikely thet US will support any democratic movement, (however unlikely it is) against the current Saudi regime.
      Don' you think any escalation in tensions between Arab Christians and Muslims will lead to something big in near future ?

    6. Turkey will take care of Syria militarily if that scenario arises. For now the Syrian regime appears to be imploding as the Sunni soldiers have waken up and are deserting slowly.

      Lebanon is a democracy already and a new Hezbollah dominated government has just been formed in parliament.

      Gulf - Extremely unlikely due to strategic considerations.

      As for democratic reform for KSA - The US would like to encourage the KSA government to introduce more democratic reform. However, for now this is quite unlikely. Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman already have a parliament (some with full rights to make laws).

      Issues relating to Arab Christians and Muslims - Yes this has been an issue already in Egypt. There have been several incidents between Coptic christians and Salafists/takfiri's. This has in fact been taken notice of by Syrian Christians and minorities who have increased their support for the Assad regime.