CDHR Comment: After five months of a murderous campaign by the Assad dynasty against peaceful pro-democracy protesters, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia issued a stern warning "To our brothers in Syria, Syria of Arabism and Islam: Peace, mercy and blessings of God be upon you: The repercussions of events in sister Syria resulted in the loss of large numbers of martyrs, whose blood was shed, and other numbers of wounded and injured. Everyone knows that every sane Muslim and Arab or others are aware that this is not of religion, values, or ethics. Today, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia stands before its historical responsibility towards her brothers, demanding the stoppage of the killing machine and bloodshed, use of reason before it is too late, introduction and activation of reforms that are not entwined with promises, but actually achieved so that our brothers the citizens in Syria can feel them in their lives as dignity, glory and pride.”
Despite King Abdullah’s use of carefully chosen religious vernacular (“martyrs…every sane Muslim and Arab or others are aware that this is not of religion, values, or ethics”), the intent and tone of his statement are more complex than they might suggest. He is sending messages to different audiences: Reassuring Sunni Muslims (the overwhelming majority of the world’s Muslims are Sunnis, most of whom resent Saudi doctrinal interference in their affairs) that the Saudi rulers are their saviors; weakening Iran’s influence in Syria, and by extension Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon; appeasing his source of legitimacy, the Saudi and other religious extremists; and maintaining the West’s support without which the absolute Saudi ruling dynasty would have been overthrown years ago.
As soon as the king’s statement hit the press, thousands of social media users in Saudi Arabia, the Arab World and globally started an intense discussion and exchange of sarcastic comments. Many of the comments ridiculed the Saudi ruler for advocating reforms in Syria while his government rounds up reformers and throws them in prisons for calling for peaceful reforms within Saudi Arabia such as a constitutional monarchy, the rule of law, an independent judicial system, women’s and minority rights, freedom of expression, and tolerance of religious differences, just to name a few.
Commentators suggested that the absolute Saudi monarch was nudged by the US to lead an Arab condemnation of the Assad dynasty’s brutal campaign against its people. A good number of speculators believed the Saudi rulers waited until they saw who would prevail before they chose sides. Many others believed that the Saudi ruler realized that the Assads’ days are numbered and wanted take credit for being the straw that broke the camel’s back. The Saudi power wielders are duplicitously clever. Customarily, they support several major combatants in any conflict in Arab and Muslim countries until they figure out who would be their best pick or the least harmful to their interests. Other social media users assumed that it took the Saudis longer time to decide which side to support because of the complexity of the Syrian pro-democracy movement. Syrian society has long been divided along religious, tribal, regional, and ethnic lines. However, these groups are now uniting in the pro-democracy movement. The movement includes the majority Sunni Muslims who are Arabs, Kurds, Armenians, and others. In addition, 10 to 15% of the Syrian population is Christian many of whom are also part of the pro-democracy movement.
Despite the validity of the views expressed above, this observer of Saudi policy and political and strategic maneuvering holds an alternate view. The Saudi decision makers had hoped that Iran and Hezbollah, their major rival for regional political and religious leadership and influence, would send troops to aid their Alawite ally as the Saudis did in Bahrain. Such a move by Iran and Hezbollah would have given the Saudis, the US, and the Israelis an excuse to retaliate against Iran and destroy its military infrastructure, especially its nuclear capabilities. To the disappointment of the Saudis, Iran and Hezbollah did not send any overt aid to the Assad regime. Therefore, one can safely assume that the previously discussed factors then came to the fore in triggering the sudden Saudi denunciation of the Assad regime’s brutality against the Syrian people.
In addition, the autocratic Saudi rulers are worried about facing the same fate as the Assad regime. They are counting on the religious, gender, ethnic, and regional divisions they created and continue to re-enforce in order to control their disenfranchised population. However, having witnessed the unity and cooperation among the more diverse Syrian communities against the Assads’ brutal dictatorship, the absolute Saudi rulers realized that the Saudi people, regardless of region, religious orientations, and ethnicity will unite against their common oppressor, the Saudi monarchy.
Wouldn’t it be better to introduce reforms in Saudi Arabia “willingly” rather than “drift into the depths of chaos and loss?” Read article