by Paul Gadalla
Rai Insights Contributor
Beirut: Saudi Arabia’s new rigorous foreign policy, spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MbS), is already failing. It has failed to stop Iranian influence in the region and has not expanded Saudi influence.
Bin Salman’s ventures in the region have proven to be blunders. Already Saudi Arabia’s venture into reigning in Lebanon’s prime minister has failed as Saad Hariri announced he would not be resigning. Qatar has so far continued to survive under the Saudi led blockade of the country meanwhile international outrage continues to grow against the kingdom’s invasion of Yemen. Meanwhile, Iran continues to spread its influence and continues to cooperate with Russia and Turkey in Syria.
Indeed MbS has overshot his reach with much of Saudi Arabia’s recent bullish foreign undertakings. The saga of watching Prime Minister Hariri resign and even give an interview (which was done by an employee of his own TV station) was nothing short of embarrassing for a Saudi-backed figure. Hariri had just previously met with ministers with Hezbollah and then received the call to come to the Kingdom like a servant. To have him recalled to Riyadh just to resign only drew the ire of the local Lebanese populace and in a rare moment brought unity between Lebanese political factions who demanded the return of the PM. Hariri had said in his speech, which is believed to be written by the Saudis, that Iran’s hands would be “cut off”.
It should go without saying that it is near impossible to have a Lebanese government without the representation of Hezbollah or one of its affiliates. Saudi officials stating that the tiny state of Lebanon had declared war on Saudi Arabia sounded preposterous to a country that can barely protect its own borders. MbS even attempted to expel Lebanon from the Arab League and was only stopped by Egypt. By attempting to move its cold war with Iran to Lebanon again, Saudi only embarrassed itself. It took French intervention to get Hariri out of Saudi entanglement and within arriving to Lebanon, President Michel Aoun, who has been backed by Assad and Iran, refused his resignation.
The new crown prince has had quite the meteoric rise in Saudi Arabia, pushing aside his cousin, Mohammad bin Nayef in the line of succession. He sent shockwaves throughout the conservative kingdom this year with a number of his ambitious reforms, beginning with his plans to modernize the country in what was to be dubbed the Saudi Vision 2030 plan. He has even went as far as allowing women to drive by June 2018, something that has not went over well with Saudi Arabia’s conservative establishment.
Even on the domestic front, he has caused quite the stir. His recent crackdown on corruption has led to a number of high-ranking Saudi businessmen and royalty being put under house arrest in Riyad’s Ritz Carlton Hotel including renowned billionaire Prince Waleed Bin Talal. Even an emir and several top officials have so far mysteriously died in helicopter crash and even the head of the Saudi National Guards has been sacked. Those held on dubious corruption charges are now being striking deals in order for MBS to shore up more money for a Kingdom looking to revitalize its finances.
If MbS wants to expand Saudi influence, it must reform its foreign policy much like its domestic policy. If MbS wants to reform Islam within Saudi, he must also bring a more moderate version to the masses. Iran’s influential groups that it supports, like the Houthis and Hezbollah, run a number of charities and often champion the down trodden in their countries. They have built strong social networks and MbS must take note of this. Imprisoning a sovereign country’s prime minister and main Sunni figure will do little for respect towards Saudis in the Middle East. Already its war in Yemen has drawn international condemnation and caused one of the largest famines in the last decade. This is not how to win the hearts and minds of the Arab Sunni world, not to mention the war itself has been extremely costly for the Kingdom. MbS must look to spread his so-called moderate version of Islam to other countries through a number of charitable works and forging Islamic solidarity. But if MbS continues this destructive path, not only will he bankrupt his own kingdom but create more adversity in the Arab and Islamic worlds.
*Paul Gadalla is a New York native communication specialist and aspiring political analyst based in Beirut, Lebanon