Monday, November 13, 2017

Can the Middle East get even worse?

Sure it can — and the cheerful young man you see here is just the one to bring that about.  Now apparently in complete control of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman already has exacerbated regional turmoil, and promises to do more.

For the past four decades, Saudi Arabia was stabilized by oil revenues, religious authority, and gerontocracy.  MbS, as he's known, aims for continued stability, with special emphasis on the stability of monarchical rule.  He very much enjoys being the man in charge — of everything.

Admittedly, keeping Saudi Arabia stable will not be simple for anybody, direct descendant of Ibn Saud or not.  MbS needs to diversify the national economy away from oil and gas while engaged in a complex contest for power with Islamic authorities.  Ultraconservative Islam has been the foundation of his family's rule, but also its most significant rival for power.  Attempts to relax the Kingdom's medieval interpretation of Sharia Law are met with powerful opposition.

The greatest potential for making things "even worse," though, arises from MbS's efforts against regional rival Iran.  After over two years of war crimes in Yemen (with US collusion) and spending many times what Iranians give Houthi rebels, he has produced what the UN calls the worst humanitarian crisis on Earth, and no sign of resolution of the conflict.

Nobody doubts considerable Saudi pressure on Saad Hariri when he announced his resignation as Prime Minister of Lebanon from Riyadh, nor that the move was intended to delegitimize Iranian ally Hezbollah's role in Lebanese government.  Apparently, MbS thought the pleasure of sticking a finger in Iran's eye was worth the risk of the Syrian Civil War spilling over the border into Lebanon.

The boycott and blockade of Qatar continues, punishing the Qataris for the sin of conducting diplomacy with Iran, with which they share vast natural gas reserves under the Persian Gulf.  The pure, spiteful pique involved is positively Tr*mpian.

Actually, it was just after a sleepover party with First Boy Jared Kushner that MbS seized all police power for himself and had about two hundred potential rivals arrested, including the oft-mentioned eleven princes.  The White House is quite fond of MbS, who exercises the kind of arbitrary authority Our President wishes he could have for himself.  In return for American support, we can expect MbS to weigh in on upcoming Israeli-Palestinian "negotiations," pressuring the Palestinians to accept whatever Bibi deigns to offer them.  (The Tr*mp "negotiating team" consists of three Orthodox Jews and a Coptic Christian.)

Saudi Arabia has potential as a manufacturing center because of its energy resources — including a huge and uninterrupted supply of solar when the oil runs out.  All MbS will need is a reliable pool of cheap labor.  Saudi men are unlikely to take those jobs, so "progress" in allowing women to work outside the home is a strong possibility, provided religious authorities can be brought along.  Failing that, there are bound to be plenty of impoverished Palestinians in the neighborhood.

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