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Around the World, Across the Political Spectrum

Change and Violence in Saudi Arabia


To be implemented on the shores of the Red Sea, NOEM is an unprecedented project in Saudi Arabia.  On October 26, Mohammad Bin Salman, the 33 year-old Saudi King, carried out his set of commands for launching a military operation in Yemen, thus taking a crucial role in ostracizing Qatar from its GCC neighbors. His decision also included setting aside notable figures in the Saudi royal family and promising to liberalize the conservative kingdom with a multidimensional strategy. However, Bin Salman’s recent action has been heavily praised by various economists and analysts in moving towards reducing reliance on oil revenues. Therefore, Saudi Arabia has finally been able to kick in the start and effectively take actions in alignment with a future vision both economically and ideologically, one of which is initiating non-oil oriented projects like NOEM.

It is worth mentioning that Saudi Arabia’s reserves have been depleting exponentially in the last few years due to the plummet in oil prices and the extreme reliance of the kingdom on such a source of revenue. Thus, going as far as building such half a trillion-dollar project is worth betting. Despite relatively slacking off in reducing budget reliance, KSA seems to be catching up with its neighbors, such as Qatar and UAE, through the massive lands that it has renovated and by effectively enforcing liberal rule in the region. Redressing the Saudi economic compass, it seems rosier than it is. Behind closed doors, the new measures to build such cities are unnerving many conservative clerics who see in such tactics a direct challenge to their religious and historical rule in setting the tone for any redline. The question is: ‘How powerful are these folks and how far can they go?’ In stumbling upon such thoughts, we better keep our memory awake and flashback to what happened in 1979 in Mecca, which came to later be known as the ‘Siege of Mecca’. Back then, hundreds of Jihadists sneaked into the Grand Mosque of Mecca with their weapons, and took the 100,000 prayers as hostages, provoking a seriously violent response from the Saudi government that had to use weapons such as tank artillery to respond.

Casualties were in the hundreds if not thousands and the structure of the mosque was badly damaged due to the vicious clashes that required the help of special French forces in using a poison gas to flush out the remaining rebels at the end. 

Driven by the events of 1979, the Saudi government started taking drastic actions towards de-secularizing the kingdom while seeking to satisfy the conservative trend in KSA. Such decisions, if interpreted incisively, can basically mean a white flag for those who conducted the attack of 1979, surrendering to the conservative will and fearing their fierce reaction. Cravenly capitulating to the terrorists was a decision made by the Saudi administration to preserve and embolden the legitimacy of the royal family and reinforce the rule of the Saudi regime domestically, regionally, and internationally.

In light of the recent developments, anticipating the reaction of those who are hardly associated with liberalism is inevitable. The element of fear is evidently present in the mind of the young Prince who audaciously masterminded the detention of several prominent Salafi clerics like Salman al-Awdah, Awad al-Qarni and Ali al-Omary. Observing his move, the 30-year-old Crown Prince is just getting ready to squelch any sort of resistance from those who once influenced the set of Saudi policies for decades.   

Despite the differing views over its inflammatory policies, Saudi Arabia has diligently maintained its strategic partnership with the religious establishment.  The Royal-dynastic relations seem unbreakable for national security purposes for Saudi Arabia’s major interests in the region. Saudi Arabia’s history is full of lessons to be extracted for both its rulers and its foes. Old rulers seem to be unable to undermine the history by keeping the religious legacy; yet, the young prince seems to be adamantly refusing to accept any surrender. The future of The Kingdom will primarily depend on the decision making mechanism. Having Trump on the head of the US government has substantially contributed to this situation, giving the green light to the Saudi Crown Prince who is currently trying to Crown himself not only over Saudi Arabia’s throne but possibly over the whole region.          

Nathir Haimoun is a senior economics student at the Lebanese American University, who currently holds the position of Research Assistant at the Adnan Kassar School of Business. He published on the topics of unemployment and the ramifications of the Arab Spring with several faculty members in the economics department. His substantial contribution in assisting the World Bank office was markedly appreciated by granting him an appreciation letter from the World Bank office in Washington DC.    

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