Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, with an ambitious program, has started an “internal operation decisive storm” against corruption and extremism with an “operation to restore hope” among Saudi young people who pin high hopes on his as a young king to lead the country.
Mohammad bin Salman plans to modernise the country amid the young Saudi generation viewing him as a “reformer and hardliner”. Some Saudi youngsters, mainly females, even consider him as the J.F. Kennedy of Arabia for his efforts to diversify the economy and turn Saudi Arabia into an influential country in the Middle East.
When the crown prince announced that he wanted Saudi Arabia to return to “moderate Islam”, he meant that he is convinced that the kingdom should be the best representative of moderate Islam through more liberties and tolerance. He cannot do that without arranging the “Saudi home” economically, militarily, politically and religiously.
The crown prince’s statement few days that he is gearing towards a comprehensive approach to reform the country and to get rid of ideologies that bridled the development of the kingdom.
The crown prince said: “What happened in the last 30 years is not Saudi Arabia. What happened in the region in the last 30 years is not the Middle East. After the Iranian revolution in 1979, people wanted to copy this model in different countries — one of them is Saudi Arabia. We didn’t know how to deal with it. And the problem spread all over the world. Now is the time to get rid of it.”
All evidence suggest that Saudi Arabia has become accustomed to a different era in terms of its foreign policy and regional alliancesShehab Al-Makahleh
New economic vision
The recent moves including reforming the economic structure of the country, upgrading laws and regulations to attract foreign investments in increase the contribution of the Foreign Direct Investment to the country’s GDP cannot be achieved without gaining the recognition of the Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI), which is designed to measure equity market performance in global emerging markets.
This will help the kingdom be listed in the international capital market and this will lead to further trust of foreign investors in Saudi Arabian economy and market. Combatting terrorism and improving economic conditions Prince Mohammad revealed his commitment to combatting extremism because the majority of Saudis are younger than 30 years. We are simply reverting to what we followed — a moderate Islam open to the world and all religions,” he said.
However, the major focus right now is on Iran and its policies. Since he has catapulted to power, the crown prince has been swinging to proceed with changes for a new era away from any conservative dogmas.
All evidences suggest that Saudi Arabia during the reign of King Salman and Crown Prince have become accustomed to a different era in terms of the kingdom’s foreign policy and regional alliances. When King Salman came to power, many decisive decision have been taken by the crown prince, a message to outsiders that it is the ripe time to shape the new era and its new strategy towards some regional issues.
The recent move to counter corruption represent renewed hope of the Saudi people to see the economic, social, cultural, political, artistic, literary and intellectual renaissance in an unfamiliar manner in their country. It was a proof to all those who were suspicious about his intentions to fight corruption.
His launch of many investment projects inside and outside Saudi Arabia was not just a bubble because they are in line with the rapid changes taking place in the Kingdom supported by the new generation of young people to build their homeland.
Countering Iranian expansionism
The tension and verbal war between Saudi Arabia and Iran is not new. The relations between the two countries have not reached this level since the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988. This means further escalation is predicted in the region with two confrontational points between both sides at the moment: Yemen and Lebanon.
The latest escalation was in Lebanon and the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, accusing Iran of controlling Lebanon through the Hezbollah. This would lead to indirect war to be launched on Lebanon to cripple Hezbollah. In Yemen, Saudi Arabia closed all land and air ports to Yemen to conquer the Houthis and regain legitimacy.
Since the conclusion of the Iranian nuclear deal in 2015, Saudi Arabia has felt that the United States has not taken Saudi concerns into account regarding the agreement. It has given Iran the freedom and ability to ignite chaos in the region after international sanctions have been lifted to strengthen its position and influence.
The Saudis could not hide their disappointment regarding the policies of the administration of former US President Barack Obama in the region. The Saudi side is almost convinced that the Obama administration has left Iran to act freely and to impose its dominance in the region.
The nuclear agreement
Saudi Arabia’s frustration with the American position was not only a result of the nuclear agreement but also of American policy in Syria until Saudis Arabia reached a state of despair over the possibility of any change on the ground to limit Iran’s influence in Syria or find a political solution to the Syrian crisis.
However, developments in Syria since the Russian military intervention in Syria and the dispute between Turkey and Saudi Arabia due to the crisis between Qatar and the Gulf states have been reversed. Iran and Russia, and to a certain extent Turkey, control the situation in Syria and completely don’t talk about Assad’s departure.
Saudi Arabia sees Iran as an existential threat in the long term because if it can establish its presence in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, it will have a strategic depth stretching from Tehran to the Mediterranean coast.
The determination of Saudi Arabia on purging Iran’s influence in Yemen, whether through war or through a political solution, stems from its fear of Iran’s influence and the war is in the offing. Who bears more, draws the map of the Middle East.
Shehab Al-Makahleh is Director of Geostrategic Media Center, senior media and political analyst in the Middle East, adviser to many international consultancies. He can be reached at: @shehabmakahleh and @Geostrat_ME.