Can the next 10 years be better than the last?

Ten years… Will this number stay the same, increase or, on the contrary, decrease? The Levant needs such a period of time to recover from its numerous downfalls. All estimates are mere forays into fortune-telling but the devastating situation predicts that we still have a long time to go. A long time before aid is provided to people and damage compensated for. What was destroyed by military action, dictatorship and mismanagement in half a century and even more cannot be repaired in two or three years, add to that the collapses and wars of the post-Arab Spring; cities destroyed, neighborhoods razed to the ground and displaced people left wandering. In many places, systems and governments have collapsed along with their values and ethics.

It is as plain as day in Syria and Iraq and is under way in Yemen and Libya. Some even embraced, once again, the yoke of tyranny and embellished it with fascism and hatred.

If victory in Yemen and Syria is difficult and needs time, how much time will be needed to rebuild both countries ... not to mention getting rid of ISIS?

Jamal Khashoggi

Stable Arab countries, like Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries along with Jordan, have two choices. The first is to immunize their country, control the borders and distance themselves from the surrounding discord. The second is a combination of both: take the lead and seek to extinguish the neighboring fires so they don’t expand and, at the same time, immunize the interior and control the borders. I believe the Saudi kingdom opted for the second one but will it be able to rise to the challenge? How will it be affected in the next decade?

Tough future

The coming years will be tough. The kingdom will first have to extinguish the fires of conflict, resolve discord, try to hold back the situation from collapse and then seek to establish peace and stability between neighbors. However, in parallel, it faces major challenges that could disrupt its efforts and spoil the achieved results if it is not equipped with a foolproof plan, a united opinion and full ammunition. These challenges are summed up in the following:

First, tenacious Iran, which is refusing to give up the gains achieved inadvertently, should turn to its people back home to develop the country and improve the lives of 77 million desperate Iranians. Instead of doing that, after the sanctions are lifted and $100 billion will be released, these new strengths will be invested in its expansion plans and will eventually harm both of us. It will only come to its senses after a few years with a painful showdown in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

The second challenge is ISIS. Given its Islamic prevalence, the kingdom is forced to confront this organization on both the intellectual and security levels as ISIS threatens religious values as much as it threatens the lives and the security of people. In order to eradicate ISIS, the reasons behind its creation must be suppressed. This battle will take many years.

The third challenge concerns the United States, an influential ally who can still act against Saudi aims because of its indecisiveness and its inwardness. We can allow ourselves to be optimistic if Hillary Clinton is elected president next year, given that she understands the region’s dynamics. However, if a republican is elected, he will most probably pursue the inward-looking politics of Obama.

The fourth challenge lies in the economy. The kingdom is entering an expensive and fateful battle in a period during which no one expects the price oil to exceed 60 dollars per barrel. At the same time, fears are rising because of the huge expenses and the exhaustion of the general reserve which is supposed to be saved for future generations.

Finally, there is the typical Saudi citizen who wants a better life. Seeing the whole Arab world falling apart around him and witnessing the onslaught of terrorism, the threat to the stability he had always enjoyed will not allow him to be enthusiastic.

Major challenges

These challenges prompted the Saudi leadership to take the initiative of withdrawing around $50 billion from its general reserve over the past two months. This was followed by an armament purchase and the renovation of sectors including the naval force which was conducted along with hectic political activity aiming to widen the international relations of the kingdom, restructure and pump new blood into Saudi diplomacy. All of that indicates that the kingdom not only intends to pursue the project of Operation Decisive Storm, which started in Yemen but seeks also to reach the goals for which it was established: halting the Iranian expansion, reorganizing and building the region.

Operation Decisive Storm built the foundation upon which the strategic Saudi project is based as it has succeeded in preventing the seizure of Yemen and gave back the control to the kingdom. This is an accomplishment in itself, even if legitimacy hasn’t been regained yet and no real elections have been conducted. If the action of Saudi forces was delayed one more week, Aden would have been swept away, the legitimacy represented by President Hadi would have fallen and sham elections would have been won by Ali Abdullah Saleh. Despite being flawed, the elections would have produced, in the eyes of the world, a legitimate president allied with the Houthis and the Saudis would have had to wait until Saleh’s son and Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani celebrate the inauguration of an air base run by the Revolutionary Guards in Saada, mere meters away from Saudi land. If the kingdom had waited to interfere at that moment, it would have been criticized and considered an aggressor. However, today, it benefits from international support including the United Nations Security Council. It is a success story of both the diplomacy and the strength of Saudi Arabia which holds a leading position in the region and the world.

Fair and ethical

The kingdom has achieved that by highlighting the fair and ethical dimension of its support and made sure not to move alone, but with the highest possible number of allies. Finally, it didn’t clash with the United States despite having an independent stand. Instead, it stood by its side as much as possible.

Certainly, not all the steps will be successful. Some will even cost lives and martyrs will fall. Therefore, it is imperative that this role is maintained with transparency as the biggest ally of the kingdom is its people who will stand by their government more staunchly when they acknowledge the wide strategic goals of the Saudi project and understand the challenges the kingdom faces.

If victory in Yemen and Syria is difficult and needs time, how much time will be needed to rebuild both countries and form a consensus government for each, not to mention getting rid of ISIS? These tasks are enormous and will cost a huge amount of effort, money and lives. This preoccupation comes at the expense of domestic development and Saudi citizens’ longing for an income raise. Even if it seems that the government is separating both projects, the dynamic development is well underway through the mini-council cabinet represented in the Economic and Development Affairs Council which tracks the ministries’ performance and calls them to account.

The next decade must witness many local achievements, most notably a radical solution for the problems of housing and unemployment which are not only economic issues but also associated with security and politics. Another problem is the unjustified local rise of oil consumption which has become a strategic threat to the main source of income. As an alternative, a Saudi nuclear project will be a standby deterrent in case Iran decides to push its project forward and acquire nuclear weapons. If those three gains are achieved during the next decade, the future will be an improvement on the previous ten years, the decade which is currently bedeviling the region around Saudi Arabia.

This article was first published in al-Hayat on July 11, 2015
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Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels. Twitter: @JKhashoggi

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