Shaakira Ahmed | Image: CNN | 11 July 2017
For those who believe American President Donald Trump to be a conspicuous ‘Islamophobe’ and for others who believe Saudi Arabia to be a ‘Puritan Islamic State’, little could have been more jaw-dropping than the cordial invite to the Land of the Two Holy Mosques extended to Donald Trump by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman in May this year.
A closely observed maiden visit to the kingdom saw the Trump administration procure the biggest arms deal in American history – totalling 110 billion US Dollars! Yet soon after, when Saudi Arabia’s royalty lambasted its neighbouring state of Qatar with bold accusations of allying with archenemy Iran and funding terrorism, the resultant discord caused within Arab borders inspired mass expectation of a series of Arab conflicts to follow.
On June 21st, reports surfaced of yet another staggering development within the Kingdom, when King Salman took the decisive step of replacing former Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef with the King’s son, Muhammad bin Salman. Debate around the appointment of the new heir to the throne and the ramifications this move is expected to have, have since been rife.
Albeit a youthful 31 years old, Muhammad bin Salman has not been a distant figure from the leadership of the Monarchy. Having entered government in 2009, his domestic and foreign portfolios boast his services as Deputy Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia, Chief of the House of Saud Royal Court, Chairman of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs and Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Defence. In 2015, exercising his Powers as Defence Minister, the young prince – in a show of what many regarded as hasty and arguably less-than-responsible decision-making – set in motion the disastrous ‘Al-Hazm Storm’ or the Saudi-led war in Yemen against Iran-backed Houthi rebels which claimed the lives of more than 10 000 people and devastated the region’s infrastructure and healthcare while enjoying logistical and military backing from the United States.
A mutual commitment to ‘countering Iran’s destabilising activities’, a shared interest in escalating ‘anti-terrorism’ mechanisms and similar ideals on economic diversification and reform are just some of many elements which have aided Muhammad bin Salman and the Trumps in cementing companionable diplomatic ties. In fact, so devotional has the alliance between Trump and Muhammad bin Salman been that while common-folk theorised Trump’s immigration ban on seven Muslim majority countries to have been a deliberate targeting of Muslims, Muhammad bin Salman not only endorsed the move, but following a meeting with Trump at the White House in March, the prince went on to hail Donald Trump as a “true friend of Muslims”. With a swift alliance formed between the Trumps and the House of Saud’s Muhammad bin Salman, relations that had declined between the two State empires during Obama’s Presidency had now been reinforced.
Surely, Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s cozying-up to the Trumps could not have been enough to induce a re-election of the next heir to the throne of Saudi Arabia. Right? After all, the demoted former Crown Prince, Muhammad bin Nayef, who was once dubbed the ‘Prince of Counter-terrorism’ for aiding US intelligence with his expertise in routing out ‘violent extremism’, was a favourite with previous American administrations. With the emphasis Trump places on fighting ‘radical Islam’, one would expect that Muhammad bin Nayef would have been more than qualified to earn the current US President’s validation.
When Salaamedia interviewed Political analyst and member of Jordanian Parliament, Dr Zakariyya Al Sheikh, indications of a more sinister political agenda taking form behind this suspected ‘façade of friendship’ between the Gulf’s superpower Saudi Arabia and Western Powers, were brought into question.
Dr Zakariyya theorised that the re-election of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince was part of an excellently orchestrated historic plan and continuous process by “Western Powers, Israel and the Persian Shia Pact (i.e. Iran, the Government of Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon) to disunite, dismantle and destroy Saudi Arabia” – with Saudi Arabia being the political stronghold of the Persian Sunni Pact. Western Powers led by the USA have often been accused of traditionally fuelling sectarian tensions in the Muslim world, plunging the region into wars and internal strife for Western-serving political agendas. Influential Arab Leaders seem to have always won favour with the United States in being utilised as “puppets” for the fruition of such agendas.
In Egypt, the military overthrow of democratically elected President Muhammad Morsi in 2014 which saw military Commander Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi take power as de facto President, allowed for the facilitation of unique diplomatic ties and cooperation between Egypt’s leadership and not only the United States, but Egypt’s neighbouring State of Israel too. The prior destruction of Israel’s neighbour Syria, contributed to by the atrocious military interventions of a number of Western powers as well as Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies, has been seen as a factor working to the advantage of Israeli interests and security.
Following the election of Muhammad bin Salman as Crown Prince, Israel’s Intelligence Minister, Yizrael Katz’s aired an official invite at the Herzliya Conference to King Salman to send the Crown Prince to Israel to establish mutual diplomatic ties between the two States. Dr Zakariyya Al Sheikh reiterated his suggestion that a pre-planned agenda exists in favour of Israeli interests and the promotion of Muhammad bin Salman to the position of Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is serving that agenda already.
In March this year, Muhammad Ibn Salman was hosted for the second time at the White House. Having previously enjoyed talks with Obama, the Office of The Press Secretary for The White House reported on the Prince’s latest visit where he was hosted by Donald Trump. The report detailed the pair’s decision to “direct their teams to explore additional steps across a broad range of political, military, security, economic, cultural, and social dimensions to further strengthen and elevate the United States-Saudi strategic relationship”. The success of Muhammad bin Salman’s outreach to the White House preceded Trump’s selection of Saudi Arabia as the destination for his first international visit as President just two month later. Coinciding with the ‘Riyadh Summit’, Trump’s contribution to the Summit included emphasising that important regional powers such as Saudi Arabia must play active roles in tackling sources of extremism and terrorism. When Muhammad bin Salman orchestrated the feud with Qatar, accusing the State of colluding with Iran and aiding Terrorism, the move appeared symbolic of the Prince cooperating with Trump’s call on Arab Leaders.
Muhammad bin Salman and Former Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef are in many ways ‘worlds-apart’ ideologically, albeit being mutually Pro-American. While a Young Muhammad bin Salman was instrumental in fuelling hostilities surrounding the Arab-isolation of Qatar, Muhammad bin Nayef was noted for exploring methods of prompting the two states to internally and diplomatically resolve the unfolding episode. Tagging Muhammad bin Nayef as ‘a man of reconciliation’, Dr Zakariyya Al Sheikh suggested in his interview with Salaamedia, that reconciliatory efforts within Arab States over the Qatar-Boycott stood at odds with Western Powers’ desire for “total disunity”. This comes after Trump’s instant approval of Saudi Arabia’s lodging of accusations against Qatar. The President tweeted in response to the allegations, “So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”
Of further significance is Muhammad bin Salman’s commitment to ‘reforms’ within the Kingdom, including curbing the powers of the Religious Police, which Muhammad bin Nayef had been reluctant to do, despite pressure from the Obama Administration. While 57 year old bin Nayef’s conservative approach to religious governance may have settled well with senior Islamic Scholars, Muhammad bin Salman’s ‘Vision 2030’ project focusing on reformations in various areas of the State – from the economic and employment sectors to introducing musical concerts, cinemas and gender inclusive social events to the entertainment sector – has allowed him to bag support from the Kingdom’s Youth who comprise more than 60% of the state’s population.
As controversial as the politics are in the Most Sacred Land to Muslims, one may wonder how the Monarchy surrounded by Islamic Scholars in advisory positions who claim an orthodox Islamic following and Framework has unapologetically contravened values that a vast majority of Muslims ascribe to – particularly the value of not allying with and aiding Powers responsible for the continued butchering of Muslims across the Middle East and Africa. Of further perplexity is Trump’s ritual targeting of Muslims for which he has grown infamous – but evidently, with an exception made for his “at least 20 Muslim Friends” with high-ranking political and financial profiles. Is this bizarre scenario a moment of truth for the words of Voltaire who said: “When it is question of money, everybody is of the same religion”?