The 2011 popular uprisings that swept through West Asia and North Africa triggered developments that could end up toppling dictatorships, pushing the global powers out of the region, and most importantly build a ground for rise of real democracies in the regional Muslim countries. But as the revolutions wave kept unfolding and expanding and posed risks of affecting some of the Persian Gulf Arab states, some regional regimes, on top of them Saudi Arabia, staged anti-uprising policies in a bid to keep the developments from materializing what all the popular revolts started for.
These efforts to kill off the uprising storm saw a sharp rise particularly after King Salman bin Abdulaziz ascended to the throne in Saudi Arabia in early 2015. The role playing in the region actually changed to be the top Saudi policy during Salman reign, who put his son Mohammed bin Salman as defense minister and a major policy maker.
Seeing their rule and the Arab allies as being under threat of uprising influence, the Saudi leaders promoted the idea that the Iran-led Shiite axis posed an existential danger to the Arab regimes, and went to great lengths to build a Sunni camp against Tehran in a bid to distance the public opinion from their real goals behind their revolts against dictatorships.
Riyadh even intensified its moves, to an extent that it waged a direct war against the Yemeni revolutionaries. The Saudi-led regional interventions in fact have started from Bahrain, now hitting their climax in the Yemeni offensive in which the kingdom continues its campaign through unceasing airstrikes against the Yemenis, while backed by a majority of the Persian Gulf Arab allies, particularly the United Arab Emirates that deployed ground forces to the Yemeni territories.
Riyadh leaders also sought dragging other Sunni states into the war, including those enjoying huge Saudi financial aids like Egypt and Turkey. But the attempts met with failure, largely because Ankara and Cairo’s view of the threat conflicted with that of Riyadh.
In the eyes of the Egyptian leaders, the Muslim Brotherhood and then the Salafi-takfiri groups were the overarching peril. For Turkey, a country moving the way of transformation from a secular republic to a Muslim Brotherhood-led state, the Kurds represent a major risk, followed by ISIS terrorist group. Despite this distinction of vision on the regional threats, the Saudi leaders still struggle to get Egypt and Turkey leaders to their side to get the chance of manipulating the West Asian developments. Riyadh efforts are not limited to diplomatic moves. Al Saud has so far spent hugely to block the revolution waves from smashing its walls, and the kingdom’s Arab allies.
To strongly face the threats, the kingdom even headed to the Israeli regime with which it boosted strategic cooperation. The shift in the Saudi Arabian policies caused Riyadh and Tel Aviv to work toward more common interests. Odds are that Saudi Arabia in the future will publicize its now-undercover relations with the Israeli regime, although the public opinion’s views inside the kingdom remain negative toward Tel Aviv, something handicapping closer ties between the two regimes.
On the other side, the Saudi leaders thought of boosting ties with the US and the European allies, a measure enabling them to strengthen their rule and more firmly push back against the popular developments taking place in the region. They are rejuvenating bonds with the US and calling on Britain to return to the Persian Gulf region. In return for weapons deals, the two powers help Riyadh counter what disrupts desired order in its vicinity.
However, despite all these measures by Riyadh and its allies, things are not going as they wish. In Bahrain, the anti-regime demonstrations are strongly going on. In Syria, where Saudi Arabia invested enormously on the militant groups to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian army has been dealing painful blows to ISIS and other terrorist groups. In Yemen, the revolutionary resistance forced major retreats of the Saudi-led forces on the battlefield. In other countries, even Egypt, things are not going in interest of the Saudis. And in addition to all these setbacks, the closeness to Tel Aviv keeps damaging Riyadh’s face among the Muslim world’s public opinion.
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