Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal attends the opening of an Arab foreign ministers emergency meeting to discuss the Syrian crisis and the potential military strike on President Bashar al-Assad's regime, at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Sept. 1, 2013. (photo by REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
By: Madawi Al-Rasheed for Al-Monitor Posted on September 17.
Saudi Arabia miscalculated the ease with which US-led Western powers could quickly organize a military strike on Syria following the now-confirmed chemical attack of Aug. 21. The push for a quick strike stumbled in Washington, London and Paris, giving way to high-level diplomacy between the United States and Russia and disappointment in Saudi Arabia. The US-Russian framework for the elimination of Syria's chemical arsenal appears to be a deviation from Riyadh’s immediate objectives. By focusing on the sole objective of removing the Bashar al-Assad regime from power, the Saudi leadership may have overlooked that despite having important resources and weight, regional powers like itself can today be constrained by the changing international environment.
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In Jiddah on Sept. 16, Crown Prince Salman Ibn Abdul Aziz presided over the Council of Ministers and warned the international community against reducing the Syrian crisis to the issue of chemical weapons. In anticipation of a UN Security Council meeting on Sept. 18 to discuss the UN report on the Syrians' use of chemical weapons and pass a strong resolution, Salman called on the international community to strengthen the Syrian opposition and protect civilians, reminding it of the urgency of pushing for a new regime in Damascus. Saudi Arabia may soon find itself a spectator on the periphery, watching an international game in which it can only make noise, and possibly trouble, if its objectives cease to be a priority for other, more important international players with their own agendas.
The US-Russian framework unexpectedly eclipsed active Saudi diplomacy of the last weeks, during which it insisted on military intervention in Syria. While the United States continues to stress that this framework does not rule out future military strikes in case of noncompliance, this is simply not enough for Riyadh.
The Saudi leadership’s bewilderment over the changes that have swept the Arab world over the last three years has focused its foreign policy on two main objectives. First is sabotaging any glimpse of a democratic transition that might lead to the rise of new, unpredictable forces in Arab countries and consequently undermine its own grip on power domestically. From the Saudi perspective, any political change threatens to undermine a familiar status quo characterized by political stagnation and repression, defined by the Saudis as stability.
"Change" to the Saudis means unpredictability, chaos and loss of influence in a region that has been dependent on the integration of its failing economy into the Saudi oil empire. From subsidizing poor, loyal regimes to taking in excess labor migrants, Saudi Arabia has ensured that poor Arab countries remain within its sphere of influence. Yet this policy seems to be dependent on authoritarian and repressive regimes remaining in power and willing to play the Saudi's game of loyalty in return for oil rent. The Arab uprisings threatened to destroy this formula, leading the Saudis to fight several battles in different places at the same time. From Bahrain to Yemen and Egypt, loyalty for oil must be reinforced because it is the only way the Saudis can remain relevant at the regional level.
Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/09/us-russia-deal-sets-saudis-back.html#ixzz2fOvH1Nz8
Madawi Al-Rasheed is a visiting professor at the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She has written extensively about the Arabian Peninsula, Arab migration, globalization, religious trans-nationalism and gender. On Twitter: @MadawiDr