Tag Archives: Politics

Saudi Arabia’s new look

A new dawn? The irresistible rise of Mohammad bin Salman

If Thomas Jefferson were able to look over the last forty years of Gulf politics, he may wish to add a third concept to his old adage; ‘only three things are certain: death, taxes, and the rule of the House of Saud’. In the most tumultuous region of the world, Saudi Arabia has stood alone as a paragon of stability and continuity.

The extent of this certainty relative to its neighbours merits some attention. A quick glance across the Red Sea to Egypt reveals a country that has experienced over the last century (deep breath): freedom from British colonial rule, the 1952 coup d’état and revolution, the Suez Crisis, a union with Syria to form the United Arab Republic, the dissolution of that union, the Six Day War with Israel, the assassination of a sitting president, the 2011 revolution and counter-revolution in 2013. Each of these events threatened to profoundly alter the nature of the Egyptian state, and this is one of the more stable, successful countries in the region. Meanwhile in that same century, Saudi Arabia has been lead by members of just one family, the House of Saud, and with minimal changes in style throughout the period.

What we mustn’t forget here, of course, is the astonishing effect of oil. It has transformed the country from a mostly uninhabited desert to perhaps the most important geopolitical players in the region, able to exert control not just over its well-paid citizens but also the wider Muslim world, most strikingly through its funding of mosques, schools and imams sent to preach the Saudi brand of Islam to the world.

It comes as quite a shock, then, that the country is undergoing its most tumultuous internal period in decades. Women, it has been announced, will soon be allowed to drive, and then can already attend football matches for the first time. Cinemas have been opened for the first time in Saudi history. A fund of $64 billion is to be provided for the development of the Saudi entertainment industry (a contradiction-in-terms if ever I saw one). And perhaps most shockingly the arrest of dozens of Saudi royals under charges of corruption, held against their will in the palatial Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh.

All of these developments can be laid squarely at the feet of one man: Mohammad bin Salman. Shortened quite unpoetically to MBS in the West, bin Salman has in the space of a few short years gone from being a rather minor royal to the new Crown Prince, a title he took from his uncle, and thereby the next in line to lead the country. He has helped shape much of Saudi Arabia’s new social policy, including the aforementioned changes for women and the arts, as well as curbing the powers of the religious police. His social reforms are matched by his plans for the Saudi economy, after announcing his ‘Vision 2030’ plan to diversify and privatise much of the country’s assets. And over the last year, there have glimpses of what the new foreign policy for the regime could look like, with the united front against Qatar and intervention in Yemen hinting at a more active role for the Saudi state itself, rather than simple funding of interests in the region.

This doesn’t quite cover what is causing all the fuss, though. The Saudi state is predicated upon an agreement between the ruling House of Saud and the Wahhabi religious clerics. In exchange for religious legitimacy and their continued allegiance, the House of Saud provides the clerics with religious and cultural control over Saudi society, and enormous levels of funding, to push its Islamist agenda abroad. This relationship has been in place in one form or another since the establishment of the first Saudi state in 1744, and in real terms it is difficult to argue with its effectiveness (not to excuse the torture, the stonings, the murder committed as a direct result of it).

It is this relationship, upon which Saudi Arabia has been built up to this point, that bin Salman threatens to undermine with his sweeping reforms. There are fears, both in his own country and elsewhere, that as one of the only royal family members not to be educated abroad, with minimal political experience and aged just 32, that MBS doesn’t know what he’s doing. Let’s hope for the sake of the region that he does.


Breaking down Brexit

Anyone with some sort of political acumen has an opinion on the primary issue dominating British politics, Brexit. It has hard to employ the word in any sort of discourse or context without feelings of dismay ascending, either because of the lies or connotations that come by implication to the word, these obviously include identity, nationalism and immigration. Whether or not one is a Brexiter, the issue has become heavily polluted, however the thing that I find most infuriating and most dangerous is that the EU debate, held over a year ago, was devoid of any holistic examination about the implications and consequences of the United Kingdom’s potential exit from the European Union. Only now are we seeing the consequences of this, as Prime Minister May struggles to gain any sort of traction in her quest to depart the institution.

Firstly, it needs to be acknowledged that the EU are a bureaucratic and aristocratic panel of unelected and undemocratic, sovereign representatives, existing purely to satisfy and satiate cooperate interests. They are largely responsible for the centralisation of capital and wealth in Europe and the West and have contributed to the dearth of progress in developing counties. Yet, despite this very sufficient ineptitude, the argument most heavily proliferated against the EU has been related to immigration. This may be a question for another debater article, but are there deeper structural powers at play here? Because, surely, if the EU’s politics was the problem, then the aforementioned reason would be a more prudent and politically legitimate issue to raise.

Moving on however, by implication of the EU’s political sovereignty, the EU are integral to every part of British infrastructure. As Britain continues to establishes it self as a champion of the single market, propositioned by the EU, essential facets of British society engrosses itself into the EU’s remit. This includes the foundations of society’s structures; trains, buildings, planning regulations all go through procurement processes laid down by the EU and this is essential to Britain’s economy in both a financial and functionality capacity. The importance of this is evidence, yet it begs the question, why was this not mentioned in the debate?

Furthermore, the EU is heavily engrossed in Britain’s research assembly. This is again by implication of having a political system that is so heavily engrossed into the EU’s productivity The UK is one of the largest recipients of research funding from the EU. Over the period 2007 to 2013 the UK received €8.8 billion out of a total of the €107 billion expenditure available to research, development and innovation in EU Member States, associated and third countries. This represents the fourth largest share in the EU. In terms of funding awarded on a competitive basis in the period 2007 – 2013, the UK was the second largest recipient after Germany, securing €6.9 billion out of a total of €55.4 billion. Why again, was this not mentioned in the debate?


Then finally, economics. Through access to the single market, London has been able to attract institutional and corporate investment from Europe and beyond these shores. Why again, was this not mentioned in the debate? Conversely, on a different dynamic, with an estimated population of 8,615,246 residents, London is the most populous region, urban zone and metropolitan area in the United Kingdom. London generates approximately 22% of the UK’s GDP, with 41,000 private sector businesses based in London (at the start of 2013). The lack of economic, political and opportunistic devolution in the UK is indicative of the EU’s operational structure. The single market is the most lucrative version of itself in a centralised system where money, labour and politics transpires in the same space, because investors would rather invest in one super-economy with extravagant returns (London), than invest in a split of many healthy economies around where the returns may be more stable but less spectacular. This surely, like my first elucidation, is a far more prudent argument to make against the EU, than a largely fabricated narrative about immigration (which I will clarify in another debater article).

Conclusively, the thing that I am most trying to infer here is that the current format of political destitution and reporting, from both the politicians and the media, needs renovation. In the context of Brexit; the state of political analysis was repugnant. The aforementioned issues, that both highlights the advantages and disadvantages of being an EU member state, was largely ignored and a narrative manifested itself that seemed to purely oppose the establishment or at least a perception of an establishment. Is politics not supposed to be about creating a better society? Well you could have fooled me!