With the death of long-time King Abdullah in January, 2015, the Saudi throne was passed to his younger brother, King Salman, who has embarked on a major reshuffling of personnel in key positions. The changes being implemented by the new regime can be expected to have major consequences for Saudi Arabia’s domestic policies and, more importantly, for its foreign policies which represent a move against Egypt’s president el-Sisi, very possibly prompted by President Obama.
On the domestic front, King Salman’s regime promises to be far more repressive than his predecessor’s. Almost immediately after taking office, he installed a new head of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice removing, according to the Wall Street Journal, “an official long criticized by conservatives for attempting, under King Abdullah’s direction, to defang the feared religious police.” (Note how the left reflexively describes repressive regimes and mass murderers as “conservatives.”)
King Salman left no doubts as to his intentions in this regard Wednesday when he named as his heir to the throne Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.
Nayef has been around for a long time—since before 9/11—and has made a name for himself as a proponent of counterterrorism. But his ministry has also been “responsible for Saudi Arabia’s brutal campaign of repression against nonviolent human rights defenders and its controversial practice of public beheadings and floggings by the state.” Nayef punctuated Wednesday’s announcement of his promotion by revealing “the arrests in recent months of 93 individuals with alleged links to terror.”
Predictably, the “conservative” nature of the new regime spells bad news for Saudi women, as Salman on Wednesday fired from her post as deputy education minister the most senior female official in the kingdom, whose appointment in 2009 “was hailed by the West as an encouraging sign of progress on women’s rights.” Indeed, the Foundation for Defence of Democracies reports that “the civil society campaign that seeks to win Saudi women the right to drive warned late last year that history ‘will never forgive’ America if it supports bin Nayef as king.”
On the foreign affairs front, under King Salman Saudi Arabia has softened its position on the Egyptian Brotherhood. Soon after Egypt’s Abdel Fattah Al Sisi ousted the Brotherhood leader, President Mohammed Morsi, in 2013, Saudi Arabia joined Sisi in labeling the Brotherhood as a terrorist group “akin to al Qaeda and Islamic State, or ISIS.” Now, the Saudis are engaging in the familiar drawing of non-existent distinctions between good and bad terrorists “We don’t have any problem with the Muslim Brotherhood,” said the Saudi Foreign Minister in February, only with a “small segment affiliated with the group.”
This is understandably disturbing to Sisi, as the Brotherhood and its affiliates have been engaged in an ongoing attempt to overthrow his government. They have been responsible for persistent violent attacks on police, military, and civilian targets in Cairo and the Sinai. There has been rioting and destruction of private and public property. Police officers have had Molotov cocktails hurled at them. Innocent people have been shot and stabbed to death. Military checkpoints have been subjected to prolonged and fatal attacks.
Muslim Brotherhood groups have set up training camps in Libya and Sudan where, with Iran’s help, they have planned offensives against Egypt from the west and the south. So Sisi is being besieged by the Brotherhood from within and without, and is understandably upset to see the new Saudi regime cozy up to the Brotherhood and its allies, Turkey and Qatar who, according to Sisi, “continue to spread violence and terror in the region.”
Speaking to Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya, Sisi said, “I want to tell our brothers in Saudi Arabia who are listening to us: Imagine someone is trying to destroy a nation of 90 million people. What do you think is people’s reaction?” To which the Saudis replied that Riyadh had its own interests.
Why it is in Riyadh’s interest to facilitate the Brotherhood and its Iranian sponsors has not been explained to my satisfaction. Yesterday the Washington Post quoted Theodore Karasik, a Dubai-based expert on Middle Eastern military issues, as saying that “[Nayef’s] very close to policymakers in Washington. It’s assumed that he’s in close contact with them constantly.” Given Obama’s close ties to the Brotherhood, could it be that pressure was brought to bear on the Saudis?
And given the atrocities committed against the Saudi people by the Saudi regime, atrocities that will only grow under the new regime, how is it that Obama and his propaganda arm, the Washington Post, continue to fault the uncompromising terrorist fighter Sisi—but not Saudi Arabia, the unchallenged decapitation capital of the world—for alleged human rights violations?