18 May 2024 08:15 AM


Humayun Gauhar | 12 JANUARY, 2016

The Battle of Losers

To understand the unseemly fracas between Saudi Arabia and Iran that threatens to destabilize the Middle East even more, its backdrop needs being erected to understand the ongoing play.

1. With the US having gone with Iran after the nuclear deal and the gradual lifting of sanctions, Saudi Arabia feels nervous for two reasons:

a. It is in danger of losing its overlordship of the Middle East and position of America’s General Manager of the region to Iran, and,

b. The precipitous drop in oil prices to a 13-year low.

2. Iran is used to sanctions and knows how to deal with them; Saudi Arabia on the other hand, used to an effete lifestyle, has had to dip into its vast reserves that at this rate will deplete entirely in two to three years. Basically, the US has won the oil war confident in its now largest shale oil and gas reserves in the world: revenge for the OPEC oil price hike of the Seventies. There’s a lesson here for Muslims who all live in the past: it is the importance of the right kind of education. Americans are made from the same genome and blood types as all Homo sapiens, but they are better because of modern education of the right kind, especially in the sciences, and the hugest knowledge bank the world has ever known. Education, education and more education and ongoing acquisition of knowledge: that should be everyone’s motto and purpose in life.

3. Thus Saudi Arabia is trying its best to rupture the Iran-US deal to retain its position as prime player in the Middle East backed by the US. Israel should be assumed to be in the Saudi camp here and if there is an Iran-Saudi armed conflict Israel could be expected to join the fray if the going gets rough for Saudi Arabia. Another World War?

4. To become regional overlord either Iran or Saudi Arabia have to become the centre of intellectual, political and economic gravity of the Middle East to control its resources and become a player on the world stage by working with the global hegemon or hegemons. But Iran’s Shia intellect cannot prevail over Sunnis and Wahabi intellect cannot prevail over the Shia and non-Wahabi Sunnis, so divisions will remain. Simplistically put: Egypt still remains the centre of intellectual gravity in the Sunni Arab world only, not necessarily non-Arab Sunnis, while Qom and Najaf and to a certain extent Lebanon are the centre of intellectual gravity in the Shia world.

5. The wars in the Middle East are Iran-Saudi proxy wars for control of Middle Eastern resources, pipeline and sea routes. These proxy wars are within the proxy wars of the US, China and Russia also to wrest control of the region. They started with America’s botched invasion and occupation of Iraq. A Saudi-Iran conflict, armed or political, is going to make things much messier.

6. The Saudi-Iran conflict is age old, basically between the Wahabi movement of the Sunni sect of Islam and the Qom interpretation of the Shia sect. Worth reminding though that in the Prophet’s (pbuh) time there were no sects and movements, just Islam and Muslims. Today real Islam and true Muslims are hard to find anywhere. Saudi Arabia is the Land of prophets where Islam’s two holiest mosques are located in the province of Hejaz in Mecca and Medina. Iran as Persia is the land of a very old civilization and empire and also a birthplace of prophets. Both have very old and rich languages, Arabic and Farsi, but both have surprisingly mundane and limited cuisines if you can call them cuisines rather than short menu cards. The spat between the two threatens world peace. Their fracas is tearing the Muslim world apart by forcing every Muslim country to take sides or duck out of the fray. So too non-Muslim countries. Shia-Sunni doctrinaire battle lines are being drawn visibly, deeper, with Sunni Arab countries breaking diplomatic and economic relations with Iran like Saudi Arabia has done, or downgrading them. This is a classic case of digging the hole one has fallen into. Saudi Arabia and Iran are no angels. The former is primeval, but was tolerated because of its oil. The latter opted for a different kind of primitiveness with the ascent of the Ayatollahs who have not improved the human condition an iota since the fall of the Shah.

7. Since the oil price drop Saudi Arabia has run up a mindboggling fiscal deficit of $10 billion last year for its stupidity, profligacy and warped politics. Sure God chose Hejaz as the land of Prophets but not as the land of the House of Saud. Britain and America created Saudi Arabia for its oil when they were playing god. America still may be, but times have changed, which is why attempts to play god or at least policeman of the world get botched up.

8. The survival instinct is as old as all creatures great and small. This leads to a desire to control resources. This in turns leads to hegemony within families, caves, villages, ghettos, neighbourhoods, communities, governments, corporations, sports teams, intrastate, interstate, everything where there is more than one individual.

9. Seen in this light it needs repetition that the wars in the Middle East are over resources, as indeed they have been the world over throughout man’s history.

10. The execution of Sheikh Nimr Baqir al Nimr, the Shia cleric of the oil-rich Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia along with 46 others, reportedly only three of them Shia and the rest Sunni has let all sorts of demons loose and ratcheted up Saudi-Iran tensions to boiling point.

11. That the vast majority of the executed were Sunni underlines the fact that it is less a Shia-Sunni conflict and more Saudi Arabia’s message to Iran not to meddle in its oil-rich Shia-rich Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Bahrain, Iraq that are Shia majority states too. Sheikh Nimr was but an excuse, a convenient symbol.

12. Sheikh Nimr was reportedly schooled in Iran and remained in close contact with it. From what I have seen of Nimr on television, there was something decidedly manic about him. He repeatedly called for an overthrow of not only the ruling al-Saud family in his sermons, which is not treason, but also the break up of the country by separating the Eastern Province from it, which is treason. Countries take punitive action against treason. But it is how Sheikh Nimr and the rest were tried and executed and their bodies mistreated that make Saudi actions horrific, even unIslamic. Dead bodies, even of enemies, cannot be defiled as was done in the pre-Islamic Jahiliyat (ignorance) period, like Hinda ate the liver of Hazrat Hamza for revenge after the battle of Uhad. The absence of internationally acceptable due process also raises questions: justice must be seen to be done.

13. Perhaps Iran was prepared for Nimr’s execution because the burning of the Saudi embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Mashhad could not have happened without covert Irani government support, just as the taking over of the US Embassy with its American personnel by the revolutionary guards soon after the advent of Khomeini had Irani governments footprints all over it. In a childish tit-for-tat that has raised tensions at least a notch, Iran is blaming Saudi Arabia for bombing its embassy in Yemen. Maturity and wisdom are all but absent.

The questions now are:

1. Will Saudi Arabia fall apart? Will there be a palace coup and another royal take over from King Salman? Will the royal family be overthrown and Saudi Arabia get new systems? All are possible, a palace coup more; disintegration less – at least for now.

2. However, nothing will happen to Saudi Arabia as long as the US has its protective hand on it. The US hand is there not because of oil: the US has got more shale oil and gas than Saudi Arabia or anyone else. Is it because Saudi Arabia is the largest importer of US arms – some 300 to 400 billion dollars worth per annum reportedly? Not really: other countries also buy huge armaments from America, South Korea and Japan to name but two. The story is complete when you take into account that America has been convinced to keep its protective hand on Saudi Arabia for the time being for fear that ISIS could take it over and declare Mecca or Medina the capital of the ‘Islamic State’, hold the Muslim world hostage and demand its leadership else it would hold back pilgrimages for Muslims. It would be more serious than the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand on a bridge in Sarajevo that sparked off World War I. There would – not could, but would – be a world war with the Muslims at the centre. Predictions of Armageddon would come true and make Evangelists and Zionists very happy. The Muslim world would then be carved up into areas of influence between the current superpowers as the world was divided into Soviet and US orbits between the victors of World War II. Thus began the Cold War that is raising its head again. This time the carving up will be between the USA, Russia and China, perhaps the second and third together in one bloc. Muslim states would be redevised, re-divided, boundaries redrawn and further emasculated, just as Germany and Japan were after World War II. At the end of the day, it would be entirely the fault of mired-in-ignorance Muslims.

It is still a war of words between Saudi Arabia and Iran with diplomatic relations snapped with some other Sunni Arab countries in the Saudi camp that makes it look very Shia versus Sunni – one ‘Arabi’ one ‘Ajami’ – Arab and non-Arab – an age-old categorization from the time of the second caliph with the Ajami getting lower status.

I don’t want to get ahead of myself in an ongoing process but I will repeat what I have been telling you for years: not only is the geographic map of the Middle East going to change but the religious-ideological-political-systemic map too. Pakistan must defend itself against the shockwaves of such change by rolling with the punches and improving its basic law and political and other systems. Otherwise it will get crunched under the wheels of the juggernaut of historical forces. Once again, the Muslims are finding that they are going to be ‘given’ new States, new boundaries, new citizenships, as they were by European colonizers after the two world wars. Hopefully it will have a cleansing effect and eventually lead to a Muslim enlightenment and reformation without changing the principles and fundamentals of the Faith in the Quran.

Don’t forget that this mess was cleverly created by the US, possibly to redo the world according to the American Deep State. Europe shouldn’t be complacent because it could also be redone as it was after the first two World Wars.