Saudi Arabia’s Contradiction and the Future of the Middle East

(Damascus) The Houthi Yemenis have been conducting air raids on Aramco oil complexes and on Jizan airport, both located in the heartland of Saudi Arabia. In response to such attacks, the Saudi regime has called for three urgent Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Arab and Islamic summits in one week. The meetings were held in the Holy City of Mecca over three days, on the backdrop of escalating tension and a deteriorating relationship between Iran and the United States.

The GCC summit was attended by Qatari Prime Minister Abdulla Bin Nasser Al Thani, despite the cessation of diplomatic relations between Qatar and other GCC nations blockading the country for a third consecutive year. These countries were primarily the three prior host nations, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Only two GCC heads of state, in addition to the host King Salman Bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia, took part in the meeting; King Hamad Bin Issa of Bahrain and the Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad.

The Gulf Cooperation Council has been marred with internal controversies. The two-year blockade of Qatar has added fuel to old fires of rival influences and has drawn Doha ever closer to Iran, the main target of Saudi-led political escalation and vicious diplomatic campaigns. The head of the Qatari delegation to the GCC summit in Mecca did not even shake hands with the head of the UAE delegation, Abu Dhabi’s influential Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Zayed.

Qatar has continued to maintain its official stance regarding Tehran. This has resulted in fiery exchanges and accusations from Saudi and Emirati officials on the one side, and Qatari officials on the other, notably at the meeting called by the Arab League last year at its head office in Cairo. The feudal Sheikhdoms have been engaged in a veracious media campaign against one another. Even sporting events have not escaped the growing animosity and rivalry of GCC rulers. A stark example was the wave of anti-Qatar insults and rage unleashed by UAE nationals as the Qatari football team won the Asia Cup hosted in the UAE four months ago.

The fact that the Saudi regime chose Mecca as the venue of these three summits, and during the final week of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, has been widely seen as an attempt to use religion as well as holy Muslim places, for political purpose and gain.

Some analysts, including Saudi opposition activists such as Madawi al Rasheed, see a contradiction between the Saudi ruler’s appeal for Islamic support while they ban and criminalise Islam across the region. They have put a large number of Islamists, including some of the most renowned scholars in Saudi Arabia under arrest. At least 3 of those in custody face the death penalty, with suggestions they may be beheaded after the holy Muslim feast, Eid Al Fitr, later this week.

Al Rasheed, who comes from a well-known Saudi family which previously ruled the country before being removed by the Al Saud, maintains in a recent article published by Middle East Eye that:

The three conferences are not being held to discuss theological matters, but to seek support for Saudi Arabia’s king over serious, controversial and divisive political crises

The Arab summit in Mecca is widely viewed as decidedly unproductive by the majority of Arabs, particularly those absent or poorly represented in the conference. no more so than Syrians, Yeminis, Lebanese, Sudanese and others. Whilst the Arab summit was supposed to place for discussing the issue of Jerusalem and the State of Palestine at the top of the agenda, as was the case during previous similar meetings, these topics were both nonexistent in the pre-written final agenda. The Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas had to ask personally for a last-minute inclusion of the topics regarding East Jerusalem and the State of Palestine.

Syria, having previously been preoccupied in Arab and regional equilibriums, as well as the eight plus years of war on terror and Islamic extremism, was not present at the Mecca summit, with the vast majority of Syrians having long lost faith in what they deem a hopeless conference. Yemen, Libya and Sudan were represented by delegates who represent nations that currently contend with the legitimacy of geographical borders where large parts of their populations reside.

As for the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) summit, Iran was present, with delegates calling on Islamic nations to boycott any country that moves its embassy to Jerusalem. They called also for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

With the Trump administration giving away what is not yet their’s to Netanyahu; first Jerusalem, then the occupied Syrian Golan, and who knows what will be Donald’s next gift to Israel? The West Bank, Gaza and chunks of Jordan or Egypt?, Saudi Arabia 3-in-a-week summits seem pointless, their calls and pleas will almost definitely fall on deaf international ears.

It is difficult to view these three summits in Mecca as more than a desperate appeal by Saudi Arabia and similar US-protégée regimes to divert attention from their multiple domestic and regional dilemmas towards a nonexistent threat from Iran. But even such risky endeavours have very little chance of succeeding; many countries in the region do not share Saudi sentiments on the threat of Iran, and continue to warn against what would be the devastating outcome of fueling a Sunni/Shiite religious conflict.

In spite of the ongoing vigorous Saudi-led mobilization against Iran and the fact that it has never occupied an inch of Arab or Islamic land, Tehran, keen to reassure its neighbours, has recently called on Arab GCC countries to sign a Treaty of Non-Aggression. For those who extend a hand of peace, and those who choose to abstain, the future of the Gulf shall be molded and decided. Three summits in three days, without any genuine good will, shall do very little to change hard facts on the ground.