Saturday, March 2, 2019

Saudi Arabia’s Commercialist Pit

Saudi Arabia, like many countries, is ruled by short-term thinking. But the House of Saud is making its mistakes in a part of the world where the phrase "heads will roll" has retained its literal meaning.
Listen to this post: Twilight Patriot - 2 March 2019

Many nations are guilty of short-term thinking and an overly-commercial outlook on life. When we hear criticisms of this sort, we tend to think of them as applying to the United States, Britain, and other European countries – but it may turn out that one of the first wealthy nations to fall on account of such thinking will be Saudi Arabia.

Granted, the Saudis don’t have all the problems of the West, but the ones they do have they have in superabundance. In any case, their situation is worth a close examination as an example of the kind of pit that commercialism can get a country into.

I will begin with a rundown of Saudi Arabia’s current economic situation.

The per-capita GDP is $21,096, highest of all the large Muslim countries, though it is slightly down from last year. Petroleum accounts for 90% of exports. Although the oil will not run out anytime soon, the shale revolution has allowed other countries to become less dependent on Arab oil, and Saudi Arabia is now third among oil producers, after the United States and Russia. Saudi Arabia’s leaders have been talking about the need to diversify for a long time, but no change is forthcoming.

Income inequality is very high, and the youth unemployment rate is 25%. Saudi Arabia closed out 2017 with government debt at 17% of GDP, up from 2% three years earlier.

At its core, Saudi Arabia’s economic system consists of a wealthy elite pursuing highly profitable, albeit short-term economic successes, while a large class of forgotten, obsolete peasants grows increasingly dissatisfied with the whole operation.

And it isn’t just lower-class Arabs to whom the Saudi Kingdom is turning a blind eye. Remember, Saudi Arabia is the heartland of global Islam, and its King, whether he wants to be or not, is seen as the leader and protector of all the world’s Muslims. So important, indeed, is his guardianship over Mecca that the title “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques” comes before “King” in his list of honorifics.

And the King is not living up to it. You may recall all the news recently about how China has imprisoned a million Uighar Turks in concentration camps, resulting in a lot of impotent howling from the few Westerners concerned about human rights, and a lot of business-as-usual from the West’s leaders.

The Saudi King could have done something about this – many of his subjects urged an oil embargo against China. This would have brought the Chinese to their knees, because unlike the US and Russia, China has little domestic oil production and must rely on Arab imports. Instead, Prince Mohammed bin Salman went to Beijing to personally assure China’s leaders that there would be no disruptions in trade.

To the south of Saudi Arabia lies Yemen, a culturally similar but much poorer country, and a portent of what is to come in Saudi Arabia if its problems continue to go unaddressed. Yemen is locked in civil war against the Houthi Rebels, a group which modeled its rise to power on the successes of ISIS.

One difference is in flag design. To the Houthis, ISIS’ famous Black Standard, inscribed with “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his Prophet” seemed too tame. The Houthi flag consists of a white field with red and green letters spelling out:

Allah is Great!
Death to America!
Death to Israel!
Curse on the Jews!
Victory to Islam!

Remember, this is the national flag of the state that the Houthis are trying to set up. And it isn’t just a flag. For instance, when the Houthis overran Sana’a along with its university, all the students were issued new ID cards bearing this motto.

These are not, by any stretch of the imagination, the good guys. But to millions of disaffected Muslims, they look like the good guys when the Saudi Kingdom elevates commerce over the rights of poor Muslims around the world. ISIS, the Houthis, and other movements of that sort feed on the indifference of the elite.

There is a reason that the friendship of Saudi Arabia’s elites toward the United States has engendered hatred toward that country among the common people. Remember, 15 out of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia.

The House of Saud has dug itself deep into the pit of commercialism. While its mistakes and short-term thinking aren’t intrinsically worse than what America’s leaders have done, Saudi Arabia is making those mistakes in a much harsher environment.

Islamic terrorists like to chant about killing Americans and Israelis, but in real life, they mostly kill moderate Muslims. The Saudi rulers are at the top of their list. And when the Houthi flag, or something like it, is fluttering over the seven minarets in Mecca, we can expect nasty things to start happening. This is, after all, a part of the world where the phrase "heads will roll" has retained its literal meaning.

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