Courting Fitnah: Saudi responses to the Arab Uprisings
By Augustus Richard Norton, Boston University
* This memo was prepared for the “Visions of Gulf Security” workshop, March 9, 2014.
[Download this essay and a dozen others from the March 2014 conference.]
The logic and impact of Saudi interventions in Bahrain, Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria suggest a state pursuing confounding aims with improvised, if not impulsive policies. It is often asserted that the instability-averse Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a status quo power, but recent Saudi actions suggest that it seeks to undermine the status quo. Rather than revealing an aversion to instability, the kingdom has fed instability by radicalizing minority Arab Shiite populations in the Gulf, supporting proxy forces involved in armed struggle and, at least until recently, turning a blind eye to the recruitment of Saudis to join al Qaeda-affiliated groups outside Saudi borders. Referring to the interior minister, Madawi al-Rasheed wryly notes: “To put it bluntly, the prince did not succeed in eliminating terror; he simply pushed it away to countries like Yemen, Iraq, and now Syria and Lebanon.”
There are obvious security challenges in the Saudi neighborhood, including the continuing struggles underway in Yemen, persistent demonstrations in Bahrain, and the failure of the Iraqi government in Baghdad to broadly legitimate its power, but Saudi Arabia has not been an innocent bystander in any of these cases.