Saudi Shakeups Have Created Fractures in Middle East Politics

    Pinar Akpinar, Bülent Aras, Emirhan Yorulmazlar

    Security, Middle East

    A Saudi soldier fires a mortar towards Houthi movement position, at the Saudi border with Yemen April 21, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

    The Saudi leadership has espoused an iron-fist policy against political alternatives at home hand-in-hand with a flag-bearer role for leading the call for change in the region.

    The Gulf crisis that pit Saudi-led coalition against Qatar has indicated the eroding basis of regional security and stability. In general, the crisis was construed as a component of escalating Saudi-Iranian confrontation. It also highlighted the resurgent great power rivalry in the Middle East, which brought the global dynamics of Russia-led anti-Westernism into play. The retrenched American security assurances has not only emboldened the anti-Western front but also created a political void. The ensuing geostrategic conflicts further undermined the crumbling pillars of regional order.

    Yet beyond structural factors, the Gulf crisis was intrinsically a local crisis and a product of Gulf politics. The conflicting agendas of domestic and regional stability, the lessening role of political leadership over Islam related popular demands, the contradictions of post–2011 Gulf security, and competing ideological alternatives undid the quest for Gulf unity and the Saudi claims for Arab leadership. We argue that absent a Gulf consensus on the basis of regional order, the recurrence of crises is inevitable and the ability of Gulf countries to steer clear of regional conflicts is more likely to be a pipe-dream.

    Challenges in Gulf and Saudi Politics

    The Gulf states are under pressure from below, sideways and above. The growing uncertainties about single-resource economies alongside the “youth bulge” and the depressing need for job creation have put much strain on the Gulf Arab monarchies. The GCC nations might have weathered the Arab uprisings thanks to their massive forex accounts and military activism. Yet, as has been indicated by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s (MBS) recent moves, the choice between change or crisis appears imminent.

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