The Saudi regime is in total disarray. Its policies at home and abroad have failed and are failing. Internally, there is great discontent because of lack of job opportunities. Abroad, the Saudis have got into a deeper tangle in Syria but their policy is unraveling. How long can this situation last?
November 15, 2013, 14:33 DST
Saudi policy, both at home and abroad, can best be described as paranoid. Tens of thousands of migrant workers have been rounded up ostensibly because they are working in the kingdom “illegally”. Hundreds of thousands have already left resulting in garbage piling up in the streets, construction projects coming to a halt and small convenience stores shutting their doors (or shutters).
This is not what the regime intended. The reason for the crackdown is to assuage anger among young Saudis that cannot find jobs. The regime’s response, however, is not likely to bring employment relief to the more than 12 percent Saudis without jobs.
The round-up has aroused the jingoistic feelings of the Saudis that have historically mistreated foreign workers, especially poor migrant workers from such places as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Indonesia.
Since the crackdown was launched on November 4, at least three foreign workers, two of them Ethiopians, have been killed. The Saudi police are ruthless and do not care for poor foreign workers. Even Saudi citizens have joined in vigilantism against foreign workers.
Protests against such brutality erupted outside the Saudi embassy in Addis Ababa today. The Ethiopian police prevented people from getting anywhere near the embassy and arrested more than 100 protesters, according to eyewitnesses. The Ethiopian foreign ministry has lodged a tepid protest with the Saudis but given their brash attitude, nothing is likely to come of it.
The Saudi regime is caught in a bind. It cannot find suitable employment for its own citizens that have become accustomed to getting paid without working. The menial jobs that foreign workers abandon will not be taken up by the bone lazy Saudis. Thus, the regime is digging its own grave.
The crackdown on foreign workers was meant to create the impression that the regime is taking steps to address people’s concerns. But when garbage piles up, the streets are dirty, construction sites and shops close and the Saudis find it difficult to repair their cars or plumbing, it will lead to even more resentment.
Externally, the Saudis have become trapped in Syria. Their hopes that the Americans will launch an attack against Syria have not materialized. In fact, US policy has undergone a radical shift and the Saudis are at a loss as to what to do. They are not capable of fighting. What they have done instead—and this is what they are good at—is to sponsor thousands of mercenaries to flood into Syria to create mayhem.
The mercenaries, however, are a double-edged sword. When the foreign-instigated war in Syria ends, these mercenaries will return to their home countries. Having tasted battle—and blood—they will not sit idle. As with the Afghan war of the eighties when battle-hardened fighters returned home, they are bound to create problems for their home countries.
Perhaps one option the Saudis are considering is to instigate sectarian conflict in the Muslim world. This too is fraught with dangers. Some, like Turkey have already realized that this is a dangerous policy and there will be blowback.
The Saudi ruling family thus faces a serious dilemma. It has a growing social problem at home and rising discontent and a failed policy abroad.
It is not a very good situation to be in especially at a time of seismic changes in the global political environment.