By Zaher Mahruqi
When Saudi Arabia embarked on limiting Iran’s influence through its military intervention against the Huthis in Yemen the support for that effort was wide and loud. Almost all Arab and Muslim nations supported the move. For that support to become a long term reality, the Kingdom has to stay busy and on top of pressing issues in the Arab and the Muslim world.
The major factor that gave Iran an edge over Saudi Arabia was its clear anti Israel stance. The Saudis must, In essence, pull the rug off Iran’s feet but that would require even more blunt and courageous moves. Saudi leadership must inherit Iran’s position as the leading Muslim nation challenging Israel and her allies. Such incidents as the savage burning of the Palestinian toddler Ali Saad Dawabsheh would have to be Saudi’s problems if it is to come across as the leader in the Muslim public eye.
In challenging Israel, Saudi Arabia has to be more upfront and has to go beyond empty words of condemnation that serve no real purpose. The matter is not that simple as the act of challenging Israel is by default an act of going face to face with the Americans. But we are in an era whereby one man show is fast disappearing and even those nations which are still despotic public views and positions are now being listened and adhered to. As such, Saudi’s moves have to pay attention to what the Arab and Muslim world public aspires for. Whence Saudi Arabia wins hearts and minds of the people across the Arab and Muslim world the Americans and the Europeans would have to change their attitude and give more weight towards Saudi Arabia and her concerns.
Attempting to create a Unified Arab Armed Force (UAAF) is a noble undertaking but provided that the show in the Arab world is increasingly in sync with public view, the Kingdom has to choose its allies very carefully. Associating with tyrannical elements such as the present Egyptian regime is detrimental to her efforts and lacks long term vision. Mr. Sisi is on his way out and that eventuality is a matter of when. The how is already known as his opposition has refused to die out and violence against the regime is intensifying. Therefore Saudi Arabia should at worst take no sides in Egypt and must avoid coming across as supportive of the bloody coup in Egypt. Dancing with Satan is always counterproductive.
As much as Saudi Arabia shouldn’t be allying with elements that have or are being rejected by the Arab and Muslim publics, it has also to align its policies with forces that are liked by the masses. Saudi Arabia must ensure for instance that the Sultanate of Oman is included in any endeavours the Kingdom is pursuing. Whilst Sisi is seen as a villain in the Arab and Muslim worlds, Oman is acknowledged as the good guy. Rather than allowing Iran to win over Oman, Saudi Arabia should do its best to gently pull back Oman and maintain the solidity of the GCC. A solid GCC stands as a solid leader for the rest of Arabs and Muslims in the world.
To summarise, Saudi Arabia needs to solidify her ties with such parties as Hamas and take actions to physically support its struggle against Israel just as Iran is doing with Hezbollah. It must avoid appearing supportive of what the Arab and Muslim public see as villains as is the case with Egypt’s Sisi. Finally, it must avoid antagonizing what the Arab and Muslim world perceive as positive elements as is the case with its cultural, spiritual and physical neighbour, the Sultanate of Oman.
Saudi Arabia must physically and even aggressively openly support all the pressing issues of the millions of Arabs and billons of Muslims if it is to gunner enough support to successfully continue what King Salman has started.