The scapegoat and $33 billion – The hidden truth behind Saudi Arabia’s royal crisis

Published: November 13, 2017

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, last year. PHOTO: AFP

According to the Washington Posts Fareed Zakaria, in order to understand how traditionally secular Muslim countries became hubs of radicalisation in recent years, you need just one example – Saudi Arabia.

Zakaria explains:

“In Southeast Asia, almost all observers whom I have spoken with believe that there is another crucial cause (behind the ‘cancer’ of extremism) – exported money and ideology from the Middle East, chiefly Saudi Arabia. A Singaporean official told me, ‘Travel around Asia and you will see so many new mosques and madrassas built in the last 30 years that have had funding from the Gulf. They are modern, clean, air-conditioned, well-equipped, and Wahhabi (Saudi Arabia’s puritanical version of Islam)’. Recently, it was reported that Saudi Arabia plans to contribute almost $1 billion (≈ box office sales of Jaws, 1975) to build 560 mosques in Bangladesh. The Saudi government has denied this, but sources in Bangladesh tell me there’s some truth to the report.”

As The Week explained two years ago, Saudi Arabia has spent billions of dollars “investing heavily in building mosques, madrasas, schools, and Sunni cultural centres across the Muslim world. Indian intelligence says that in India alone, from 2011 to 2013, some 25,000 Saudi clerics arrived bearing more than $250 million (≈ cost of Airbus A380, the largest passenger airplane) to build mosques and universities and hold seminars”.

The Week made it quite clear that these “institutions and clerics preach the specifically Saudi version of Islam, the extreme fundamentalist strain known as Wahhabism or Salafism”.

This isn’t just some unfriendly version of Islam that may or may not be linked to terror attacks aimed at western countries – this is the same standard of Islam that the Islamic State (IS) and al Qaeda adhere to. Remember this next time a Donald Trump supporter accuses you of being an “apologist for Islam”, while their leader sells these puritanical extremists more arms than they can afford to buy in the first place.

Not to mention that since early 2015, Saudi Arabia has been locked in a brutal quagmire in neighbouring Yemen, engaging in war crimes and using banned munitions.

Despite Saudi Arabia’s documented behaviour, everything that moves right now in the Middle East is somehow purported to be due to Iran’s “malignant” activities. A missile that was launched into Saudi Arabia’s capital city, which may or may not have been intercepted, was immediately, and baselessly, blamed on Iran. Saudi Arabia has even called the event an act of war (initiated by Iran). The meltdown of Lebanon’s internal politics has also been blamed on Iran, yet Saudi Arabia is clearly the one trying to pull the strings to create internal strife in the country.

In actuality, the available evidence that has come to light in recent weeks is that it was Saudi Arabia that actively coordinated an act of aggression on the sovereign nation of Syria in 2013. It has also come to light that a leaked cable, written in Hebrew, allegedly shows Saudi-Israeli collusion to provoke a war with Lebanon. It should be noted that the mainstream media, and the governments that run in tandem with the media, have paid close to zero attention to this, despite how damning the conclusion is.

So what can one make of what is happening directly inside Saudi Arabia, even as we speak? One can only describe the recent developments as a crackdown that makes Bashar al Assad’s pale in comparison, given that very senior and royal Saudi figures have already been killed and arrested in just over one weekend of action.

The media has advanced that this is merely a crackdown by a reformist leader in the hopes of putting Saudi Arabia on a path to modernity and creating some domestic social and economic reforms. No one will be willing to admit it, but the House of Saud is in trouble.

Don’t listen to The Guardian as it tries to James Bond-up Saudi Arabia’s crown prince with ludicrous titles such as “Saudi arrests show crown prince is a risk-taker with a zeal for reform”.

According to Bruce Riedel, director of the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution, Saudi Arabia is more or less looking at an economic recession. The country can barely afford the arms deals it agreed to with both, Barack Obama and Trump, and its expenditures on the illegal war in Yemen are starting to take their toll. Perhaps this is the real reason the crackdown targeted three of the kingdom’s richest profiles, which will result in the confiscation of $33 billion (≈ Harvard University endowment in 2011) for the Saudi Kingdom to use at its leisure. The country is facing economic hardship, as the Washington Post explains,

“The International Monetary Fund said in July that the Kingdom would run a deficit of about 9.3% of gross domestic product this year. Unemployment was running around 12.3%. It said that non-oil growth was projected to pick up to 1.7% but that relatively weak oil prices would keep overall GDP growth ‘close to zero’.”

Saudi Arabia’s chickens are coming home to roost. The extremist nation should know this more than anyone, considering they have tried their hand at overthrowing multiple governments in the region. Once a crackdown as blatant as this one begins, there will be no turning back for the Islamic Kingdom.

While some may celebrate the fall of Saudi Arabia, the downside is that desperate times will undoubtedly call for desperate measures, in the face of the Kingdom’s dying status as a regional player. The only viable option to maintain the illusion of domestic strength and international prowess is to find a scapegoat, and the Saudis have had the perfect scapegoat for years. Even as we speak, the war rhetoric targeting the Iranian government and its allies is beating louder, as it becomes clear that the oil-rich nation may have no other way of distracting from its own inner turmoil than to launch further aggression against Iran.

It is already somewhat evident that Trump has given his full support for this to happen — and that Trump’s sword-dancing meeting with Saudi Arabia earlier this year set the scene for something far more sinister than we could have ever predicted.

As the Washington Post explained,

“Mohammed Bin Salman’s domestic power grabs have often been accompanied by major foreign policy moves. Many regional observers therefore fear that Hariri’s resignation, announced in Riyadh with a sharply anti-Iranian speech, could trigger a political crisis intended to end with a military campaign against Hezbollah. Such a move would fit the pattern of bold foreign policy initiatives launched in the expectation of a rapid, politically popular victory. It would also very likely follow the pattern of such initiatives rapidly collapsing into a bloody, destabilising quagmire.”

This post was originally published here.

Darius Shahtahmasebi

Darius Shahtahmasebi

The author has completed a Double Degree in Law and Japanese from the University of Otago, with an interest in human rights, international law and journalism. He's a fully qualified lawyer in two separate jurisdictions, and writes about foreign policy for Anti-Media. He tweets at @TVsLeaking ‏(

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • rumi52

    Its often said that there is a free press in the west. To a certain extent this is true. But there has obviously been a coordinated PR campaign to ‘sell’ the current Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia in western papers coinciding with the arrests of some of key Princes. Last time this happened was the build up to the invasion of Iraq when no one in the press challenged the narrative that was being sold to the public. This is one of the few articles that challenges the narratives that we are being told. Well done to the Express Tribune for allowing this opinion to be published. What greatly worries me is that while the Princes, Kings and Presidents sit in their well protected palaces and White Houses and play the Middle East like a chess board, ordinary people will die in their thousands. The bombing of Yemen makes Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza look mild.Recommend

  • Sajjad Khawaja

    Writer seem to be Pro Shia and thise very much against Saudi’s puritanical version of Islam. His all findings and Narration is focussed only to Prove Saudi’s at fault and nothing Else. In any Monarchy around theWorld these Situation happens and whether we talk about South Asian Sub Continent or Europe or Middle East or else History has lot to say. So what is new in this. Now long before we have seen this in Sharjah (UAE) , In Kuwait and the revolution in countries like Egypt, Tunis etc where it was not even Kingdom ship.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    As The Week explained two
    years ago, Saudi Arabia has spent billions of dollars “investing
    heavily in building mosques, madrasas, schools, and Sunni cultural
    centres across the Muslim world. Indian intelligence says that in India
    alone, from 2011 to 2013, some 25,000 Saudi clerics arrived bearing more
    than $250 million (≈ cost of Airbus A380, the largest passenger
    airplane) to build mosques and universities and hold seminars”.

    The author gives the impression of being a naive indivdual who believes in hearsays without having analysed the background of the house of saud and their religious mission. Call them wahabis or salafists if one may, they are not extremists but the believers of sunna Islam also known as people of AlHadij. They are indeed fundamentalists and why should’nt they be considering that they are the caretakers of the Islam holiest cities where muslims from around the globe come to perform a Haj ritual once in life time as ordained by the almighty God. The Saudi family does not invest in building mosques around the world but in industrial stocks as all rich capitlists do. They do pay to build mosques and madraasas and schools in developing countries from the charity funds which is somewhat similar to the Vatican building churches.

    Rex Minor .Recommend

  • Parvez

    In your analysis, some of which I agree with, you have not factored in the steady
    rise in oil prices and the impact this will have in helping the Prince in his designs.
    Also you have come to the conclusion that the KSA is drowning and is desperately slutching at a straw to stay afloat…..and I feel this is rather extreme.
    I see what is happening as a transparent ‘ divide, rule and suppress ‘ strategy by the western powers over the Islamic world that will succeed because of our own weaknesses.Recommend

  • My Gana

    The Prince has started interelite conflict. He also appears to be quite clueless about what Saudi Arabia can do since a major factor is its poor education system.
    And the prince pro-moderate stance is belied by his not curbing this.

    It was clear something very wrong in Saudi Arabia

    Oil prices can only rise is lots of cuts because developed countries are aging. So need for oil will decline. For instance in US 57 is most common age of Boomers.


  • Azhar

    While I might agree with some part of the analysis of politician situation, I completely disagree rather reject the writer’s opinion that Wahabi Islam is the cause of terrorism around the world. I am a Pakistani Muslim Alhamdolillah and have lived in Saudi Arabia for almost 25 years and I can say this with full confidence that blaming Wahabi sect of Islam for terrorism is absolutely rubbish. If this were the case, maximum terrorism should have happened in Saudi Arabia. Painting things in Black and White is not a very good way of analysing anyway.Recommend

  • Adeel

    pro shia seriously?? even though I do too believe that the author’s comments are a little extreme and very biased. But accusing him of being pro shia highlights the fault in your line of reasoning as well. Have you actually looked at the author’s name? why on earth would he be pro shia?Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    It is already somewhat evident that Trump has given his full support for
    this to happen — and that Trump’s sword-dancing meeting with Saudi
    Arabia earlier this year set the scene for something far more sinister
    than we could have ever predicted.

    Saudi Arabia does not require American support for its posture in foreign sphere, on the contrary Donald Trump though known for his narcismic ego is also a student of kabbala and fully aware of varied powerful forces in the world which took him to Saudi Arabia, and participate in saudi powerful sword dancing. This was then followed by his visit to the emerging world super power. I will not dispute authors prognosis for sinister times in the middle east though for various other factors.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Hamidullah.

    In Germany, Switzerland and Austria, no Saudi financed mosques are allowed.
    As of two years ago. These Saudi mosques were spreading radical Khawariji
    Islam. They still do, in other countries.
    Only a fool would compare Vatican’s church building with Saudis mosques.
    KAS, an ultra conservative nation, where women cannot leave their homes
    unless accompanied by a male family member. Compared to a modern, fast
    becoming a progressive, Vatican.Recommend

  • Ahmad Rafiq

    The point is simple, Saudi Arabia is a regional super power which never used its money,power and influence. Now, however, Saudi Arabia has realized that it needs to evolve to survive and they have every means at their disposal. they are amongst the wealthiest nations on earth which enjoys extraordinary influence on the region (and globally on Muslim countries) and very close ties with the US.

    The world is twisting and turning as they are afraid that Saudi Arabia can soon become a power which they might not be able to contain. It’s that simple.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    Compared to a modern, fast becoming a progressive, Vatican.

    Vatican is neither modern nor progressive Sir, though admittedly the current Pope is a jesuit and is keen to implement reforms including the end of debauchry among the priests and givng women the status of priesthood. He recently proposed that the church consider the elimnation of capitl punishment as well which is the hall mark of the European Union. Iam not defending the denial of human rights in Saudi Arabia but simply said that Saudi family is known for giving charities to the poor muslim majority countries in support of building mosques and madarassas providing basic education. What the European Governments are undertaken against foreign financed institutions who are preaching radicalism is the step in the right direction as Islam becomes the integral part of its citizens religions. The religion of Islam is now being taught in Germany by those who are qualified from local universities. Not to ignore that mosques in Germany are subsidised by the Government.

    Rex Minor

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Gul Khan

    An Iranian writing about Saudi Arabia, hardly credible. Both Saudia and Iran are guilty of exporting their brand of extremism all over Muslim world, and fighting proxy wars. In case of Iran, it is even enshrined in their constitution.

    Iran finds it fair to go to help UN recognised government in Syria, which happened to be a dictatorship. According to estimates, Iran spent over 100 billion in supporting Syrian dictator. And it is not called an “Invasion” by Iran.

    However when Saudis go in Yemen to assist a UN recognised government, which happens not to be a dictatorship, against rebels and terrorists, Iran and its paid “journalists” quickly label it an “invasion”. Let me be very clear, Houthis have no means or expertise to launch 800 km range missile. It is indeed Iran which supplied hardware and technicians to launch the attack.

    In case of Lebanon, both Iran and Saudis and playing their game, as they are doing in rest of Islamic world. Out of 20 large and small political parties in current Lebanese parliament, only one political party has a private army (Hezbollah) which is more loyal to Iran then Lebanon. Hezbollah only hold 11 out of 128 seats in current parliament. Amal movement, is other main Shia party in the parliamen, and it has 13 seats. Which proves that Hezbollah is not even the favourite party among Shia of Lebanon. After Lebanese civil war, all other militias melted away or were absorbed in Lebanese army. Hezbollah has refused to be part of Lebanese army, and report to central government. Instead it reports to Iran. A struggling democracy cannot function when one party has a armed wing, loyal to a different country. You can blame Iran and Hezbollah, more than Saudis for Lebanon crisis.

    To summarise, both Iran and Saudia are exporting their brand of extremism, fighting their war in other countries, and as a result, both of these countries have Muslim blood on their hands.Recommend

  • Syed Ubaid Mazhar Abidi

    Extremely lame explanation and heavily biased article. Iran is a problem in all the issues currently on going in ME whether it’s Bahrain, Qatar, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
    The explanation in the article are not reasonable and unjust.Recommend

  • rumi52

    Its funny isn’t it why there is no terrorism in Saudi Arabia or the Gulf countries in general. Thousands of Saudis have gone to fight for ISIS in Iraq and Syria as have some citizens of the Gulf countries. Countries like Egypt and Tunisia have had their tourism industries almost destroyed by terrorism but western tourists seem very safe in places like Dubai which attracts thousands of Europeans every year. If you follow the money trail of groups like Al-Qaida it always leads back too rich individuals from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. The governments of these countries say that they cannot control how their citizens spend their money, therefore they are not responsible. Fair enough but again why are countries like Pakistan are almost being destroyed by terrorist bombings but these rich Arab countries who openly cooperate with the west perfectly safe. The Taliban and Al-Qaida attack Pakistan because the Pakistani government officially cooperates with the U.S. in the ‘war against terror’. So does Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but again these countries are safe. Recommend

  • rumi52

    Saudi Arabia a regional superpower? A superpower thats always asks the Pakistani Army to fight its battles. How did the war in Yemen go once the Pakistani army refused to be involved in a land war?Recommend

  • Omar

    The article seems lack of independence. The scale to which it was inhibits reeks of a pro Iranian approach which should not have been a part of TribuneRecommend

  • Turi

    21 guns salute to your intellectual brilliance…..Recommend

  • Patwari

    A great comment. One reason is these countries in the Gulf and the
    Peninsula are monarchies. Not democracies. And are ruled by an Iron Hand.
    So, the slightest dissent [even perceived] will kill you on spot by
    the authorities of the sheikh, or emir, or king or….prince.Recommend

  • C Gupta

    oil prices could sink, as well. next year, two years, three years.
    then what? back to hotel jails and looting princes and their bank
    accounts.? Trump may not be in power by then.Recommend

  • Hamidullah.

    A pro Saudi Pakistani writing about Saudi Arabia is hardly credibleRecommend

  • Rex Minor

    For your info. sir Saudi Arabia has also the richest mineral reserves in the world including gold and uranium under their sands. The only country in the world which receives direct cosmic energy. Once in their life time muslims are required to visit the land for Hajj primarily to refuel the cosmic energy.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Somnath.

    You forgot
    Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves Treasure,
    Sinbad The Sailor Treasure
    Alladin and his Magic Lamp Treasure
    they all buried under the Arabia’s sand too.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    They were all stolen unfortunately by the asylum seekers from the west in midde ages. Each of the Prince and princes though has a room made of gold which treasures their wealth.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • vinsin

    True but still they cannot replace the earnings from oil.Recommend

  • vinsin

    When power hungry people ever bother about ordinary people, they are called ordinary for a reason. History is written with blood of ordinary people or foot soldier, nothing new, world will not stop.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Correct……Oil represents 93% of the Saudi budget revenue and 97% of export earnings and 55% of GDP.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    They wll I was told when the black tar runs out which in my opinion will never cease because of the constant cosmic rays n the Peninsula.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Somnath.

    cosmic rays effecting your head too.Recommend