“It happened, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man stood in front of him with his sword drawn in his hand. Joshua went to him, and said to him, ‘Are you for us, or for our adversaries?’”
This passage, taken from from the Book of Joshua typifies, in many ways, Saudi Arabia’s current stance on foreign policy. Saudi Arabia has always regarded itself as the natural leader of the Islamic world. The kingdom, after all, is home to Mecca and Medina, the two sacred cities of Islam. Saudi foreign policy was, therefore, established with an eye to obtaining and maintaining dominance over the Muslim world. To do so, Saudi Arabia prioritized the safekeeping of its own regime. The regime’s security is considered a top priority for two main reasons. First of all, the country has a comparatively fragile internal structure, which was historically constructed upon an artificial state. Saudi Arabia was established in accordance with the tactical interests of the British Empire and France following World War I, when the Ottoman Empire was partitioned. Secondly, safekeeping of the regime is critical to Saudi foreign policy given that the country’s Shiva community, which stands at around 15 percent of the total population, has the potential of becoming an asset to Iran, Saudi’s main regional rival. Furthermore, Iran considers Saudi’s Wahhabi Muslims a threat to its national security, providing another explanation for the prioritization of regime security in both countries.
Egypt: Revolution and Counterrevolution
Had Saudi Arabia only been concerned with maintaining its hegemony in the region, the country would have directed all its resources towards maintaining the existing balance of power across the region. For instance, Saudi Arabia perceived the Arab Spring as a threat to the status quo that it strives to maintain. Yet, Saudi Arabia did not hesitate to get involved in the uprising, risking the collapse of the Gulf regimes. When protests erupted in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia immediately sent military support to this country. The Saudis, who were deeply concerned about the overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt, supported the military coup that overthrew Morsi’s newly-elected government. Following the overthrow, Saudi Arabia provided major financial support for Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s coup.
Yemen: An Iranian-Saudi Battleground?
In order to maintain its control of Yemen, Saudi Arabia launched military operations there, carrying out airstrikes within a coalition of ten nations. Saudi Arabia considers the Houthis as Iranian substitutes. As such, Saudi Arabia’s interference served to test out their progress.
The Saudi-led coalition had been indicted by human rights groups of illegitimate airstrikes on civilians on more than one occasion. Riyadh, however, insists that it has done all it could to avoid civilian casualties.
Qatar: The Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back
After the Muslim Brotherhood’s political resurgence in the region, Saudi Arabia and Qatar charted two separate courses. Saudi Arabia regarded the Muslim Brotherhood’s emergence as deeply intimidating. After all, the Muslim Brotherhood aims to establish a global Islamic State under its own control. Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia were fearful of the Brotherhood’s success in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco. In addition, the two countries worried that these successes would encourage the underground Brotherhood groups in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The Emirati government has an ongoing campaign to suspend the Muslim Brotherhood’s UAE branch, called the al-Islah group. The campaign, which began in 1994, has yet to declare victory against the particularly bothersome group.
Immediately after being inaugurated, then-President Mohammed Morsi attempted to assuage the concerns of the Saudis and the Emiratis by paying a visit to Riyadh, but all his attempts proved to be futile.
Qatar, on the other hand, charted its own course and strongly backed the Muslim Brotherhood. Doha’s decision revealed its ideological fondness: The Qatari emir is notoriously close to Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the de facto Brotherhood spiritual guide who has considered Qatar his home since 1961.
In fact, Qatar continued to embrace the Muslim Brotherhood. Following the coup in Egypt – which was supported by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Qatar welcomed several Muslim Brotherhood leaders to Doha. Aljazeera also provided extensive coverage of the ongoing anti-coup protests in Egypt. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain were not happy with Doha’s stance and withdrew their ambassadors from Doha in 2014.
As a result, four countries – Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt – cut their diplomatic ties with Qatar. According to them, Qatar must cease supporting terrorism. As Saudi Foreign Minister Abdel al-Jubeir told reporters in Paris last year, “We want to see Qatar implement the promises it made few years back with regard to its support of extremist groups, to its hostile media and interference in [the] affairs of other countries.”
Morocco: Choose Black or White, but Never Grey
Morocco’s bid to host the 2026 World Cup seems trapped between a rock and a hard place, indeed. Saudi Arabia’s discontent and incitement, along with the united bid by the U.S., Canada and Mexico may well doom Morocco’s chances.
Saudi Arabia was not happy with Morocco’s neutral position in regards to the Gulf-Qatar crisis. During the diplomatic showdown, Morocco went so far as to offer aid to Qatar, which the Moroccan Foreign Ministry explained as follows: “This decision was made in conformity with Islamic precepts that call for solidarity and mutual aid between Muslim people, notably during this holy month of Ramadan.”
Saudi Arabia’s officials seem to be catching the Trump-bully boy-style pretty quickly. Mr. al-Sheikh, the Saudi minister of sports, took to Twitter to bad-mouth Qatar, referring to it as pseudo-state and to Morocco as the ocean. His inflammatory tweet read, “Some people went astray. If you want support, you should seek it in Riyadh. What you are doing is wasting your time. Now ask the pseudo-state to help you. A message from the Gulf to the ocean.”
Jordan: Scratch My Back and I’ll Scratch Yours
Jordan has seen massive protests over price hikes and austerity measures. The protesters have already scored a few major victories: The country’s prime minister was replaced, and the king called for the proposed tax legislation to be reviewed. However, the protests seem to be continuing.
Jordan has long been dependent on international aid, including the U.S.’s security assistance and the financial assistance of the Gulf monarchies.
The Gulf Cooperation Council – which consists of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman – has thus far declined to renew Jordan’s $3.6 billion aid package.
“The various successive governments in recent years and the endemic corruption share responsibility for the current economic crisis. But Jordan, which depends on international aid, was dumped by its allies,” said Hassan Barari, a professor of political science at the Amman-based University of Jordan, in an interview with FRANCE 24.
Apparently, the kingdom is paying the price for its regional diplomatic positions, which differ from those of the Saudis and Emiratis. In return, the Saudis are trying to put pressure on Amman by delaying their aid.
The Gulf countries have not provided Jordan with the aid package in punishment for its neutrality over several key foreign policy issues. “The Gulf countries, which financially supported Jordan, have abandoned it to its fate because they are quite unhappy that Amman did not align with their [foreign policy] positions,” claimed Antoine Basbous, director of the Paris-based Observatoire des Pays Arabes.
Again, the Yemen war is one of the reasons behind the conflict. “By refusing to fully engage the Jordanian army in the Yemeni conflict, the [Jordanian] king has upset Crown Prince Mohammed Ben Salman,” according to Said Barari.