Pepe Escobar is a Brazilian political scientist, geopolitical analyst and columnist Asia Times/Hong Kong covering the arc from northern Africa and Middle East to Central and South Asia.
Pepe Escobar is the author of ‘Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War’ (Nimble Books, 2007) and ‘Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge’. His new book, just out, is ‘Obama does Globalistan’ (Nimble Books, 2009).
U.W.: Mr. Escobar, the presence and attitude of Saudi Arabia in Bahrain sets an incorrect precedence for similar future events. Saudi Arabia should consider the fact that one day the very same event may occur in Saudi Arabia itself and Saudi Arabia may come under invasion for the very same excuse?
The House of Saud strategy is a counter-revolution strategy based on the (false) assumption that pro-democracy protests in Bahrain, Oman and Eastern Saudi Arabia are an Iranian Shi’ite destabilizing plot. This is a medieval Wahhabi family-dominated system where the concepts of civil rights and democratic debate are non-existent. Calls for democracy will increase over time; but the House of Saud will be toppled by its own people, not by a foreign invasion.
U.W.: Have the Saudi violated international law with the military intervention in Bahrain?
It has. The invasion of Bahrain has been cloaked under a mechanism approved by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The mechanism evokes a foreign invasion of one of its members. Unless the Saudis consider the absolute majority of the Bahraini population “foreigners”, the argument is absolutely false. It would be the same as Germany invading France as part of NATO because there’s a peaceful democratic protest against the French government.
U.W.: Is a revolution in the Kingdom possible nowadays?
Not yet. The repression machine is absolutely fierce – as noted during the pre-emptive campaign against scheduled protests in eastern Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Ministry of Interior is even more merciless than the former Saddam Hussein’s, or the current al-Assad’s Ministry in Syria. Nevertheless, repression – along with billionaire bribes – cannot stifle the will of globally connected young Saudis (closely monitoring the evolving trend across the Arab world) towards democracy.
U.W.: Taking into account the fact that rulers of Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine and now Egypt have lost their power, are actions of the House of Saud's essentially moved by fear?
It's not only fear of an imaginary «Shi'ite crescent» of Iran-Iraq-Syria-Lebanon-Bahrain, but most of all fear of losing their grip over their own people, not only the Shi'ite minority living mostly in the oil-producing areas but the bulk of the Sunni population that has not had access to the oil wealth. Most of all, fear of losing US protection – the basis of the infamous US/Saudi deal of oil exchanged for «security».
U.W.: The US has long relied on two major alliances in the Middle East to maintain its strength, push for democracy, and supply itself with energy — Israel and Saudi Arabia. Will US lose Saudi Arabia?
The US would only allow itself to get rid – not “lose” – Saudi Arabia if it had more access to alternative sources of energy, in Africa, South America or Central Asia. At the same time the US/Saudi deal is excellent in terms of US projecting power and intimidating, if not controlling, the Middle East. Everything in the Middle East from Washington’s point of view revolves around protecting Israel. The two key pillars of this strategy were Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Egypt may be “lost” if it elects a really sovereign government. So Saudi Arabia must be kept in the fold. The counter-revolution in the Arab world in fact is led by a US/Israeli/Saudi axis. These are the players who have most to lose confronted to a wave of democracy across the Middle East.
U.W.: At moment of crisis, Saudi King Abdullah views President Barack Obama as a threat to his internal security. He fears that in the event of a widespread revolt, Obama will demand that he leave office, just as he did to Mubarak, that other long-time friend of the United States?
The House of Saud was absolutely petrified when the Obama administration – after relenting until the last minute – finally abandoned “valuable ally” Mubarak. That’s when the counter-revolution strategy was born. The House of Saud decided to smash at the source not only their incipient protests but also the peaceful pro-democracy movement in neighbor Bahrain. In exchange, they supplied the US with a fake Arab League vote endorsing a UN no-fly zone over Libya (only 9 out of 22 members actually voted). King Abdullah’s bad blood with Gaddafi dates from at least 2002. Thus through this US/Saudi deal the House of Saud was assured there will be no Washington interference in the near future.
U.W.: Have revolutions that were roiling over the Arab world produced divergent reactions in Washington and Riyadh?
Not at all – at least from the moment the US/Israeli/Saudi counter-revolution was put in place, i.e., immediately after the fall of Mubarak.
U.W.: Nevertheless, could the tumultuous realignments in Arab politics across the Middle East disrupt the U.S.’s traditional relations with countries like Saudi Arabia?
Not at all. The Washington/Riyadh alliance won’t be affected; one just needs to follow the news. There were never any mentioning about Washington on Saudi Arabia’s moves in the Persian Gulf, and there was absolutely no Washington support for the pro-democracy movement in Bahrain. The US agenda in the Middle East now is to topple the Syrian regime; to expel Hezbollah from government in Lebanon; to prevent pro-democracy protests from growing in Jordan; to make sure the next Egyptian government is not hostile to Israel; and not to interfere at all in the Persian Gulf, where Saudi Arabia is considered the top dog. Most of all, this is all geared towards the “containment” of Iran; and not to allow Palestine to become a full-fledged independent state.