An Iranian political expert believes that if Iran and Saudi Arabia decide to set aside the proxy wars, then the changes in the Arab kingdom could be to the interest of Iran.
Qassem Mohebali, a former foreign ministry official and an expert on Middle East affairs, has weighed in on relations between Tehran and Riyadh, particularly after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman came to power in the Kingdom.
Here are the highlights of Mohebali’s Farsi interview with Entekhab news website:
Removal and arrest of nearly 40 princes can be part of the reforms Bin Salman is looking for. It could also be a kind of power struggle or purge of the governing body from the predecessors of the former king.
Closed systems suffer from financial corruption and economic rent and so on, and at the time of power struggle, the more powerful parties can squeeze the weaker ones with such allegations. The list of the people recently purged in Saudi Arabia shows that those who were in control of power during the kingdom of King Abdullah are being removed.
Those who are removed including King Abdullah’s chief of staff, his family members, and his ministers all held power at that time, and are now being eliminated under the pretext of fight against corruption. However, it is also possible that these allegations are real.
Regarding the connection between the resignation of the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the changes in Saudi Arabia, I can say these two issues are completely different. In Lebanon, Saudi Arabia is pursuing a series of policies. Riyadh is pursuing a strategy of putting pressure on Iran and is looking to break the rules of the game. Of course, Saad Hariri goes along with Saudi policies.
About Bin Salman’s use of the term “moderate Islam”, and how Saudi rulers have been able to satisfy Wahhabis to bring recent social changes in Saudi Arabia, I believe this is part of Saudis project to advance their domestic plans, in order to get closer to Europe and the United States. For instance, one of the important challenges of Saudi Arabia with the US and the West, especially after 9/11, was the issue of political development and the existence of a government in Saudi Arabia that was supportive of the hardliners. Hence, they want to eliminate these doubts.
Following the emergence of ISIS and Al-Qaeda, the Wahhabi clerics were severely weakened, with neither regional nor international popularity. Indeed, they have lost their power. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban have been suppressed, and Sunni Islamist fundamentalist Sunnis, which were supported by Wahhabis, are defeated. On the other hand, the United States has put pressure on Saudi Arabia and Qatar to cut the financial and ideological supports for such groups.
Saudi Arabia is the offspring of an agreement between the non-secular and secular Al Saud dynasty and the sons of Abd al-Wahhab. At the moment, the Wahhabis are weakened and Al Saud is getting stronger. Therefore, they have the chance to implement the reforms that they have been pursuing for years, but could not implement due to their fears of the Wahhabi hardliners.
Saudi Arabia is not only after domestic changes; they also pursue some changes in the region as well. In their view, in order to advance these policies, it is necessary for the Islamic Republic of Iran to develop its foreign policy based on its interests, not on the basis of ideology and religion. Hence, they are trying to make these changes in the region happen while a person like Trump is in power.
In general, the prospects for the Saudis in the 2030 agenda are the creation of an area in the Middle East similar to the northern Europe with the same income level and with the same economic and social structure. At present, in Saudi Arabia, there is a large educated class, who have finished their studies at Western universities. There are hundreds of thousands of such people living in Saudi Arabia now. Nearly 50,000 students have enrolled at famous Western universities, all of whom assumed to be a backup for Saudi Arabia’s transformation.
Regarding the improvement of the ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia within the prospects of 2030 agenda, I can say it depends on different factors. Relations between the two countries are not defined unilaterally. If the situation does not change, and the proxy wars continue in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Afghanistan and even in the future in Pakistan and Tajikistan, nothing will be changed. But if both countries decide to set aside these issues, then the changes in Saudi Arabia can be appropriate for Iran and the mutual ties as well. However, there is a paradoxical situation in the relations between the two countries, and the future cannot be predicted.