The Saudi King is Dead, Long Live the King and the Emperor

President Barack Hussein Obama will visit Saudi Arabia and meet with its new King on Tuesday. This is the first time that the American President has met with any new leader of any state within five days of that leader taking office. It is not known what reception he will receive from the new King who will just be out of the three days of mourning for his half-brother, the previous King. Nevertheless the security detail of President Obama have managed to secure the Saudi capital Riyadh for the visit given 52 hours notice. The same security detail was unable to secure Paris for the American President to attend the memorial service of the Charlie Hebdo and Kosher supermarket attacks given 58 hours notice. There is a US State Department warning to carefully consider the risks of travel to Saudi Arabia whereas none exists to France.

Riyadh is clearly a dangerous city to visit for any American including the President. Indeed Saudi Arabia is the home to Al Qaeda and birth city of Osama bin Laden. The same Osama bin Laden criticized the Saudi Royal family and former King Fahd for having invited non-Muslims to assist following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. This was the start of the American Asian Empire with occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. To save Saudi Arabia from being part of this Empire Bin Laden argued that the Two Holy Mosques (Mecca and Medina) should only be defended by Muslims. The continual American military presence on Holy Saudi soil led Bin Laden to spend a decade rebuking the United States and eventually to justify the 9/11 attacks. Since then Saudi Arabia has also been the frequent target of terrorist attacks from Islamic militants, Al Qaeda and others.

So, on Tuesday the new King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud as custodian of Two Holy Mosques (Mecca and Medina) may well not receive President Obama as the President wishes. The American President may wish to reconsider his visit given this and the perceptions it may instill among Muslims world-wide. The potential ramifications for both the United States and Saudi Arabia may not justify the visit. On the other hand the recently deceased King Abdullah may have provided the reason for the President’s obsession with visiting Saudi Arabia. They first met in April 2009 and when he visited Saudi Arabia in June 2009, King Abdullah informed of his support for the Obama Presidency “Thank God for bringing Hussein Obama to the Presidency, his election creates hope in the Muslim World”.

The new King Salman and former King Fahd (predecessor of the recently deceased King Abdullah) who invited Americans onto Holy Saudi soil in 1990 have one thing in common. They are both sons of Hassa, the 8th wife of the first Saudi Monarch King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud having married him when she was thirteen years old. This strong connection and the continual rule of the sons of King Abdulaziz may well be the undoing of the Saudi family’s rule of the state. It is well known and cogitated that once this elder generation dies off, the next generation, the grand-children of Abdulaziz, will bicker. Since 2006 it has been speculated that maybe one of these will seek an advantage over the others to take the Crown, such as acquiring a tactical nuclear weapon solely for domestic politics ie “The Prince with the Bomb will be the next King.” This may be a while still, but it is an option.

The United States seek non-proliferation and democratization. No doubt on the list of President Obama’s topics for discussion with the new Saudi King is the belief in individual freedom or free market under capitalism comparing it with the social reality of the current society, social inequality and exploitation in the Middle East. President Obama and King Salman could well engage in a discussion to identify actors to change it, and provide clear norms for criticism and practical goals for the future. Cases could be Syria, Iraq, Iran and oil.

Cases not open for immediate cause of concern is Palestine and global terrorism. President Obama and his entire Cabinet will not meet Prime Minister Netanyahu in the 14 days before Israel’s elections in March because Israel is a democracy and in their view they cannot be seen to influence the processes of democracy. Maybe the new Saudi King could explain to the American President, that the Jewish nation in the form of citizens of the sovereign State of Israel, select their 120 Knesset representatives and Prime Minister based on criteria other than meeting the American President. Welfare, education, housing, health care, the economy, and security are to name a few criteria.

If the American President wishes to help both Israel and the Palestinians maybe he could ask the Saudi King to wield his influence in the Sunni Muslim world to recognize Israel and to ask the Saudi King to force Hamas and Hizbollah to lay down their weapons. Maybe the new Saudi King working with the American President could have the Palestinian leadership accept what any other leadership in history would have agreed is a very reasonable offer of Statehood. The history of Israel has shown that the right is good at making peace and the left is good at making war. A word of advice for President Obama is that even though he may not like Bibi; Bibi is right and Buji is left.

About the Author
Dr Glen Segell is Fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa.