Guest Opinion: Saudi Arabia as guardian is in question
Bomb attacks Monday at three sites in Saudi Arabia, including one in Medina near the believed tomb of the Prophet Muhammad, may have signaled a serious day of reckoning for the Saudi monarchy.
Another blast took place near the American Consulate General in Jiddah and a third at a Shiite mosque in the eastern Qatif region. Four guards were killed. The attacks took place as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan drew to a close, two days before the festival of Eid. Saudi Arabia is predominantly Sunni Muslim, as are the Islamic State and al-Qaida. King Salman of Saudi Arabia is deemed the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques of Islam, in Mecca and Medina. The Medina mosque with the tomb is one of the two.
Americans must express condolences at the loss of life and also at the increase in violence to Saudi Arabia, a longtime ally of the United States in spite of all.
The tottering of the Saudi monarchy is predictable as a result of the spread of extremist violence in Saudi Arabia and particularly the attack on the king’s role in Islam that the Medina bomb constitutes. The institution of class rule that the family control of the monarchy over Saudi Arabia’s huge oil wealth represents is probably a fated anachronism in 2016 — at risk not only in Saudi Arabia but also in the other Persian Gulf states that the United States has put its money on in that region. All of them — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — are ruled by Sunni Muslim families, with the bulk of their populations more ordinary natives of those states or workers imported from East Asia, South Asia or Africa.
The role of Saudi Arabia, with a king who is deemed to be a Muslim spiritual leader, with responsibility for Mecca and Medina, and which is also waging a brutal, extended war in neighboring Yemen and sees itself as the champion of the Sunnis in a war against Shiite Muslims led by Iran — the Middle East equivalent of the old Catholic-Protestant wars in Europe — is increasingly vulnerable, to the point of being untenable.
The United States has been fighting alongside Saudi Arabia in its religious war with Yemen, including in its savage bombing campaign there. At this point, it needs to get out of the way of the tree, rotten in the interior, beginning to emit cracks in the form of terrorist attacks within its borders, including against a holy place the king is pledged to guard. The fact that one of Monday’s bomb attacks took place near an American consulate general underlined the perception by the monarchy’s armed critics that America is entirely complicit in what the Saudis are doing in Yemen.
It should be the case, in strictly Muslim terms, that Saudi Arabia should be playing a truly neutral religious role in the intra-faith Shiite-Sunni rivalry. It would be as if Pope Francis were even now, in 2016, playing an active role in fanning flames of hatred and leading the fighting from one side within Christianity, as opposed to trying to patch up matters between Catholics and Orthodox Christians, as he is currently seeking to do.
The three bomb attacks in Saudi Arabia Monday should serve as a bell tolling loudly for the Saudi monarchy, particularly in its role as guardian of Islam’s holy places.