In an exclusive interaction with The Policy Times, Qamar Agha, Expert on Middle East and Islamic issues unearthed the real reasons behind conflicts in the Muslim world, Saudi-Qatar blockage and other issues. He has also outlined solutions that every Muslim should know.
Q. Why is Middle-East aversion now and where the Middle-East nations like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Israel going wrong?
QA: Most of these nations have feelings which are type of cold war regimes and they worked very well around 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. In the age of globalization they have not been able to bring change accordingly. People wanted change and regimes continue with authoritarian policies and have neither able to solve internal problems or solve the problems faced by the region. Then the Arab Spring was suppressed and militancy has taken over. The only alternative left was Islamism, so large number of people has joined the bandwagon of militancy or Islamist group. These are self-defeating organisations of force. They will not be able to achieve any objective except creating a civil war scenario or chaos and anarchy. That has brought foreign forces in the region which is further creating tensions in that region. As Iran and Saudi Arabia are concerned, two major powers have emerged and neither of them is cooperating with each other. The problem is that Saudi Arabia is totally opposed of Iran’s policies in the region and other realm of contention between two groups that has led to sectarian conflict.
Q. Terrorism in the Middle-East is the biggest threat to global peace. Are not the Middle-Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia responsible for this?
QA: Of course! They are responsible. The problem is that most of the countries are using militants as strategic asset to promote their interest in the region like Pakistan is doing same thing in India. They are using militancy in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen and in many other countries which are a problem and a large number of funds are given to the militant groups. Funding, arms, sophisticated weapons, training by forces, money and safe heavens are given by different countries. It is true that United Nations has passed resolution, condemning and declaring Al-Qaeda, ISS, Taliban, Jaishe-Mohammad, Lashakare-Taiba as militant organizations. However, they have not taken any action against those countries which are still providing this militancy a heaven. Instead of passing resolutions, they will have to take tough actions against those countries which are supporting these militant groups.
Q. America is going to use terrorism for its own benefit and so are Israel and Saudi Arabia. What is the solution, who will find the solution and how the solution will come?
QA: Unless and until democratic reforms are introduced in these countries, these issues will remain a part of the problem. Arab Streamers, a very popular movement that spread from Morocco to Tunisia, involve people coming out in large numbers and wanted the rule of law, but they have been suppressed in each and every country. Democracy has a solution for these problems. It can’t be overnight, but gradual democratization should be there. Rule of the law should be introduced. And the second thing, religion should be separated from politics. As long as they will mix religion with politics, the problem will continue. Religions are thriving in democratic setup like India or Western Europe where Christianity is thriving under democracy. Religions are being suppressed in the Communist era and in communist countries were not in liberal, secular, and had democratic setups. Nonetheless, they had more religious freedom than people living in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, or Middle-East. Constitution guarantee the right to celebrate religion, observe religion privately and even publicly. Freedom and respect for religions are there. We have seen these problems in Europe during Medieval Period when church was ruling and similar problems exist in India and in the Middle-East also.
Q. King of Saudi Arabia has replaced Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, his favoured son. What will be the impact of family feud in the Al Saud family for Saudi Arabia, region and Muslim world?
QA: The division in the House of Saud has made power now being concentrated in the family of Salman, the father has become a king and son has become a crown prince. Earlier there were many famines for the kingship and all of them have declined. The next king will be the son, Mohammad-Bin-Salman the crown prince now. He is quite young and will rule for next 20 to 30 years. Power will be concentrated in one family and the other members of the family of Saud dynasty will be sidelined in the process. This will grow more tension in the family because these people, Nayef’s or Abdullahs’ or Faisal’s family they have enjoyed a lot of power and different strides in Saudia. As we know Saudi Arabia is a tribal setup where tribal loyalty is very important. This tribal loyalty would be divided and we would have to wait how the clerical establishment is going to extend full support to the king or the Salman’s family or there is going to be a division in the clerical establishment also. It is true that ruling house of Saudi is also divided, so we will have to wait and see the division. I don’t think Israel will be able to protect or its’ plane will be able to protect. If Israel is going to intervene in the family feud of House of Saud, this will bring more tension in Saudi Arabia. The problem is that, the military establishment of Saudi Arabia is not capable for handling these situations. It has not very potential force. The Gulf countries have always been dependant on western nations for security and in return they used to give cheap oil. This arrangement also created problems as American troops entered Saudi the militant groups turned against Saudi and House of Saud. A number of militant groups are opposing Saudi Arabia’s ruling families. A large number of Saudis have joined the rank of Al-Qaeda and ISS in the past. We will have to wait and see how the situation develops. The other problem Saudi Arabia is facing that the oil prices have come down and the country is largely dependent on oil sale, so revenues have come down and they have huge expenditure in Yemen where they are fighting with the Yehudi rebels. They are supporting rival militants group in Syria. They have also given big funding to Egypt to contain Muslim brotherhood. They have huge expenditures and they are using reserves now, but for how long they can be dependent on reserves? Crown Prince Salman has said that new vision of ten years will reduce dependence on oil but this period of ten years is a big period and to create an alternative setup in Saudi Arabia will take time. It’s not an easy job and for that you need to have human resources. Up till now, Saudi Arabia is dependent on foreign workers so all these things will take time. If the oil price continues to fall, the problem will continue.
Q. The world muslim is totally confused on who is the criminal or villain and who is the hero between Saudi, Iran, Turkey, Qatar, etc.? Who will take leadership of the muslim world and how is the muslim world going to react on this development?
QA: When you talk about the Muslim world, you see there is no democracy in most of the Muslim nations whether it is Arabic world, or North Africa, even Sub-Saharan region are not democratic and all these regimes, either for security or for economic reasons, are dependent on western nations. The people do not have much faith and thus they join the rank of militancy or go towards militancy and thus create further problems in the Middle-East. The second problem is that there are no leaders in the Muslim world. King Abdullah has been magnificent but after he died Saudi Arabia is trying to emerge as a leading nation, but is involved in too many things. They are involved in Yemen along with Qatar and I think they will not be able to succeed in those objectives. Now Saudi Arabia is plagued internally and can’t play a pivotal role internationally as these problems are succession problems that have brought new dimensions to the Saudi problems. Let’s wait and see. Saudi Arabia is one of the important country in the region and the biggest economy in the Middle-East and North Africa. It has huge reservoirs of oil and gas and many countries including India are dependent for oil supplies and thus peace and stability of Saudi Arabia is very important.
Q. The world is not still clear regarding the Saudi Arabia’s Middle-East policies and what do they actually want?
QA: Saudi wants to become the leader of the Muslim world. They have been trying and promoting their ideologies. They have their Salafi ideologies which they are promoting for quite some time. They have money and they are buying loyalties of the friendly countries and they have support in the region. They have gained lots of support in the last 10-15 years and have been most powerful leader in the Muslim world. But the problem is that their internal problem continues to grow and that would challenge the leadership in the Muslim world because they have rivalry with Iran. They see them as a rival power in the region as they are an important country in the terms of fuel oil and gas reserves. Other minerals like gold and uranium are possessed by Iran. Apart, they have a very educated middle-class and they have developed science and technology and made a tremendous progress in different sectors and are the emerging power in the region. They have support in the number of countries as well not only from the Shias but also from the Sunnis. So this rivalry is also growing and triggering sectarian conflict in that region.
Q. Is Iran and Saudi conflict more of a power conflict in the region than that of the Shia-Sunni conflict?
QA: Shia-Sunni conflict is always fought by the ruling class. We have seen this is an old divide and rule to gain power from centuries. The problem came with emergence of Iran revolution and the installation of the democratic setup. That is not acceptable to the other countries of the region. They say that Shias may have a majority in Iraq but the region is dominated by Shunnis. The democratic setups develop a conflict with the traditional system of governance in Saudi Arabia. In fact, most of the countries are not willing to accept democracy, rule of law and that is being the conflict. Iran has established some sort of democratic systems in their country and that is also a source of conflict for others.
Q. Why it has become so necessary to block Qatar and is it a right move?
QA: It can’t be a right move. How can you block a neighboring country? By international law, it is not sanctioned. You have blocked food, water, supplies; these things are not done in 21st century. Qatar has charged Saudi authorities not pursuing independent foreign policies. Now they are dictating terms and telling Qatar not to support Muslim brotherhood. They are saying not to deal with Iran. It is a direct interference in Internal affairs of a country and as far as support to militancy is concerned both countries Qatar and Saudi Arabia are supporting rival groups; Syria and Libya over that matter in Iraq. The problem is that they have a 13 points demand to reestablish Qatar which Qatar has rejected. Qatar has its own interest and they want to close Turkish military base and Qatar is not going to accept it. I don’t know if Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain are going to respond to it because Qatar has rejected this demand already so there would be more tension between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Q. These things show that the GCC nations are divided like never before. Is it a very threatening signal for the Muslim world?
QA: Of course! Already the situation is deteriorating and problems are coming in the Muslim world. It will further compound the problems around the globe from middle-eastern countries because now the leadership of Saudi Arabia will also be in question. They have never been right, but King Abdullah brought some leadership. He was a pragmatic leader and he tried to emerge as a leader and was accepted by many countries. But now succession problem has created more problems in the country.
Q. Is it the arrogance and ignorance of Saudi leadership responsible for this problem in Middle-East?
QA: It’s not ignorance or arrogance, its’ the succession problem. King Salman thinks it is the best time that he can dominate as all brothers have already become the king of Saudia. He thought he can solve this problem by dominating over his son which brought more problem than the actions which Salman’s presidency have taken like war with Yemen or Saudi’s involvement in Middle-East and their inability to solve. Yemen war is going for years and thousands of people have died in couple of years and millions of people have become homeless in that country and cities have been destroyed and yet they have not been able to achieve their objectives. Billions of dollars have been wasted in war at a time when oil prices has come down and Saudi’s revenue are declining.
Q. What is the message on this Middle-East crisis?
QA: As long as you will mix religion with politics, these problems will continue. Muslim world wants to come of it and they would have to introduce democratic reforms, separate religion from politics. Democratic setup contains a large number of people whereas kingship or such regimes contain one man, one group or one family or army which is collapsing and is not threat to Islam. Threat is to their regimes where religion is being used by these countries.