The Arab Spring reached its peak in 2011 when Arabs across the Middle East sought democratic rule, but were plagued by infighting—with Syria emerging as the clearest example of seemingly impassable sectarian divisions. Six years later, Saudi Arabia, the custodian of Islam’s most holy shrines, is presenting the anti-Arab Spring, with no thought for democracy but an ambitious plan to liberalize and modernize its frozen-in-history society, treat women like human beings, and dislodge a 5,000-member royal tribe from power.
But Saudi Arabia’s war with Iran is going to put the spanner in the works. Riyadh has blamed Tehran for a missile launched, unsuccessfully, from Yemen—whose rebels are assisted by Iran and Lebanon—into Saudi Arabia. It has challenged Hezbollah of Lebanon, the Shia militia de facto ruling the country, and has forced Lebanon’s dual-nationality Prime Minister Hariri to resign and hide in Riyadh. It is scared of seeing Iranian generals leading Shia militias against the remnants of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria, the last-named already penetrated by Hezbollah supporting Iran-backed Alawite-Shia leader, President Assad.
Pakistan, meanwhile, is strapped for cash and dying to stretch out the hand. But this time it is going to be tough being the “servant of the guardians of Sacred Houses.” Riyadh is counting on America and its 5th Fleet, plus Israel, the only power that can deter Hezbollah on ground and bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities.
And back in Pakistan, the Shia-killers of South Punjab, alienated from the new would-be king of Saudi Arabia, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, are likely going to go on the warpath, joining Al Qaeda and Islamic State and destabilizing Pakistan. The madrassas of Pakistan in their thousands, deprived of Saudi funds, are going to challenge Islamabad if it doesn’t reject the anti-Arab Spring and refuses to oppose the ruling father-son duo in Saudi Arabia.