Saudi Arabia: Rising Fascism Under Liberal Veil
Friday, December 8, 2017 at 12:51PM

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, aka MBS, has been praised by pro-Trump and anti-Trump forces for implementing sweeping liberal reforms. Both sides believe the prince’s reforms can advance the interests of U.S. imperialism. And the main wing of the U.S. ruling class surely wishes it could follow the Saudis’ lead and bring factions of their own class to heel.
MBS designed his reforms to whip up support among the working class in Saudi Arabia for war against Iran and Iran-backed groups such as Hezbollah and the Houthi rebels in Yemen. But rather than drink the billionaire prince’s nationalist poison, workers need to unite throughout the Middle East and the world and fight for communism.
Both Arsonists and Firefighters
In the oil-rich Middle East, Saudi Arabia has been the main U.S. ally since World War II, when U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt vowed to protect the kingdom in exchange for U.S. access to its petroleum reserves. Internally, the Saudi ruling class shored up its power and profits by cutting a deal with the Wahhabi mullahs. For decades, the Wahhabis have imposed an ultra-sexist religious order at home while exporting their fundamentalist Islam throughout the region. In the 1980s, they trained the mujahideen in Afghanistan in their war against the Soviet Union, a struggle that led to the creation of Al Qaeda. Throughout the region they supply free textbooks that spout their murderous rhetoric.
In the realm of extremist Islam, the Saudis are ‘both the arsonists and the firefighters,’ said William McCants, a Brookings Institution scholar. ‘They promote a very toxic form of Islam that draws sharp lines between a small number of true believers and everyone else, Muslim and non-Muslim,’ he said, providing ideological fodder for violent jihadists (New York Times, 8/26/16).
But now the Saudi rulers need their religious leaders to publicly denounce ISIS and fall in line with the new liberal agenda. MBS is disciplining Saudi capitalists with his so-called anti-corruption drive. He has imprisoned two hundred top officials and businessmen in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton until they agree to pay back to the government some of the loot they’ve skimmed over the years. He is sending a clear message: The Saudi ruling class must put aside short-term, individual greed for the long-term interests of their class, which includes a buildup to war with Iran. As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote in an over-the-top love letter to MBS:, “Unlike the other Arab Springs — all of which emerged bottom up and failed miserably, except in Tunisia — this one is led from the top down... and, if it succeeds, it will not only change the character of Saudi Arabia but the tone and tenor of Islam across the globe. Only a fool would predict its success — but only a fool would not root for it” (NYT 11/23).
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has denounced the Saudis’ new counterterrorism bill, which targets anyone who speaks out against the government. Insulting MBS or his father, King Salman, is punishable by 10 years in jail. Other acts of “terrorism” carry the death penalty, including “‘disturbing public order’, ‘shaking the security of the community’, and…’suspending the basic laws of governance’, all of which are vague and have been used by Saudi authorities to punish peaceful dissidents and activists” (Al Jazeera, 11/23).
These crackdowns against dissident government officials and capitalists are a hallmark of rising fascism in a period of capitalist crisis and sharpening inter-imperialist rivalry. The purpose is to consolidate the rulers’ power by disciplining their own ranks. Then the Saudi bosses will be better positioned to attack the working class and move toward war.
U.S. Jealous of Saudi Crackdown
To date, the main wing of the U.S. ruling class—represented by the big banks and multinational oil companies like ExxonMobil—has been less successful in its own efforts to prepare war and fascism. For the rulers, the Trump administration is proving to be a disaster. Despite a Republican Party majority in both houses of Congress, all Trump has to show for a year in office is a make-the-rich-richer tax bill. His fomenting of white nationalism has further divided the working class when the ruling class needs workers united around patriotism. The Saudis’ initiatives to get their house in order foreshadows the type of fascism the working class can expect in the U.S., sooner than later.
Iran and Saudi Arabia, Two Sides of Imperialism
Saudi Arabia and Iran have been rivals in the Middle East for decades, vying for ultimate control over oil and gas exports in the region. Where the Saudi rulers have allied with U.S. imperialists, Iran has tied its future to Russian and Chinese imperialists.
In 1979, both the Saudi and Iranians rulers turned to fundamentalist Islam as their answer for disciplining their ruling classes and their workers. Now Saudi Arabia is taking a different approach. According to Thomas Friedman, “This reform push is giving the youth here a new pride in their country, almost a new identity, which many of them clearly relish” (NYT 11/23). What MBS hasn’t yet figured out is how to counter without funding destabilizing political movements like ISIS.
As the Saudi rulers move to relax the religious stranglehold on their society, Iran is pushing its own brand of nationalism by uniting its workers against the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. “In short, it appears that Mr. Trump and the Saudis have helped the [Iranian] government achieve what years of repression could never accomplish: widespread public support for the hardline view that the United States and Riyadh cannot be trusted and that Iran is now a strong and capable state capable of staring down its enemies (NYT 11/26).”
As the Saudi ruling class uses secular liberalism to build discipline among their ranks, workers must see it for what it is—a drive to be prepared for war. No matter what reform crumbs capitalists throw us, we must look at their underlying motive: to mislead a working class into fighting and dying for the bosses’ profits. We must organize ourselves to smash all imperialists in a revolutionary war for communism and workers’ power.



War on Workers in Yemen

The war against the working class in Yemen has been raging for two and a half years, killing more than 10,000 and destroying hospitals and sewage treatment plants. The resulting outbreak of cholera, one of the largest in half a century, has infected than a million workers. Blockades have prevented aid from reaching Yemeni workers, creating famine conditions. The U.S. has placed Yemen on its anti-Muslim travel ban list, effectively sentencing workers to death.
The United Nations Human Rights Council is sending observers to Yemen to investigate war crimes allegations. What the UN will never admit is that all imperialist wars are crimes against the international working class.
Backed by Iran, Houthi rebels have been battling a Saudi- and U.S.-backed coalition for control over the country.  Yemen has untapped oil and natural gas reserves and is located on an important oil shipping waterway. It sits directly across the narrow Mandeb Strait from Djibouti, where the U.S. has established a new military base overlooking oil routes from West Africa to the Middle East and beyond.

Article originally appeared on The Revolutionary Communist Progressive Labor Party (
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