A Saudi perspective on the Arab uprisings
Saudi security forces march during a military parade at a base near Mount Arafat, southeast of the holy city of Mecca, on November 22, 2009.
June 8th, 2011
03:45 PM ET

A Saudi perspective on the Arab uprisings

Editor's Note: Nawaf Obaid is a Senior Fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research & Islamic Studies based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He recently wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post entitled, Why Saudi Arabia is stable amid the Mideast unrest. Previously, Obaid was also private security and energy advisor Nawaf Obaid to Prince Turki al-Faisal when al-Faisal was the Saudi Ambassador to the United States.

By Nawaf Obaid – Special to CNN

The Arab world faces a period of historic upheaval: The economic and social malaise that existed in Tunisia before the revolution remains, and there is no realistic plan to turn the situation around.

Egypt's economy is in free-fall and the Muslim Brotherhood is poised to significantly increase its power through upcoming elections.

Civil war in Libya and escalating violence in Yemen have cost thousands of lives and set back development by decades.

Syria is on the edge of an abyss of nightmarish internecine warfare, which could spill into Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.

The so-called "Arab Spring" has not brought new life to the Middle East, but leaderless anarchy, creating a virtual pan-regional movement that is alarmingly dangerous and ultimately unsustainable.

Recognizing the threat that the spread of this movement represents, Saudi Arabia is expanding its role internationally and mobilizing its vast resources to help countries facing domestic upheaval.

As the birthplace of Islam and the leader of the Muslim and Arab worlds, Saudi Arabia has a unique responsibility to aid states in the region, assisting them in their gradual evolution toward more sustainable political systems and preventing them from collapsing and spreading further disorder.

That the Kingdom has the ability to implement this foreign policy goal should not be in doubt - it is backed by significant military and economic strength.

The foundation for this more robust strategic posture is Saudi Arabia's investment of around $150 billion in its military. This includes a potential expansion of the National Guard and Armed Forces by at least 120,000 troops, and a further 60,000 troops for the security services at the Interior Ministry, notably in the special and various police forces. A portion of these will join units that could be deployed beyond the Kingdom's borders.

In addition, approximately 1,000 new state-of-the-art combat tanks may be added to the Army, and the Air Force will see its capabilities significantly improve with the doubling of its high quality combat airplanes to about 500 advanced aircraft.

A massive new missile defense system is in the works. Finally, the two main fleets of the Navy will undergo extensive expansion and a complete refurbishment of existing assets.

As part of this new defense doctrine, the leadership has decided to meet the country's growing needs for new equipment by diversifying among American, European and Asian military suppliers.

Few countries are able to support such considerable military investment, but Saudi Arabia occupies a unique position in that it has sufficient reserves and revenues to carry out the above plans, while also funding vital domestic social programs.

With 25 percent of the world's oil reserves and over 70 percent of global spare capacity, current projections for the next five years estimate that the Kingdom will earn on average about $250 billion in oil revenue per year (for 2011, the projection is almost $300 billion). In addition, the Kingdom has approximately $550 billion in foreign reserves, a sum it plans to steadily increase.

To maintain current oil export levels while at the same time fulfilling its growing domestic energy needs, the government is investing heavily in solar technology, and will spend more than $100 billion to build at least 16 nuclear power plants across the Kingdom.

Solar energy will fill the gap in the short term, satisfying some incremental domestic energy needs, and within a decade, plans call for nuclear power to play the leading role in augmenting oil as a source of domestic energy.

Thus, Saudi Arabia will be able to fuel the growth of its burgeoning economy without significantly reducing its oil exporting capability.

The Kingdom's more assertive policies are already apparent. It has provided Egypt $4 billion and Jordan $400 million (the latter could form the first installment of a much larger aid package that is being discussed).

Saudi Arabia is also leading the effort to improve regional collaboration by working to include Jordan and Morocco in a Saudi-centric Gulf Cooperation Council alliance.

In Yemen, it is spearheading diplomatic negotiations to effect a peaceful transition of power.

The Kingdom is the main supporter of Bahrain's monarchy, and will maintain a military presence there.

As Saudi Arabia grows more influential, initiatives such as these - which currently stretch from Morocco to Malaysia - will increase in number and reach, regardless of whether they meet with Western approval.

In Saudi Arabia, protests on the so-called "Day of Rage" predicted by pundits never materialized; the country remains stable and the leadership enjoys widespread support.

Those who are similarly skeptical about the Kingdom's ability to rise to its historic role as the indispensable regional power will again be proven wrong. The Saudi government will use its vast resources to steer the Arab world away from anarchy and unrealistic populist movements, and towards steady evolution in a manner that respects each country's unique culture and history.

The views expressed in this piece are solely those of Nawaf Obaid.

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Topics: Middle East • Military • Oil • Saudi Arabia

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