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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soundoff (48 Responses)
  1. anna

    U guys are stupid...they need to fire u lol THESE ARE AMERICAN SUPPORTERSSSSS ...so hate on them n theyll stop the money flow to AM. stop fightin w/ other countries no one likes u AND ITS FUNNY TO KNOW CNN HAS AN OBSESSION 4 SYRIA u guys are desperate little jews aint ya 😉 little fags pretendin ur christians when really chriastians dont care AND I HOPE U KNOW THAT IF U FIGHT WITH SYRIA their known 4 f*ckin up tough countrys so step off THIS IS MY TAX MONEY U NEED TO STOP F*CKIN AROUND N STOP HARRASSIN UR OWN PEOPLE U HYPOCRATES ITS FUNNY CUZ ...4 every protester bashar kills israel kills 100 people and innocent ones too ...UR FUNNY and im gunna laugh n be like i told uuuuuu so when yall lose all ur money trying kill people

    June 8, 2011 at 4:44 pm | Reply
    • ListenB_tch

      @ Anna... NO one likes us? Then why are you reading an article about the US's perspective of what Saudi's think? Get a life.. and how unlady like of you! Calling str8 men F@gg%ts, to degrade them.. why use my orientation to do that.. See wanna see these words from str8 women.. I smile at the thought of a str8 man beating to you to the pulp and leaving middle aged with 9 kids and a welfare check.. for some hot asain women who is 36 but looks 12... But then again its just a rageful thought.. HO! Get on topic, and get off of gay men.. Pick on your own men

      June 10, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Reply
  2. jessica

    Hey CNN, Why dont u talk about Americas plan to take over the middle east? =) starting with th strong presidents like Bashar? whats next? Turkey? China? North Korea and Russia? yah we know 🙂 Its all over Youtube.

    June 8, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Reply
  3. Steven Holmes

    Saudi Arabia is not the leader of the arab world. The "populist" movements are not unrealistic, they are succeeding before our very eyes. The process is difficult but the end will be worth it. Saudi Arabia is not for steady evolution. They are for stagnation and the continuation of outdated midieval governments that pamper the ultra-wealthy and rob the masses of their dignity.

    June 8, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Reply
    • hicham

      You hit the nail on teh head. Obaid is a hired agent to whitewash the Saudi regime...if Saudi is the leader of the Arab and Islamic world...as he claims...then what poor and miserable leadership.

      June 8, 2011 at 7:35 pm | Reply
  4. Silent Hunter

    It will all be over soon when America files for BANKRUPCY. You should ask Barack Obama if he knows what comes after a TRILLION. Glad to live in Canada. Just try and take over Canada and we will kick your AZZ like we did in the 1800's

    June 8, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Reply
    • ListenB_tch

      1800's? You know lil jealous canadian.. Boo your people havent done Jack since the 1800's..After all your still taking orders from britian.. Atleast Americans dont need a crutch (england) to stand on their own two feet... LOng live the queen of Canada!

      Come on folks – you are so ignorant to history. Of course the queen is the ruling "party" – in no uncertain terms the queen has been exposed. yet the ignorant masses elect the mind numbing it's a conspiracy theory thing. We are talking about suspension of Parliament – by who? Representatives of the queen, not the people! And for what purpose? Because the people chose to get rid of a puppet [of the queen] who promoted a raping and transformation of Canada [consistent with global policy – same as in US via the fake Fed Reserve/IMF, in Australia, and more notably Iceland] into a global model [As part of NorthCom – which I suspect most of you know little about – Texas Highway Patrol has conducted checkpoints in Canada – like Mounties patrolled the streets of New Orleans].... A truly free people would not require some figurehead [an alleged vestige] in the form of a "fake" queen or king. What kind of model is that? King and Queens represent the worst possible posture for a free people – yet you fools revere and allow these elite positions to persist – the history of the queen/king should be relegated to the dusty halls of a museum.

      June 10, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Reply
  5. j. von hettlingen

    It's blatantly clear that the author speaks for Saudi Arabia when he resents the urge of the populace in the region for more freedom and condemns the "leaderless anarchy" as the possible outcome of the "Arab Spring".
    "As the birthplace of Islam and the leader of the Muslim and Arab worlds...",
    The self assertive Saudis – "it is backed by significant military and economic strength" – will not tolerate anyone who challenges their supremacy and deters them from being the sole key player in the Middle East. Furthermore it keeps an hawkish eye on the development in other countries that might spark unrest in its own country and doesn't hesitate to intervene: "preventing them from collapsing and spreading further disorder".
    "Egypt's economy is in free-fall and the Muslim Brotherhood is poised to significantly increase its power through upcoming elections". It seems that Saudi Arabia mourns the loss of its former good friend Mubarak.
    The Shia populace in Bahrain can bury their aspiration for reform, as Saudi Arabia will not let its Sunni siblings fall.
    Finally – "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". It sounds highly ambitious and arms manufacturers can rub their hands, hoping to get a big slice of the cake.

    June 8, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Reply
  6. hicham

    I agree with Steven Holmes...Obaid is a hired Saudi agent who has no objectivity. I had a debate with him once...His job is to whitewash the Saudi regime.

    June 8, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Reply
  7. Robert Crites

    Something about the war in Libya occurred to me. This might or should be the way of projecting American power in the future. I think it would be much more effective than what we did in Iraq and Afghanistan. If a country is on the verge of revolution, or its government is inhumane to its people, and has a group that wants to apply to the G-8 for assistance, it could help make the transition in an orderly way. The G-8 could contact the current leadership and tell them that it is evaluating its regime for a possible revolution or revolutionary change. If the evaluation qualifies the country, first the G-8 countries would begin negotiations with the regime on behalf of the people, all military aid would be cut off, assets would be frozen, a golden parachute could be offered to a certain number of people, a constitution would be offered to the people, elections would be held and the country would be escorted into the family of modern, democratic nations. In the case of old fashioned strong-man dictators, we could use the Seal Team Six approach or a few smart bombs. That would save a lot of money and bloodshed, plus it would let the country start with a government that had a stronger likelihood of success because the evaluation would also try to develop a government that fit the culture of the country being evaluated. Some of the nations that aren't that far from authoritarian rule, such as Russia, China, Brazil, India, they might not be interested in participating. It would be run mostly by the stable, older, democratic, richer countries, though anyone could participate if they are interested. The new way might also lessen the likelihood that the powerful countries would use the reform movement as an excuse to get a larger portion of unexploited natural resources for themselves.

    June 9, 2011 at 6:10 am | Reply
    • Kevin

      I'm not sure under what assumptions you are lumping Brazil and India in with Russia, China as being "not far from authoritarian rule" Brazil and India have a rich tradition of democracy and cannot be compared to Russia and China. Both have experienced political unrest in the past but are economic powerhouses today due to their stable democratic governments. Check your facts!!!!

      August 21, 2011 at 10:39 am | Reply
  8. Abbas

    Obaid is hire agent of saudi minister bandar bin sultan (means monkey in english of bandar) .these fuck in saudis rulling family is the pupet dictators remains in power due to america and israel. As world knows about the hypocracy of american rulers,why they dont want democracy in saudi arabia,bahrain ,jordan etc and why in syria,libya,.... The answer is that american wants democracy in those countries where the rulers acts according to the aspiration of the people and dont want to become slaves of america, where saudi arabia is the right hand of america and israeal .the actual sponsor of terrorist groups like al qaeda is saudi arab.

    June 9, 2011 at 11:56 am | Reply
    • Wasabiwahabi

      How many muslims does it take to screw in a light bulb?

      Two: One to screw in the bulb and another to blame it on Israel/

      June 9, 2011 at 7:14 pm | Reply
      • h

        All those who deny the fact that America & israel are majorly responsible and supportive of all middle east dictators...are simply under the illusion and deception of the western media in which they drown themselves.

        It is clear as the sun that most of the popular movements around the middle east spell political disaster for both capitalism and imperialism...and its not going to be easy...especially for Saudi Arabia.

        Fun Fact:
        It is clear as the sun in SUNNI ISLAMIC SHARIA that the whole system of a kindgom (king appointing heir without consultation of the people) is 100% prohibited in Islam.

        Its funny how those who say they represent Islam are themselves not applying one of the most basic principles of political Islamic theory "SHOORA" or in other words "D E M O C R A C Y"

        August 20, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  9. Amrullah Yousafzai in Mingora, Swat Valley

    Assad's wife is pretty. If Assad goes, she'd make an excellent addition to my harem.
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Oq2kUu5vcc&w=640&h=360]

    I could put some of Gaddafi's bodyguards in there as well.

    June 9, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Reply
  10. Mickey25

    The Saudis have a very repressive society that enslaves women and bribes protesters when It's can't kill them. This can't last forever, so Americans are committing economic suicide by not working harder on energy independence.

    June 9, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Reply
  11. SarahPalin

    I think I can see saudia arabia from my back yard.

    June 9, 2011 at 9:09 pm | Reply
  12. Fernando1958

    Nawaf Obaid, you might have billions at your disposal but you are an idiot. The so called "Arab Spring" is a product of countries like yours. The main ingredient is "lost of fear" to your regimens. People don't care if they die. They care more about doing something to gain their country back. You will need to have feelings to understand and obviously you don't have any. I wouldn't accept 1 billions dollars if the condition was for me to say "Saudi Arabia is a great country". Not everything is about the money. I have to sleep at night.

    June 9, 2011 at 10:22 pm | Reply
  13. Fight4Islam

    KSA is NOT the Leader of the Muslim world, They are the embodiment of everything Anti-Islamic and un-holy, IT is the Backstabber of the Muslim world, the murderer of muslims- and people will rise up against this (WAHABI FASCISTS REGIME) weather they like it or NOT!!!!!!!!!!

    June 9, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Reply
  14. ItsSimpleReally

    Obaid you disgust me!! Since you know what you are doing and since it is my duty as a muslim, I will warn you that God is everwatching, The allseeing and He has promissed justice in the end and He is The Keeper of Promises. If you support those who have done (and continue to do) evil deeds against innocent people, muslim and nonmuslim, then you will pay as will as those you support!

    June 9, 2011 at 10:47 pm | Reply
  15. Tony Jhonson

    I went to Saudi Arabia once and it's a great country but not the greatest 🙂 , there R many kind people there & the safety is exllent.
    So, I think that maybe Saudi Arabia or Emarites(dubai) desirve to be the leader of the Arab because they have a wise geveroments and the most important thing (money)..

    June 9, 2011 at 10:47 pm | Reply
  16. Wasabiwahabi

    Except for the repression, the4 absence of freedom of expression, public whippings and stoning and the dictatorship, you make saudi arabia sound like Disneyland.

    June 10, 2011 at 2:12 am | Reply
  17. no2islam

    Let the games begin!

    June 10, 2011 at 2:23 am | Reply
  18. abdulrahman,tajh

    i concur to saudi arabia being the leader of muslim,but a holy land guided by unholy poeple definately the muslim world is in deepshit,but am a muslim and islam preaches peace i will abide by the rules of islam but that doesnt mean you can take me for granted,let make the world a better place for all.

    June 10, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Reply
  19. Alejandro Dron

    'We all die when we send our kids to war'
    http://www.zoharme.com
    Graphic Commentaries on the Middle East

    June 10, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Reply
  20. Vincent Lovece

    The author overestimates Saudi Arabia. Remember, we are talking about a country with an economy smaller than that of Texas or California, and their oil reserves are starting to run out. Those estimates given of much oil they have left in this article are certainly exaggerated. Most of the so-called "State of the art equipment" that they can hardly afford to buy will no doubt be second-hand tanks and planes that were obsolete in the countries that made them.

    June 10, 2011 at 8:56 pm | Reply
  21. belj

    The Saudis obviously are not enthusiastic about the 'Arab Spring' in case it spreads there. They are talking about supporting Palestinians though on UN resolution to ensure Palestinian state, and criticising Obama for not being more equal in speech about entitlement to that state. There does seem to be a 'cooling' of Saudi attitude to US.

    June 11, 2011 at 11:59 am | Reply
  22. Imran

    Anarchy and unrealistic populist movements?

    You betray yourself Nawaf, but thank you for this informative article.

    You've provided an invaluable insight into the fears and viewpoint that the Saudi government has of the Arab Spring.

    Also, surely you don't expect us to believe that, as the head of the Royal Saudi funded Institution, you are anything more than the mouthpiece of the Royal family. Again, it's a huge insight into what the Royal Saudi family thinks.

    June 11, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Reply
  23. Faras

    It's funny because they all are American supporters. and what exactly America is doing? Us is Sucking their money Saudis know this but they cant do anything just because they are afraid of U.S, Who is Hippocratic ? America!!

    June 12, 2011 at 9:41 am | Reply
  24. Mohamud

    Since when did Fareed Zakaria give a platform to this hired goon trying to whitewash the Saudi government? It is embarrassing, this article belongs in one of those Saudi propaganda ministry but to see this goon trying to tell us how great the house of Saud is shocking... How much did they pay cnn to publish this article because there is no other way I can make sense of this outrage.
    Saudi Arabia is still stuck in the stone age mentality and is an embarrassment to the Muslim community. As a muslim all I see in the Saudi government is utter failure. telling us they are leaders of the Muslim world what sort of sick joke is that? It is a place Women are still fighting for the civil rights to drive their cars!!!!! Where women are not allowed to work and men have to be the ones selling them Lingerie in the malls as women are not allowed to be enjoying that economic freedom. Give me a break...Sorry for the rant but I just cant stand this propaganda.

    June 12, 2011 at 11:35 am | Reply
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