The Saudi Arabia’s New Deal: A Jizya or an Inevitable Investment?

Trump, Melania, and Salman (White House/Shealah Craighead)
Trump, Melania, and Salman (White House/Shealah Craighead)

After the recent arms’ deal that was held in Riyadh between Saudi Arabia and U.S. that worth over $400 Billion dollars, some Arab commentators and audience called this deal: A Jizya that surpassed all the historic Jizyas paid by non-Muslims to Muslims across the whole history. The Jizya was a per capita, an annual amount of money paid by non-Muslims to Muslims to be granted security and protection under the old Islamic rule. The concept of Jizya jumped again to lights since the rise of the Islamic State (aka ISIS) and controlling large areas of Iraq and Syria (Right now, they are retreating).

With that being said, first, we have to examine the deteriorating situation of, and the different challenges encountered by Saudi Arabia to determine the proper designation of the deal.

In 2014, the Saudis began an uncalculated oil price war on U.S. and other oil producers. The prices fell sharply to record numbers, causing a global shock to the world economy. Waiting for other oil producers’ faltering, the Saudis thought that this endeavor would be a walk in the park. Showed wrong, the Saudis suffered huge budgetary deficits that forced them to make huge governmental cuts, which led to several subsidies’ reduction, massive layoffs, and private sector bankruptcies. The main problem that exacerbated their situation was that the government was the biggest client for the private sector, so the slightest cuts mean landslides losses to private corporations.

To make things worse and to balance the cheap oil, the Saudi government began to impose aggressive taxes, and fees on foreign workers, which led to severe economic hardships for those workers, and the rethinking of staying within the Saudi Arabia Kingdom. All these measures led to sweeping public discontent manifested in several Twitter’s trends that discussed and mocked the meager salaries and the lavish spending habits of the royal family.

Despite the Saudis’ Vietnam-like involvement in Yemen’s war and their deteriorating situation, Mohammad bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince, mentioned that he could move the war to the Iranian soil. Iran is known to support the Houthis’ rebels who are the main opponent to Saudis’ army in Yemen. Without much talking, it appears that Iran urged some of its Shiites’ loyalists in Al-Mansoura district in Qatif province, Saudi Arabia, to attack special police forces using RPG launcher.  Ironically, Saudi Arabia government is helping those rebels making their case by foolishly besieging another Shiite-majority city, Al-Awwamiyah.

Saudi Arabia is facing also a coveted power struggle. Mohammad bin Salman collected and centralized power in his hands by removing most of his cousins and his last uncle, Muqrin bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, from power. Currently, he keeps a delicate alliance with two of his cousins: Khaled bin Faisal Al Saud and Miteb bin Abdullah Al Saud, to prevent other family members from revolting against his power grab. However, he is still struggling with Mohammad bin Nayef, the crown prince, which is considered one of the old and experienced politicians in the royal family, with many good relations with both of American officials and Washington, and the Saudi royal family members.

Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud, Saudi Arabia's deputy crown prince
Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud, Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince

Mohammad bin Salman made very clever stunt by imposing lots of austerity measures; especially on the government level, and then retracting from some of these measures by returning all bonuses and allowances to civil servants and the military. Some argued that this may damage his reform efforts. However, this is not true taking into consideration the need to relieve any possible public dissent and anger against him.

Another big headache for the Saudis was the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). That bill was first passed by the U.S. Senate, vetoed by Obama, then the Senate overrode Obama’s veto, and the bill became a law in September 2016. JASTA expanded the jurisdiction of the federal U.S. courts to look into civil claims against foreign states in case of international terrorism or as a result of an act of an employee of that state during his employment. Before the passage of the JASTA, the Saudis warned that they would sell their U.S. assets that worth $750 billion, which may shake the U.S. and the world economy. On the U.S. side, the Treasury Department announced that Saudis own only $117 billion of U.S. assets. And regardless of the amount, the Saudis knew for sure that they only could sell as many U.S. assets, and only based on their budgetary needs. In addition, some 800 families used the JASTA to file several civil claims against Saudi Arabia for the damages suffered by the victims’ families due to the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon and on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. In some estimations, the expected compensation from those civil claims could amount to 3 trillion dollars! It became evident to the Saudis that it is better to spend the U.S. assets on arms rather than being pushed to pay for those victims. The Saudis thought that they could bribe the U.S. administration to stop those tort claims, but it is clear that Mr. Trump is trying to get the maximum gain from that slowly falling state before its inevitable fall.

“Saudi Arabia are nothing but mouth pieces, bullies, cowards. They have the money, but no guts” Donald Trump

Increasing the wounds of Saudi Arabia, Iran is winning on nearly every possible front when confronting the Saudis. Iran supported Al-Assad in Syria, the Shiite militia and the Iraq’s army in Iraq, the Houthis in Yemen, the Shiite population in eastern Saudi Arabia, and controlled Lebanon through Hezbollah’s militia. And they are winning! In addition, Iran has an advanced rocket program, and decent marine forces, in addition to the known and controversial nuclear program. During Obama’s rule, the U.S. administration struck a historic deal with Iran, which temporarily suspended the Iranian nuclear program for 10 years, and in return released some of the frozen Iranian funds in U.S. and promised to remove some sanctions imposed on Iran. Obama knew that Iran is slowly taking over the Middle East area, with a clear diminishing Saudi Arabia’s role. So, he tried to cooperate with and control the coming Middle East boss.

Bilateral Nuclear Talks Ernest Moniz, John Kerry, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Ali Akbar Salehi
Bilateral Nuclear Talks Ernest Moniz, John Kerry, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Ali Akbar Salehi

The new arms’ deal will give the Saudis a good support against the Houthis in the south, remove or at least delay the JASTA’s ghostly coming, bring a much needed and fast financial success to Trump’s administration, strengthen the position of Mohammad bin Salman in the royal family, and tip the power balance – a little bit — with Iran to the Saudis ‘side. However, it will take a hit at the financials of the kingdom; especially in these times of cheap oil. It is a perfect win for Trump and a painkiller for the woes of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The deal will ensure a short-term protection (their money will run out someday) of the Kingdom against the Iranian monster and postpone its foreshadowed demise.