Saudi Arabia History
Between modernization and Islamism
Domestically, hopes for liberalization grew under King Fahd (Ibn Abd al-Asis ; since 1982); Political reform demands were met only to a limited extent (including the establishment of a consultative council from 1993). After the occupation of Kuwait by Iraq on August 2, 1990, Saudi Arabia became the deployment area of a multinational armed force and thus allowed foreign, not even Islamic, troops into the country for the first time. After the 2nd Gulf War in 1991, the army was rapidly enlarged. Since then, the Saudi ruling house has been confronted domestically with a radical Islamic opposition, which viewed the American military presence – which lasted until 2003 – as an occupation in the “sacred land of origin of Islam”.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in the USA, Saudi Arabia was v. a. Reputed to serve as a retreat and recruiting area for the terrorist organization al-Qaeda because of the involvement of 15 nationals. As a result of the attacks, Saudi Arabia broke off its relations with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and took part in the anti-terrorist coalition. During the Iraq war in 2003, the US had to relocate its air force command center to Qatar (previously Prince Sultan Airbase); after the war they declared their almost complete withdrawal from Saudi Arabia, also in order not to further strengthen the widespread anti-Americanism in the population. At the same time, there were repeated terrorist attacks in the country that were attributed to the vicinity of al-Qaeda.
Increasingly, according to cellphoneexplorer, Saudi Arabia found itself exposed to international demands for internal reforms to be carried out; As early as January 2003, Crown Prince Abdallah, who had effectively reigned the seriously ill King Fahd since the beginning of 1996, presented a “reform charter” for the Arab world, which was also conceived as a model for his own country. Since then, inter alia A National Human Rights Commission was set up in 2004 and local elections were held in 2005 (around half of the local councils were elected; women without voting rights), but so far there have been no fundamental changes.
King Fahd died on August 1st, 2005. On the same day, the incumbent regent Abdallah Ibn Abdul Asis al-Saud was appointed his successor. The new Crown Prince was Sultan, (* 1930, † 2011), a brother of Fahd. King Abdallah pursued a cautious reform policy internally. In terms of foreign policy, he became increasingly involved as a mediator in the Middle East conflict, including. in the internal Palestinian conflict between Fatah and Hamas as well as through the Saudi Arabian participation in the Middle East peace conference in Annapolis (Maryland), USA in November 2007.
In a government reshuffle initiated by King Abdallah in 2009, a woman was appointed to the cabinet for the first time – as deputy education minister. In March 2009, a meeting of the heads of state of Egypt, Syria and Kuwait took place in Riyadh at the invitation of King Abdallah, whose aim was to curb the influence of Shiite Iran on the Arab world and to create greater unity. In the same year, al-Qaeda terrorists were convicted by a court for the first time in Saudi Arabia. In April 2010, the Council of Islamic Scribes issued an official fatwa against terrorism. The Islamic legal opinion stated that its financial and moral support was a crime.
After the death of Crown Prince Sultan on October 22, 2011, the King appointed the conservative Interior Minister Naif Ibn Abdul Asis al-Saud (* 1934) as the new heir to the throne. He died just a few months after his appointment on June 16, 2012. Two days later, King Abdallah appointed Defense Minister Salman Ibn Abdul Asis al-Saud (* 1935) as the new Crown Prince. Salman became king after the death of Abdallah on January 23, 2015.
Realignment and regional conflicts
The Arab Spring also hit Saudi Arabia. Various sections of the population demanded political and economic reforms despite the ban on demonstrations. King Abdallah therefore announced additional funding for higher salaries in the civil service, housing construction and to support young unemployed people. In 2013, he also appointed 30 women to the 150-member Consultative Council. With these measures, the government wanted to avoid further domestic political protests. However, this did not succeed in the case of the Shiite minority; they complained in particular of discrimination and the destruction of their mosques. At least 15 Shiites were killed in clashes with the police between November 2011 and October 2012 in the Katif region in the oil-rich east of the country. In the same year, Saudi Arabia participated militarily in the suppression of the Shiite revolt in Bahrain.
In 2015, a new rule of succession to the throne was announced. The previous Crown Prince Muqrin Ibn Abdul Asis al-Saud (* 1945), a half-brother of King Salman, lost the office to Interior Minister Mohammed Ibn Naif Ibn Abdul Asis al-Saud (* 1959), grandson of the founder of the state and nephew of the king. Defense Minister Mohammed Ibn Salman(* 1985), a son of the king, was appointed deputy crown prince and finally on June 21, 2017, the new crown prince. He began with a determined fight against corruption. In November 2017 there was a large wave of arrests, with which Crown Prince Mohammed tried to consolidate his political position. The repression of the state and the judiciary also reduced the scope for government critics. In April 2016, the cabinet passed a modernization plan (“Vision 2030”) aimed at diversifying the kingdom’s economy and reducing dependence on oil, and began liberalizing conservative society, including allowing women to drive and sports stadiums to visit. The killing of the journalist and regime critic Jamal Khashoggi (* 1958) on October 2, 2018 in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul (Turkey) brought the state leadership, in particular the prince, foreign and domestic political difficulties.
After Saudi Arabia prematurely withdrew from the Arab League’s observer mission in Syria in January 2012, it advocated arming the rebels fighting President B. al-Assad during the Syrian Civil War and joined the US-led alliance against the Islamic State. In December 2015, the country announced the formation of an Islamic anti-terror coalition made up of 34 countries with a coordination center in Riyadh.
After the overthrow of Egyptian President M. Morsi in 2013, Saudi Arabia promised financial aid to the transitional government set up by the military. In the period that followed, Saudi Arabia increasingly sided with the regime of President Abd al-Fattah as-Sisi and turned away from the previously supported Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt broke diplomatic relations with Qatar on June 5, 2017from whom they accused of supporting and promoting terrorism. The traffic and trade relations with Qatar were also discontinued. On January 2, 2016, the Saudi Interior Ministry announced the execution of 47 prisoners convicted of terrorism and incitement to violence. Among those executed was the Shiite cleric Nimr Baqir an-Nimr (* 1959), who was critical of the government. As a result, the already strained relations with the competing regional power Iran deteriorated further. After demonstrators attacked the Saudi Arabian embassy in Tehran, the kingdom broke off diplomatic relations with Iran on January 3, 2016.
From March 2015, the Saudi air force at the head of a military alliance intervened in the civil war in Yemen and attacked positions of the Houthi rebels there (“Operation Decisive Storm”). The deployment of the Saudi Arabia-led military alliance, especially with the United Arab Emirates, against the Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen did not result in a decision for the Riyadh-backed government until 2018. Instead, international criticism of Saudi Arabia for the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Yemen intensified.
In September 2019, oil plants in the east of the country were badly damaged by rocket and drone attacks. While the Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for the attack, the US government suspected Iran was the mastermind.