Iran and Saudi Arabia: Contrasting revolutions change face of Middle East in 2018

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By Dr. Jack Caravelli, Geostrategy-Direct

At the start of 2018, Saudi Arabia and Iran are engrossed in fundamental social change, but their approaches are taking their nations in polar opposite directions. The strikingly opposite differences illuminate the vast changes sweeping the region.

Led by the bold policies of youthful Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Kingdom is undertaking a focused series of policy changes that will shape the country for decades to come. Underscored by its Vision 2030 strategic plan, Saudi Arabia is moving to a nuclear future, cognizant that its vast natural resources will not last forever.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

At the same time, the Saudi leadership is rooting out pockets of corruption while recognizing the importance of women in the workforce by allowing them to begin driving this year.

The news coming from Iran paints a much different and bleaker picture.

Demonstrations have broken out in as many as 80 cities around Iran in reaction to deep frustration with the theocratic regime’s economic policies, foreign policies that spend precious resources in support of Syria, Houthi rebels in Yemen and Hizbullah.

Adding to these laments are endemic corruption and a very muddled future for Iran’s tens of millions of young citizens.

Chants of “death to the dictator” around the country show the depth of anger toward the aging Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Notwithstanding President Hassan Rouhani’s acknowledgment that Iranian citizens have the right to protest, the government is blocking access to social media sites which could be used to spread news on the protests and their objectives.

The protests expose Iran’s raw political nerve: Governments that come to power through revolution as did the theocrats in 1979 most loath the possibility that they could lose power in the same way.

For this reason, it is sadly but entirely possible that there will be considerable bloodshed around Iran before peace is restored. This is not to say Iran’s problems will be resolved quickly; they won’t. The power of the Iranian government and its domestic security forces may well prevail in the short-term.

However, as history shows there is seldom any going back for governments who have lost their legitimacy in the eyes of their citizens. This is the fundamental problem that confronts the rulers in Teheran.

In contrast, the Saudi government is moving toward and embracing, rather than fighting against, the inevitability of change. This can make all the difference in outcome.
Societal change is never easy, quick or simple.

The same is true for efforts to uproot corruption. Nonetheless, in nations where a large percentage of the population is under thirty years of age – which is true in both Saudi Arabia and Iran — change can be slowed but not denied forever.

President Donald Trump, already established as a friend of Saudi Arabia, has spoken out against the Iranian regime’s efforts to quell the demonstrations. America is at its best when it stands in support of those seeking freedom.

The president has promised to show even more support for the demonstrators who he says “yearn for freedom” and it is imperative that he deliver on that promise.

The United States and Saudi Arabia are already being accused by the Iranian government of supporting and even instigating the demonstrations. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is the Iranian government that is responsible for what happens in its country.

Even with that in mind, the president is on the right side of history, a clear distinction from those who claim to lead the European Union’s response which has been vacillating toward the demonstrators at best.

The transformation of the Middle East is underway and much of its shape will be determined by Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Dr. Jack Caravelli served on the White House National Security Council Staff and in the Department of Energy. He is the author of books on nuclear nonproliferation, the Middle East and US foreign policy.

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