The Anti-Corruption Drive In Saudi Arabia Is Doomed To Fail According To Noted Middle East Journalist; Corruption Is Not Marginal To Keeping & Holding Political Power In The Desert Kingdom — Instead, It Is Central To Acquiring & Keeping It
Patrick Cockburn is not a neophyte when it comes to dispensing thoughtful insight about the Middle East, a region of the world that has been the bain of many U.S. administrations. Mr. Cockburn is an Irish journalist who, according to his Wikipedia biography, was a Middle East correspondent for the Financial Times from 1979 to 1990; and, has been the Middle East correspondent for Britain’s The Independent from 1990 to the present; and, currently in Baghdad, Iraq. Mr. Cockburn has the kind of lengthy experience and background required when trying to analyze something as significant at what is ongoing in Saudi Arabia. But, my guess would be that even he would admit that trying to figure out the shifting sands of the Middle East is no easy task. Having said that, Mr. Cockburn, posted a November 11, 2017 article on The Independent’s website, warning those who are trying to figure out how things are likely to play out in Riyadh that — Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s anti-corruption campaign is bucking history, and tradition — and, doomed to fail. I refer you to the November 11, 2017 edition of The Independent for Mr. Cockburn’s full article.
When “considering the case of Saudi Arabia, that many oil – or resource rich states — be they monarchies or republics — have launched their own anti-corruption drives down the years; and, all have failed roughly for the same reasons. Those making a lot of money out of corruption, will put more effort into doing just that, than those who are determined to stop them,” Mr. Cockburn wrote. “If a few wealthy individuals are scapegoated, then other will jostle to take their place,” in the aftermath he noted. Sort of reminds me of those shows on the National Geographic channel, where there is not mercy for the weak, or who suffer misfortune. Weakness, or setbacks, are exploited.
“It is important, to take on board, when considering the case of Saudi Arabia,” Mr. Cockburn wrote, “that many oil, or resource-rich states — be they monarchies, or republics — have launched their own anti-corruption drives down the years. All have failed, and roughly for the same reasons.”
“The problem in resource-rich states,” Mr. Cockburn wrote, “is that corruption is not just marginal to political power; but, central to acquiring….and, keeping it. Corruption at the top, is a form of patronage, manipulated by those in charge, to create and reward a network of self-interested loyalists. It is the ruling family and its friends and allies, who cherry-pick what is profitable: this is as true of Saudi Arabia, as it was true of Gaddafi, Iraq under Saddam Hussein and his successors, or Iraqi Kurdistan that was supposedly different from the rest of the country.”
“Corruption is a nebulous concept when it comes to states with arbitrary rulers, who can decide — unrestrained by law or democratic process — what is legal, and illegal,” Mr. Cockburn observes. “What typifies the politics of oil states, is that everybody is trying to plug into the oil revenues, in order to get their share of the cake. This is true at the top, but the same is the case of the rest of the population, or at least a large, and favored section of it.”
“Anti-corruption drives don’ work; because, if they are at all serious, they soon begin to cut into the roots of political power — by touching the “untouchables,” Mr. Cockburn notes. “At this point, principled anti-corruption campaigners will find themselves in serious trouble; and, [they] may have to flee the country, while less-principled ones will become a feared weapon to be used against anybody whom the government wants to target.”
“A further consequence of the traditional anti-corruption drive is that it can paralyze government activities in general,” Mr. Cockburn wrote. “This is because all officials, corrupt and incorrupt alike, know that they are vulnerable to investigation.” Everyone is walking around on eggshells — and, waiting for the next shoe to drop. “The safest course for them,” he adds, “is to take no decision, and sign no document — which might be used, or misused against them,” a frustrated American businessman told Mr. Cockburn in Baghdad some years ago. He added that it was only those so politically powerful, that they did not have to fear legal sanctions who would take decisions — and such people were often the most corrupt of all.”
As I wrote last week, “Shifting Sands: The Arab Spring Comes To The House Of Saud,” citing a great quote/observation: “success has a thousand fathers; while, failure is an orphan.” The Crown Prince will have lots of support if things are perceived to be going well and/or, in the right direction,. Otherwise, there will no doubt be some long knives that are being sharpened. And, there is credible reporting coming from sources in the kingdom and the region that senior Saudi officials who have been detained during this anti-corruption campaign have been tortured.
David Hurst posted an article (November 12, 2017) on the website, Middleeasteye.net, noting that Some senior figures detained in last Saturday’s purge in Saudi Arabia were beaten and tortured so badly during their arrest or subsequent interrogations that they required hospital treatment.” And, the publication indicates that Saudi Arabia may have 500 or more high-level officials and others in detention in Riyadh, presumably at the Four Seasons hotel.
This is a high-risk, high-reward; but, also high-consequence undertaking by the young crown prince. Mr. Cockburn may well be right. The crown prince will need to bring the doubtful along with him to have any chance of succeeding. If the crown prince were to fail and turn into an ‘orphan,’ the country could drift toward the religious conservatives — which would be disastrous for the country, the region, the West, and especially the country’s youth.
If the reports of torture are true, the the crown prince is adhering to the late, great, Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli’s dictum that “it is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.” And, he is consolidating, and establishing himself as the next alpha male among Saudi’s princes. Perhaps he has read Machiavelli’s “The Prince,” and is adhering to another of Machiavelli’s dictum’s: “The one who adapts his policies to the times prospers; and likewise, the one who’s policies clashes with the demands of his time…….does not.” RCP, fortunascorner.com