The big news from the Middle East is just coming in and diplomats and area specialists and regional capitals — and even famous “non-state actors” such as Al-Qaeda — will be pouring over it, dissecting it for meaning, hidden and open. It’s not a bit news. Saudi Arabia has never ever sought the privilege of serving in the United Nations Security Council and has decided it’s about time and has been elected as a non-permanent member for a two-year term from January.
How does it look? No doubt, it is a show of determination that the Saudi voice should be heard lest it is taken for granted by the big powers. It is a conscious decision to be assertive on the international stage.
The timing is perfect: the Middle East is in turmoil and and a newly transformed region is struggling to be born. The Saudis want to be right there where it matters, playing an active role choreographing it.
The setting is dramatic: end of an era of western domination lasting nearly a century, with new players appearing on the horizon, while within the region itself new power centres have appeared challenging the Saudi supremacy. A long sunset is at hand, and it evokes memories mixed with desire.
Clearly, the Saudis are flaunting their prerogative to pronounce on the Syrian conflict. Many crucial decisions on Syria’s future will be taken at the Security Council through the coming year or two and Saudis want to influence them instead of being a passive onlooker.
If all this is going to be a good thing or not, time will tell. The notorious P5 gang will be looking quizzically at the great pretender. But, the point is, Security Council will now have five-and-a-half veto holding members. This never happened before and a new alchemy is called for.
The heart of the matter is that the Saudis are past masters in pulling strings from behind the curtain and have the capability to torpedo at least those Security Council decisions taken by the P5 that aren’t in harmony with their interests, when it comes to issues such as Syria.
Within the P5, Saudis enjoy privileged ties with France. Foreign Minister Faisal is in and out of the Elysee Palace every other week. Ambassador Samantha Power may have to set aside her passion for human rights and women’s empowerment and consult the Bedouin diplomat at the horse shoe table on all major and most minor Middle Eastern issues coming up in the Security Council.
China, which has strategic ties with Riyadh, will be hard pressed to take stances that might annoy the Saudis. Moscow will take note it isn’t enough anymore to talk things over with Washington and “coordinate” with Beijing. Ironically, Saudis may have an autocratic regime, but they are going to force the P5 to open up to a more democratic work culture.
The five-member cabal will be on a learning curve and it will be fun to watch if and when it crosses the Saudi path. The Bedouin has a famous saying, “I against my brother, my brothers and I against my cousins, then my cousins and I against strangers.” There are no brothers at the horse shoe table, but there are two cousins — Chad and Nigeria — and two “strangers” — Russia and the Obama administration.
– October 18, 2013