The Rise of Two New Dictators in the Middle East
Saudi Arabia and Iran are the two largest nations in the Middle East. These two countries have not only blatantly refused to uphold human rights norms in their countries but are also responsible for the much of the unrest in their neighboring countries
Both Saudi Arabia and Iran have been ruled by tyrants for centuries and if nothing is done to promote democracy and democratic norms in these countries, the problems in the region will only worsen, as their new generation of autocrats-Muhammad bin Salman and Mojtaba Khamenei, take control over their respective nations.
Muhammad bin Salman, colloquially known as MBS, who is the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia is currently serving as the country's deputy prime minister, chairman of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs, chairman of the Council of Political and Security Affairs, and minister of defense. He has been described as the power behind the throne of his father, King Salman. He was appointed crown prince in June 2017 following King Salman's decision to remove Muhammad bin Nayef from all positions, making Muhammed bin Salman heir-designated to the throne.
Mojtaba Khamenei, is the son of Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran. He has been actively helping his father with political affairs for quite some time. His leadership in quite a few war operations between Iran and Iraq in the '80s is well known. He also reportedly took control of the Basij militia that was used to suppress the protests over the 2009 election in Iran, also known as Green Movement. He has been rumored to be the heir to take the reins from his father, Ali Khamenei.
In the west, democracy is the main pillars of power, while in the almost all countries of the Middle East, power belongs to those with power and it is passed down from generation to generation. These two are no exceptions and are being trained to take over the reins when the time comes.
Why MBS and Moitaba could prove to be a threat
The western press has been mostly positive about MBS. He is known to be the power behind his father's throne. He is also known to be the man behind the human right reforms in the country. MBS put through the regulations restricting the powers of the religious police, the removal of the ban on female drivers in June 2018, and the introduction of laws that have consequently led to the weakening of the male guardianship system. In addition, Saudi Arabia has seen quite a few cultural developments under including the first Saudi public concerts by woman singer, the first Saudi sports stadium to admit women and most importantly an increased presence of women in the workforce.
MBS has promoted tourism by allowing foreigners to apply for a Saudi Arabian tourist visa online. The e-visa program allows anyone wanting to visit Saudi Arabia for various reasons possible. His Vision 2030 program claims that he wants to diversify the Saudi economy through further investments in non-oil sectors like tourism and technology.
Although MBS has made some very positive contributions, we should not forget that in 2017 he launched a crackdown against his critics and imprisoned more than 20 influential clerics and intellectuals. In November 2017, more than 200 prominent businessmen, former officials, and princes were detained at the Ritz-Carlton and other luxury hotels in Riyadh.
Saudi authorities have claimed that the crackdown was to address corruption, but human rights groups say that arrests were made to reclaim assets for the kingdom. There have been several more black stains in this reformist's, leadership including the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the murder of columnist Jamal Khashoggi to name a few.
His rise to power has been violent and bloody, so, the picture that the Saudi government is painting of him-- as a modern more liberal leader and reformist, is one that should be taken with a grain of salt. Many critics also believe that all the liberal changes he has made have been done to make the international community believe that he is the kind of leader the country needs.
Similarly in Iran, Mojtaba has ordered the new Chief Justice of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, to act inexcusably against systematic corruption in Iran.
The Iranian government has arrested many businessmen, people with influence and he has allowed the broadcast of their court sessions to be televised. Though this looks like a genuine effort to lessen corruption in the country, in reality, it appears Mojtaba is secretly works on centralizing power and bringing all underground operations under his control.
Mojtaba has ordered shootings of Iranians attending the 2009 election rallies. He has killed and tortured his people with the use of his intelligence agency. He has killed youngsters on the streets for asking “where is my vote”.
Relationship with US and Russia
When it comes to building international ties, MBS and Mojtaba, are going in two different directions. After his coronation as crown prince, MBS traveled to the U.S. to strengthen his ties with the country. During his trip to the U.S, he also signed trade deals with the American government. Saudi Arabia is America's No. 1 buyer of arms and ammunitions. Between 2013 and 2017, Riyadh was responsible for over 18 percent of total U.S. arms sales or about $9 billion, according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
On the other hand, Mojtaba has joined hands with Russia's Vladimir Putin. Iran is interested in purchasing up to $10 billion in military hardware from Russia, according to TASS news agency. There are also numerous reports of close relations between Mojtaba and Putin. All the members of the IRGC intelligence organization, are educated in Russia.
Whether it is MBS or Mojtaba, there are red flags that should not be ignored. The international community needs to keep a close eye on both these emerging tyrants in the Middle East. Until they prove to be the reformists they are portraying to be, it is important to act with caution and closely monitor the situation inside their countries.
Kaveh Taheri (Twitter: @TaheriKaveh), American Truth Project contributor, is a Turkey-based Iranian Human Rights researcher and journalist who has worked exclusively on Middle East. Kaveh, who was a former political prisoner in Shiraz, had been sent to prison for his writings and statements on his websites and weblogs in Iran and fled the country through Turkey to save his life.