Alwaght – Before Arab world’s 2011 uprising erupted, known as Islamic Awakening, Saudi Arabia was identifying itself as the big brother of the smaller Persian Gulf monarchies. This title provided the Arab kingdom with the motivation to react when the status quo was challenged in neighbors. So, When in February 14, 2011, the people of Bahrain revolved against the Al Khalifa regime, Saudi Arabia rapidly sent military forces to the tiny island kingdom to put down the uprising.
But as the time passed by, Riyadh lost its earlier power. The impairment worsened as its policies in the region sustained serious defeats and stripped Saudi regime of its power to play a strong regional role. This situation, to a large extent, opened the door for other members of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council to find the opportunity ripe to rise in confrontation of the Saudi Arabian paternalistic policies. Qatar was the first state to embark on a rebellious course. The punitive measures against Qatar including an all-out embargo imposed by Saudi-led bloc involving Bahrain, the UAE, and Egypt were the Saudi response to the Qatar’s independent moves and policies. However, apart from Qatar, another party in the six-nation Arab bloc initiated a policy of opposition to Riyadh’s regional policies, Kuwait.
Last week, Kuwait’s Commerce Minister Khaled al-Roudhan who was leading a high-ranking delegation, visited Qatar and met with the Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. The trip reportedly caused tensions in Saudi-Kuwaiti relations. For Saudis, Doha visit of Kuwaiti official was a blow to their efforts to isolate Qatar. On January 22, Saudi royal court adviser Turki Al Asheikh attacked Kuwait’s minister of commerce by calling him a “mercenary.” The tweet further said that behavior of “mercenary under the umbrella of a position” will not affect the historical relations of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and his remarks represent his own opinions. A set of diplomatic reactions led to frayed ties between the neighbors.
But this anti-Kuwaiti attack should be read as a retaliatory act taken against Kuwait’s independent stance in dealing with the Qatar diplomatic row. Although the Kuwaiti foreign ministry sought to defuse the situation and block the way of development of tensions to a diplomatic confrontation, the Saudi media kept attacking Kuwait. According to some analysts, the Al Asheikh’s insulting remarks well reflect the viewpoint of Mohammed bin Salman, the powerful Saudi crown prince and go beyond a simple reaction to Kuwait’s unruly positions and highlight the highs and lows in Saudi-Kuwaiti relations over years.
Abdulrahman al-Mutairi, a Kuwaiti university professor and political commentator, has said that Saudi Arabia-Kuwait relationship is highly complicated and sensitive because the kingdom is closer to Kuwait than to Iran and Iraq. But Kuwait leaders struggle to move away from Riyadh as far as possible, an attempt that the Kuwaitis believe will give them the power for the independence of decision-making and avoiding to be transformed into another submissive Bahrain. Following the uprising, the Bahraini rulers failed to build a balance between home and foreign policy and so had to fully rely on Saudi Arabia and become subject to its policies.
Saudi-Kuwaiti ties record
Historically, Saudi Arabia has been in territorial disputes with most of the Persian Gulf Arab states. Riyadh’s territorial greed along with a will to expand leadership beyond its borders across the Arab world has been the root cause of rifts with the regional states.
For example, in the 1990s, Saudi Arabia and Qatar practically engaged in military struggles. Moreover, in 2015, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia nearly came to blows after Riyadh decided to shut down the oilfields shared with Kuwait in Khafji border region. The closure could foist a heavy damage on the Kuwait economy. As part of a solution to the stalemate, the Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah visited Riyadh and sought to dissuade the Saudis from the decision. His efforts turned out to be successful at the end of the road.
After the row with Qatar and the air, sea, and ground embargo imposed on Doha, Saudis have concluded that Kuwait, like Qatar, wants to adopt an independent policy. The Kuwaiti emir and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz met in early June 2017 amid Qatar crisis. Al-Ahad Al-Jadeed news website at the time in an article wrote that the meeting of Bin Salman and Al Sabah made the Kuwaiti leaders assured that there is no solution to the crisis and that soon Kuwait will be next to find itself in a rift with Riyadh. The Saudi king told the Kuwaiti emir that Riyadh identified Kuwait as an ally to Qatar, not a neutral side. Following the meeting, the Saudi web activists launched a propaganda campaign against Kuwait.
The fact is that some Arab countries, which are reliant on the Western supports and somehow need to coordinate their regional policies with the US, are trying to only rely on Washington and stay away from an obligation to coordinate with Saudi policies. Saudi Arabia’s weakness has emboldened Arab states to adopt their policies based on their own requirements. The measures of the bin Salman in recent months have destroyed the Saudi Arabian claimed big brother title in the Persian Gulf and stripped the Saudis of capability to build intra-Arab convergence.