'Bad Saudi Arabian human rights record may change if Iran increases influence'

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (Reuters / Lintao Zhang)
With instability following the death of King Abdullah, Iran may take a lead in the relationship with Saudi Arabia which could put pressure on Riyadh to improve the internal situation in the Gulf state, Gerald Horne, author and historian, told RT.

READ MORE: Saudi King Abdullah dead – state TV

RT:What legacy does King Abdullah leave behind?

Gerald Horne: A checkered legacy at best. First of all he was very close to the US, very close to former US President George W. Bush. Yet, despite his closeness to Washington he was not able to get Washington to get behind his so-called Saudi Peace Plan that was supposed to pressure Israel to trade land for peace.

Secondly, his violations of civil liberties at home - the floggings, the beheadings, the prevention of women from driving cars, and all the rest. Then he faces a very serious problem as we speak. Saudi Arabia does and neighboring Yemen. Just within the last 24 hours the leadership of that country has resigned. The leadership had been close to Saudi Arabia. They will probably be replaced by forces close to Iran which will further complicate Saudi national security.

RT:Do you know much about the new King Salman, the former Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia?

GH: Prince Salman also has health problems. I don’t expect him to be in the land of the living too much longer quite frankly and that will probably unleash a battle royal amongst the various princes of which are many in Saudi Arabia. Secondly, Prince Salman during his heyday was the point man with regard to funding the Mujahedeen in the 1980’s in Afghanistan. He has also been close to the Wahhabi clerical establishment that is ultra-reactionary and plays a destabilizing role in all of the neighboring countries.

RT:How is the opposition in Saudi Arabia reacting to his death? Do you think there will be any protests or any unrest?

GH: As you know in the oil producing regions of Saudi Arabia there is a substantial Shia minority. As you know Saudi Arabia is predominantly a Sunni Muslim country. There has been restiveness in those oil producing countries. In any event, because of the fall of the price of the barrel of oil the budget of Saudi Arabia has been quite constrained helping to contribute to skyrocketing and spiraling unemployment particularly amongst the youth. I expect those problems to continue if not worsen.

RT:The Saudi regime has been criticized for its human rights record. Do you expect any changes in that respect?

GH: I think it depends upon the restiveness particularly in the Eastern part of the Saudi Arabia. I also think it depends on the developing relationship with Iran. I think that with the instability in Saudi Arabia with the passing of the king there will be a distinct possibility that Iran will get the upper hand in that relationship. That could put destabilizing pressure on Saudi Arabia and could lead to improvement in the internal situation.

Richard Wolff, Professor of Economics Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts: “The likely outcome [of King Abdullah’s death] is little change. This is a part of the government, this is shifted from one person to another, but they were all together making these policies. It’s more of a reminder to the world that something as important as oil is decided by a handful of companies and governments, chief among them being Saudi Arabia, and that all of the rest of the citizens of the world have to wonder in agony whether they will be able to drive a car, heat their home… but that they are dependent on a tiny number of people.”

RT:How do you think Abdullah’s death may affect the oil prices?

GH: It’s very interesting, this fall of the price of oil. On the one hand, there has been this argument that it has been engineered by the Saudis in part to help to ruin Iran, in part to help to inflict wounds on Russia in league with Washington, and also to inflict wounds upon countries like Venezuela on the Northern coast of South America.

On the other hand, there is an argument that the falling the price of oil has been engineered by Saudi Arabia to hurt the US because it will put a cramp on the US ability to move to alternative sources of energy beyond petroleum, speaking of wind and solar in particular.

On the other hand, there is an argument that the US is the culprit that with shale oil boom and the desire to bring tar sands from Canada…has flooded the market with petroleum therefore is helping to bring down the price of oil for purposes that I’ve just annunciated: to hurt Russia, to hurt Iran, and to hurt Venezuela. So it’s unclear what role Saudi Arabia has played in the fall of the price of oil.

RT:What changes might the death of the king bring to the internal politics of the Gulf region?

GH: Hopefully, it will lead to a curtailing of Saudi Arabia’s ability to interfere into the internal affairs of its neighbors. I’m thinking of Lebanon in the first place where it has been involved and a de facto hot war if not cold war with Hezbollah which is a major player in Lebanese politics.

RT:Could you provide more details on that?

GH: Saudi Arabia needs to tread very carefully however? You know that in recent days and weeks on the Saudi borders there have been attacks by ISIS forces. They say ISIS which has established quite the foothold in Iraq and thanks to the US in Syria as well might be looking greedily upon making overtures and inroads into Saudi Arabia with this present instability brought by the death of the king.

RT:Will there be any changes between Saudi Arabia and the US?

GH: In the short-term - not that much. But you should know that there are fundamental contradictions between Saudi Arabia and the US. I was very struck by the fact that in recent days there has been unusual US criticism of the Saudi whipping of a blogger, that just does not happen. You’ve had human rights groups in the US also criticizing Saudi Arabia in recent days and weeks. That usually doesn’t happen either. The whole question of whether or not the Saudis are driving down the price of oil there is also a factor… because I’m speaking to you from the state of Texas and I can bring you first hand evidence that the falling price of oil is wrecking the budget of the state of Texas. It is driving business into bankruptcy, it is harming banks, it’s ruining real estate, and there are a lot of people in Texas that are very angry with Saudi Arabia and blaming them for the falling of the price of oil.


The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.