A large part of the problems of the Middle East is associated with Saudi Arabia’s claims to hegemony in the Islamic world. The clash of interests of the Salafi kingdom with the Shiite Iran in Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, the countries of the Persian Gulf and Syria complement his plans in Central Asia, which directly threaten the post-Soviet republics and Russia. Reducing the level of US-Saudi cooperation, caused by a sharp transformation of US Middle East policy, has set Riyadh the task of restructuring the economy.
King Salman is trying to combine this with the strengthening of the position of his son, heir to the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman on the eve of the struggle for the throne. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of natives of Uzbekistan and other countries of Central Asia who have lost their jobs in Russia because of the economic crisis are entering the kingdom’s labor market. Involving them in the circle of Salafi religious and political influence gives the kingdom the opportunity to strengthen its influence in the CARs and Russia, which it did not have until recently. Let us consider the processes going on in Saudi Arabia, based on the materials of the experts from IBB, S. S. Balmasov and Yu. B. Shcheglovina.
Riyadh unveiled the main outlines of a plan to transform the economy of Saudi Arabia. His main idea is getting rid of oil dependence. Oil gives the kingdom 98 percent of budget revenues. Mohammed bin Salman, who is not very successful in military matters, monopolizes key personnel decisions affecting the economy. At the same time, the troops of the “Arabian coalition” in Yemen stalled, and in Syria the pro-Saudi forces were about to find themselves in the Idlib boiler. On April 25, the prince announced a plan for economic reform, which was calculated before 2030.
Among its main points are privatization (to start five percent of the national oil company ARAMCO), a sharp reduction in water and food subsidies, stimulation of domestic military production, a decrease in unemployment, and the creation of a national welfare fund, whose two trillion funds are to be invested in the world economy. While pompousness traditional for Riyadh is being demonstrated, despite the fact that the global project is not the first in stories kingdom Its authorities regularly inform the world about such grandiose plans.
In 1970, 11 years before the GCC, the KSA adopted the first five-year plan. The Ninth Five-Year Plan ended in 2014. All GCC countries currently have plans for economic development up to 2030. KSA was the last. Moreover, if earlier the entire development strategy was tied to GDP, now it is about creating an adaptive investment environment and carrying out economic reforms. In this part, Riyadh has added a social component: it is proposed to reduce the subsidies for water and food in proportion to personal incomes. Thus masks the complete abolition of subsidies. The time of demonstrative luxuries in KSA is over.
The statement of M. Bin Salman: “The country is one step away from creating its own military-industrial complex” - dilettantism. Where does the military industry come from if there is no engineering school and educated personnel in the country? You can buy and transfer to KSA plant for the manufacture of French-made or American-made missiles. But the country in which they paid extra for the young man to finish high school cannot start the process of modernizing the economy. You can replace the oil income on investment. But investments beat back in the long run and not in the volumes that are accustomed to in KSA. If it is a question of risky and fast-profitable operations, then this is not an investment, but speculation, which is unacceptable when it comes to the fund of future generations. However, according to experts, the prince’s statements about modernization are not addressed to investors, but to young residents of KSA, who will not be as wealthy as their parents.
The central point of creating a new economy should be the privatization of ARAMCO, by the example of which “transparency and openness” of power will be demonstrated, as well as the separation of the economy from politics. That is, M. Bin Salman wants to distance the economic life from the Al Saud dynasty. And this move can cost the prince a head. Since it is not clear what the authority of the dynasty will be based on. The admission of outsiders to the KSA economy creates a dangerous precedent for breaking the decision-making monopoly. At one point, the dynasty may not have enough strength to keep the situation under control. It is possible that appealing to Saudi youth is an attempt to find a new political foundation.
18 April was fired Minister of Electricity and Water Resources. After the first reduction of subsidies in December, the 2015 amount in water bills increased by 500 percent. The dismissed minister took the blame. Moreover, this is the first and not the greatest of the planned reductions in subsidies and subsidies, despite the fact that all citizens of the kingdom and 86 percent of the population do not want them to be canceled, and economic maneuvers in the context of record budget deficits over the past decades are coming to the royal house.
According to experts, the plan for the development of the economy proposed by the prince is not concrete. It is assumed that the main purpose of M. Bin Salman's speech is to warn the population about changing the rules of the social contract and that its conditions will be tightened even if the oil quotes return to their previous level. The current crisis of world prices for black gold has convincingly shown: a country like KSA has no prospects in the economy.
Moreover, the prince’s speeches did not touch upon the theme of Riyadh’s messianism in the Muslim world and attempts to play the role of the main spokesman for the interests of the Sunni community, which eats the lion’s share of KSA’s oil revenues. The Kingdom received them without producing anything and without inventing it, gradually plunging into a vicious circle, from which its authorities are trying to get out with changes in the composition of the foreign labor force present on the territory of the KSA due to the obvious buildup of the Central Asian contingent.
The fact is that the global economic crisis has caused a transformation of the labor market. Russia, which was in second place in the list of countries receiving labor migrants, by the beginning of 2016, had given way to Germany. By 2017, she can leave the top three of the most attractive countries for them. According to available data, migration flows in the Russian Federation (mainly from Central Asia) have decreased by almost a third. Although the loss was partially compensated by refugees and labor migrants from Ukraine. Similar processes are underway in Kazakhstan, which took a significant part of those who went to work from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
This is largely due to the weakening of the ruble and tenge, partly due to the excessive dependence of the economies of Kazakhstan and Russia on hydrocarbon exports. As a result, the attractiveness of their labor markets for migrants from Central Asia has noticeably decreased. Their dollar equivalent wages have more than doubled. As a result, work in Russia and Kazakhstan has become unprofitable for many. The situation could not change the decline in the cost of renting housing in major cities of the host countries, since it was offset by the increase in the cost of food and services. The result was the shallowing of migration flows from the Central Asian countries to the EEU states. The exception is Kyrgyzstan, whose citizens have a number of benefits.
As a result, part of the former migrants stayed at home, moving to rural areas, where life is cheaper than in urban areas, and many tried to find an alternative in other areas. Over 600 thousands of people (more than half of them are citizens of Uzbekistan and ethnic Uzbeks) have moved to work in the states of the Arabian Peninsula, primarily in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The GCC member countries suffered from falling oil prices far less than their competitors, including Russia and Kazakhstan. In the latter, national currency decline at the peak of the crisis reached 87 or more percent (to 114), with further gradual “leveling”, and in Arabian monarchies that accept labor migrants, average fluctuations did not exceed 10 percent, which caused an increase in interest in their labor markets.
Basmachi in the third generation
In Saudi Arabia, there is a large group of descendants of ethnic Uzbeks who arrived there in 1917 – 1930 after the imperial regime suppressed the local uprising in 1916 and during the establishment of Soviet power and the fight against Basmachist in the region. Much of the refugees settled in the Arabian Peninsula. Many wanted to settle near the main Muslim shrines - Mecca and Medina. Some were rich, but mostly their elevation occurred in 80, when Saudi Arabia opposed the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. The descendants of the Uzbek settlers were used by its secret services to support the Mujahideen, especially their fellow tribesmen.
In addition to obtaining serious positions in Saudi law enforcement agencies, the Uzbeks naturalized in KSA increased their material well-being, since such services were generously paid for. The withdrawal of the Soviet limited contingent from Afghanistan before the collapse of the USSR did not lead to an end to the established cooperation. Riyadh actively used the Uzbek channels to penetrate into the countries of Central Asia and consolidate there. With the help of large by local standards, financial resources and the authority of the "winners of the Soviet atheists" in Afghanistan, the activities of these emissaries had a significant success.
However, attempts at artificially rocking the situation in Central Asia in 1999 – 2001 and 2005 showed that the authorities of the former Soviet republics, especially Uzbekistan, are keeping the situation under control. Riyadh’s instruments of influence were curtailed — local authorities, primarily the regime of Islam Karimov, intensified repression against “alien non-traditional Islam” and eliminated (or took into circulation) many of its channels of penetration into Central Asia. Saudi Arabia has a serious resource for processing the population of the region - the presence of Hajj, an obligatory pilgrimage for the faithful Muslims to the holy places in Mecca and Medina. Despite the fact that in recent years, the leadership of the region’s countries (especially Tajikistan) has taken measures to prevent people who are inclined to radicalism from traveling to KSA, the prohibitions cannot change the situation with the spread of radical Islam in Central Asia, including Saudi Wahhabism.
Labor migration can be another powerful channel to feed it. It has been proven that during the “working” trips, many migrants become imbued with relevant ideas, aided by harsh working and living conditions, alienation from the indigenous population, and arbitrariness of the law enforcement bodies of the host countries. That is why Islam Karimov has repeatedly advocated the restriction of labor migration from his country. However, he could not offer any alternatives - millions of his fellow citizens still cannot find work that is adequate to their expectations. Massive relocation to wages is also stimulated by national traditions - the need to celebrate crowded weddings, the cost of which starts from 10 thousands of dollars, whereas even in Tashkent the average salary rarely exceeds 200 dollars per month.
The aggravation of the crisis in Kazakhstan and Russia and the inability of the authorities of the states of the region to provide the population with work contribute to the fact that their citizens are increasingly sent to work in the Arabian monarchies - often at the suggestion of their fellow tribesmen living there. Neither does the harsh legislation of the Arabian monarchies, nor the conservative mores that prevail there. The main role continues to play a monetary factor. Moreover, the authorities of the Arabian monarchies willingly let migrants. They demonstrated their diligence, unpretentiousness to the working conditions and in the bulk - humility. In addition, the GCC countries deliberately dilute migrants from the countries of the "third" world on their territory from the Central Asian region, believing that increased competition between foreigners allows them to manipulate and minimize the prospects of creating a united protest front among them.
Finally, the expansion of labor migration gives the Gulf special services additional cover for their actions in the region. If previously relatively few Hajj participants from Central Asian states immediately came to the account of local intelligence services as agents of influence potentially recruited by their Saudi colleagues, the expansion of labor migration to the Arabian Peninsula makes it difficult to identify such emissaries. Fortunately, it is almost impossible to control the migration flows of hundreds of thousands of people, relying on the resources of the security structures of even such a powerful state as Uzbekistan, especially in relation to ethnic Uzbeks from other countries.
At the same time, it would be a mistake to assume that the GCC countries are able to accept the entire multimillion-dollar mass of Central Asian migrant workers. For example, the Saudi authorities, which account for almost half of the regional labor market, adhere to the policy of receiving foreigners in doses and only in exceptional cases go to meet "friendly" states like Pakistan as a military ally, allowing them to export up to a million citizens to their territory. Countries that have a “neutral” status usually have 500 – 600 quotas of thousands of migrants, while the potentially dangerous ones (Libya or Yemen) are allocated fewer jobs or they are not provided at all.
Dangerous spring hawkers
The states of Central Asia cannot claim the status of Pakistan with nuclear weapons and able to fend off the threat to Saudi Arabia from Iran. And while expanding the presence of migrants from this region does not provide guaranteed grounds for a revolution in the labor market of Arabian monarchies, the availability of alternative routes for work (allowing to combine it with hajj) contributes to its transformation and delays a significant part of the active population from Russia and Kazakhstan. Despite the positiveness of such changes for us (reduced competition in the labor market and a decrease in the volume of withdrawn capital), this also carries potential dangers.
Simplified the work of foreign intelligence services in recruitment. On the other hand, there are no guarantees that “labor tourists” will not be involved in the activities of Islamist organizations. In the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, despite the presence of a common religious element, migrants are subjected to harassment, law enforcement officials often behave themselves harshly and send them home for the slightest offense. Visitor accommodation is usually provided by the employer, but their living conditions in the Arabian monarchies are worse than in Russia and Kazakhstan, and people, as a rule, are not able to change their “registration”.
All this contributes to their isolation, which serves as a breeding ground for emissaries of radical Islamist organizations. Even in the most "civilized" country of the region - the UAE among migrants regularly open conspiracies. Usually they are organized with the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood; in recent years, the Islamic State banned in Russia has become increasingly popular. Accordingly, for the EAEU countries there is a potential danger of receiving return flows of labor migrants, among which may be persons capable of using the stated job search as a disguise for destructive activities. In any case, the May series of arrests of citizens of Central Asian states in Moscow and Krasnoyarsk demonstrates the seriousness of such a call.
The conclusions of the above are disappointing. Saudi Arabia, not abandoning the aggressive foreign policy and the spread of Salafi Islam on a global scale, is on the verge of the most serious economic crisis in its recent history. In the near future, this country will be forced to adopt a series of extraordinary, ambiguously perceived reforms by the population, the reasonableness of which causes experts just as much doubt as the question of the extent to which the KSA leadership is aware of the results of its actions.
Against the background of strife in matters of succession and voluntarism in military, personnel and economic matters, the prince Mohammed bin Salman making his way to the throne, the increase in the kingdom of the number of labor migrants from Central Asia may provoke the KSA leadership to use them as a “fifth column” in the CAR states or a destabilization tool in Russia and Kazakhstan. There is no talk of a return during the war in Chechnya and Saudi emissaries do not arrive en masse on the territory of the republics of the former USSR, but the approach of the “Central Asian spring” can significantly increase the level of threat to Riyadh for Moscow, Astana.