Sunday, February 16, 2003

Saudi interest
In the wake of 9-11 there has been a great deal of debate over our alliance with Saudi Arabia. And, in our current run up to a war in Iraq the Saudis are certainly not living up to their side of the bargain. Besides the fact that sixteen of the nineteen hijackers were Saudi citizens, there have been numerous reports of members of the Royal family aiding and abetting Islamo-Fascists.

My own view is that our ties with the House of Saud ought to be severed. But I think it is worth examing Saudi motives and interests. Let us remember that the House of Saud is a very wealthy family that controls a large chunk of the world's oil supply. It is a country with a stark contrast between its elite ruling family and the people it governs. Poverty is common in Saudi Arabia, despite its vast oil wealth. Saudi Arabia also is home to the conservative Wahhabi strain of Islam. This is not to say that members of the royal family are practitioners, in fact there are constant stories of the exploits of many of its princes.

Yet, the royal family was wise enough to capitalize on the religious community. They realized that such a stratified country could not last long without some form of social control. And they recognized that the conservative Wahhabi clerics would prove to be adept agents. Thus, the House of Saud has poured millions of dollars into exporting Wahhabism to the rest of the world and supporting madrasas in its own country. In exchange for their generous financial largesse, the royals have received unconditional support from their Muslim community. (To be sure, this is a Faustian bargain for the clerics.)

The current situation in the Middle East represents a challenge to the Saudis. If the world community ousts Saddam and transforms Iraq into a democratic country, and if the Iranian students are successful in reforming their country, then Saudi Arabia will have two burgeoning democracies in its backyard. It would not be long before Saudi citizens began to want some freedom of their own. And they quite likely would receive support from their newly free neighbors. Saudi Arabia's oppostion to the use of force in Iraq has nothing to do with their support for international organizations and everything to do with holding onto their power.


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