Putting Saudi Arabia in Its Place

Nibras Kazimi (New York Sun) - * Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York in late September, was prolifically doling out advice to America about its project in Iraq. Al-Faisal, along with his brother Prince Turki, who is slated to become his country's ambassador in Washington, and their brother-in-law Prince Bandar, the outgoing ambassador who is assuming the job of national security adviser, are the three leading lights of a concerted Saudi effort to reclaim their influence along the Potomac. Their game plan is simple: throw around a lot of money just like the good old days. Their motto is even simpler: "We told you so." * The trio's refrain is "this whole democracy business is messy and dangerous. We have our own way of doing things in the Middle East. Do not disturb our delicate balancing act with your crazy notions of freedom. Your decades-long support for our archaic dictatorships is not why young Middle Easterners are angry at you. They are angry because of what Israel is doing to the Palestinians. You should have listened to our plan: substitute Saddam with Saddam-Lite. Now Iran is getting all the spoils. * But then, something unexpected happened: Iraq's Interior Minister Bayan Jabr entered the scene screaming out "Wrong!" and proceeded to trash-talk the Saudi talking points. Mr. Jabr said the following: "Iraq is heir to an ancient civilization and does not need advice from a Bedouin riding a camel." Prince Saud should worry about the problems of Saudi Arabia, where minorities are treated like third and fourth class citizens, women are not allowed to drive, and its embittered youth are fueling the ranks of Islamic radicals all over the Middle East. * Mr. Jabr's outburst revealed an inherent truth about power dynamics in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia's influence is artificial. The Saudis bought their way to the table, a regime that survived and continues to survive at America's pleasure and benevolence but has come to believe itself entitled to push America around. Who cares if the Saudis control Mecca and Medina? That does not give them moral authority over Islam: when the first Muslims expanded their empire beyond the Arabian Peninsula, the first thing they did was move the capital to Kufa in Iraq. Thence it went to Damascus, and then back to Baghdad, and for a while, under the heterodox Fatimid Caliphs, to Cairo. There are three "real" power centers in the Arab Middle East: Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo. Throughout Islamic history, coups in these three capitals determined who got into power, not control over the holy sites in the Peninsula.

2005-10-21 00:00:00

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