Saturday, April 29, 2006

What Does Saudi Arabia Want?

Middle East Quarterly hosts a roundtable discussion on the Saudi kingdom:
Ali Alyami: The House of Saud's only agenda is to stay in power. It will do whatever it takes: kill, murder, incarcerate, destroy. The Saudis have no interest in stabilizing Iraq. I disagree with the idea that it is indifferent to a democratic Iraq. The Saudis hate two things: Shi‘ite empowerment and a democracy on their border. They will do whatever it takes to ensure neither happens.

The Saudi government would like to see the United States stay in Iraq for sixty years. In part, it does not want Washington even to consider invading another Arab country, so getting the U.S. nose rubbed in the mud suits its purposes. Also, a U.S. occupation in Iraq can be just as useful a symbol if the U.S. military gets bogged down in the country.

In Syria, the Saudis have mixed interests. Because the ‘Alawites who control Syria are an offshoot of Shi‘ism, they fear the Assad regime's outreach to Iran and the Shi‘ite government in Iraq. On the other hand, the Saudis fear the alternatives to the Assad dynasty, and fear that chaos in Syria may undercut Lebanon.

Abdullah's Arab-Israeli peace plan was tactically wise. He knew that the Israelis could not accept it because it called for Israel to return all land occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem. The Saudi royal family wants sway over East Jerusalem to add to [their patronage of] Mecca and Medina. Then they will be custodian of three holy places instead of two and will increase their stature accordingly. The Saudi government has no interest in seeing Palestinian-Israeli peace, especially if that results in a democratic Palestine. The Saudis are the greatest financial patrons of Hamas and of Al-Aqsa Brigades and other groups. If Israel and the Arabs make peace and democratization proceeds, the Saudi royal family will lose its power.

What really bothers me about all these discussions is that the Saudi people are never considered. We talk about the women in Saudi Arabia today as if we are talking about women's situations 500, 600 years ago, and then people say there are openings for women, there are openings for religious minorities—but it's still a country ruled by four or five old men who still do not recognize half of their society as human beings.