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  Time To Fish Or Cut Bait
by Steven D. Laib, J.D. M.S.
23 May
2003 Saudi Flag

With increasing militancy in the Middle East, the threat to the Saud Family is real.  Their only sure course is to sacrifice power for survival and the only way to do this securely is to move toward westernizing the country. 

The Riyadh bombings of May 13, 2003 were directed at an area primarily set aside for foreigners, but behind it came a new twist.  Reports from Reuters quoting Saad al-Fagih, of the London based Movement of Islamic Reform in Arabia, indicated that the al-Qaida organization is now willing to target the Saudi royal family, as well as American and other foreign interests.  Other sources are in agreement with this shift by al-Qaida.    The White House has now indicated that the Saudis must deal the terrorists inside their own country, and the question of how they will deal with them is probably more important today than how democracy can be brought to Iraq.  The Saudis must decide where their bread is buttered and while the choice should be obvious, they will not find it easy.   

The history of Arabia’s current problems began in the 18th century when the leader of the al-Saud family joined with the originator of the extremely radical Wahhabi sect of Islam.  Working together these two groups were able to consolidate power within the Arabian Peninsula.  Political power was concentrated with the Saudi Family, who also provided military leadership.  The Wahhabi religious authorities controlled all religious matters as their version of Islam was made the official religion of the region.  They also provided a large number of the soldiers needed to maintain political control. 

More recently, political realities being what they are, the Saud Family has had to compromise the religious principles it otherwise supports.  It has had to allow foreigners into the region and employ many foreign, non-Muslims.  It has even allowed local women to work and attend school.  According to Daniel Pipes, the Ikhwan a military iteration of the Wahhabi sect that previously supported the Saudi rulers now sees them as an impediment to its religious agenda.  Osama bin Laden, originally a Saudi national, is or was a member of the Ikhwan.  The Saud family now finds that it may have made a deal with the devil which is now coming back to haunt them.  Additional excellent material on the relationship between the Saudis and America may be found at www.danielpipes.org/article/995

The number one industry in the Arabian Peninsula is oil.  During the last 50 years or so Saudis have had an increasingly difficult relationship with their customers.  The United States, the largest customer, has had a policy of deferring to Saudi sensibilities whenever possible.  However, this became more troublesome when it became apparent that the Saudis were not willing to westernize their political or social culture, and when it was learned that they were supporting terrorist organizations as well as Islamofacist groups in the United States.   

In 2001 the Wall Street Journal reported that a letter was sent to President Bush from Saudi Crown Prince Abdallah stating, “It is time for the United States and Saudi Arabia to look to their separate interests.” Abdallah expressed a concern that failure to do so would cause the Saudi government to be deposed, as happened to the Shah of Iran.  It appears likely that given the circumstances, Abdallah’s actions may have been strongly motivated by fear.  Angry populations have toppled other governments in this region, and Islamic clerics have sometimes played a key role, as was true in Iran.  Assassination may also be a concern.  Egyptian President Sadat was killed after concluding a peace accord with Israel at Camp David.  No one has dared negotiate seriously with Israel since.  With the increasing militancy in the Middle East and in other regions with significant Muslim populations, the threat to the Saud Family is real.  While they may like to believe that they possess immunity to terrorism, it is obvious that they cannot take it for granted.  There is also the significant possibility that younger or disfavored members of the family might use terrorists to remove competition for the top spots, hoping that they can control the militants afterward.  It all makes for a very unstable situation. 

According to former State Department and CIA officer Robert Baer, the crux of the matter is the Saud family’s dysfunctional, bankrupt, and even criminal behavior.  He suggests that they are hated by their people because of this, and that bin Laden is approved of for his willingness to stand up to their corruption. It is more likely that bin Laden’s approval rating is a result of the Saud Family’s own support for his activities and for increased levels of religious radicalism.  Baer appears to make the traditional Western mistake of seeing Islam as “just another religion.”  He fails to recognize that while the Saud Family may be completely corrupt, the Saudi people have been schooled to believe that responsibility for their nation’s problems lies within the West, and with America in particular.  Support for bin Laden thus flows from the fact that al Qaida is attacking the West.  This mindset, combined with the Saud Family’s cooperation on regional issues such as Iraq, are far more important than Saudi corruption.  Saddam Hussein was equally corrupt, if not more so.  Little, if anything, was done about him until pressure from outside forced the issue.  It is the traditional Arab way of essentially saying, “he is one of us so his behavior is excused.”  It was only after Hussein’s demise was a foregone conclusion that large numbers of Arabs began to denounce him publicly. 

The House of Saud has depended for so long on theocracy for backing that it must view any other course of action with trepidation.  However, failure to acknowledge that their long relationship with militant Islam is now over, will eventually spell the end of their regime, and may result in their death.  Their only sure course is to sacrifice power for survival and the only way to do this securely is to move toward westernizing the country.  The Arab scholar Ibn Warraq has suggested that for this to happen several steps are necessary.  They include a scholarly criticism of the Koran, secular education, defense of religious pluralism and broad based cultural self-criticism.  He also recommends closing the religious madrassas, wholesale rewriting of school texts and an increased emphasis on the liberal arts and social sciences.  This, combined with a written plan for power transfer over a reasonable period of time from the House of Saud to the people of Arabia, will prepare them for democracy and self-rule.  It will also set off a cultural nuclear bomb in the Middle East.  To implement these suggestions it will be necessary to protect the House of Saud from the people, from extremists, and the people from themselves. 

It is likely that the only way to protect the people and the current government while implementing this transition is the use of foreign military power.  The Saud family might use their reasonably good relations with the United States to work out a deal.  As it is in the best interests of the United States to bring about westernization of the region, the Saudis could propose the following.  They could pay for the use of troops in the area, as well as other professionals whose job it would be to educate, or re-educate the people, as may be needed.  They would encourage and accept the opening of new schools for this process, eliminate all funding for Islamic organizations, and require religious diversity within their political reach.  Opening a few churches and synagogues while eliminating restrictions on travel to Mecca would be a major step in this direction.  As these steps are taken Ibn Warraq’s ideas would come into play and the region could be changed forever. 

The above suggestions would not be easy to implement.  There will certainly be militant repercussions.  Any foreign military force assisting in this will have to be prepared to defend itself from the attacks which will certainly come.  However, it may well be the only way to prevent the eventual takeover by an Islamofascist group with a large-scale war following.  The House of Saud will probably want to preserve itself and its posterity. Bringing Arabia into the 21st century will be one way to establish its legacy as other “founding fathers” have done.  It may well be, however, that they will have to drag the people of Arabia kicking and screaming to improved lives, a better political system and true freedom, rather than the Orwellian situation offered by their theocratic past. 

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