A rebellion of sorts
is underway in a small corner of the Arab world. Perhaps because it isn't
in Afghanistan or Iraq the press has paid little attention to it. In the
remote northern Saudi Arabian province of al-Jouf, the Saudi royal family's
worst fears have come to pass: discontent that has turned into violence and
could presage the beginning of open revolt.
As John R. Bradley reported in The Independent
recently, in recent months the deputy governor, police chief and the region's
top Sharia judge have been assassinated. In the province's capital city,
Sakaka, the streets are deserted when night falls and the al-Sudiary branch
of the Saudi royal family haven't been able to leave their walled compounds
without armed escort. Roadblocks have been established and the secret police
keeps an eye on the situation.
Bradley writes that the nascent rebellion is the result of discontent
from different wings of Islam and extends across the country. Residents of
al-Jouf -- who share historic links with Iraqis -- are angry at the American-led
invasion of Iraq with hundreds streaming across the border to join the remnants
of the Ba'athist regime in their uprising. In the West, anti-Wahabite merchants
near Mecca and Medina decry the elimination of religious and cultural tolerance.
In the east, Shias -- who form the backbone of the oil industry -- are protesting
against the religious discrimination that they have suffered for decades.
Stability in Saudi Arabia has long been a priority for the West. It's long
been feared that the nation could break up on religious or tribal lines,
allowing the emergence of a Taliban-style government. With nearly a quarter
of the world's proven oil reserves in Saudi Arabia, it's not a surprise that
many in the West would rather live with the very imperfect Saudi royal family
than an unknown alternative. The standard line emanating out of the U.S.
State Department is that the Saudis are friends of the West and deserve our
That may be the prevailing dogma at Foggy Bottom but the behavior of the
Saudis suggests otherwise. Although U.S. President George W. Bush didn't
name Saudi Arabia part of his "Axis of Evil," it remains the nexus of terrorist
funding and recruitment. Saudi Arabia is the single largest source of income
-- much of it from members of the royal family -- for terrorist groups that
include al-Qaida. Along with Iran and Syria, Saudi Arabia is a primary point
of origin for many terrorists in Iraq and terrorist groups in general. For
decades the Saudis have spent billions of dollars to establish mosques and
schools across the planet -- including North America and Europe -- where
Wahabism is taught. Saudi government officials who refuse to allow the questioning
of Saudi nationals implicated have stymied American investigations into terrorist
Despite these and many other troubling facts about Saudi Arabia, the United
States continues to support a corrupt royal family. The reality is that the
alternatives aren't much worse than who we're dealing with now. The only
difference, outside of easy access to Saudi oil, is that the hostility towards
the West would be in the open, instead of quietly funded by their elites.
If the West is dedicated to propping up the current regime, and it is primarily
oil exports to the West that keep it in power, then we must use the instability
in Saudi Arabia to force concessions from them.
We must demand that the Saudi government hand over or effectively punish
those Saudis who support international terrorism, whether they are members
of the extended royal family or not. We must also push the government to
crackdown on the financing of terrorist groups -- one that would effectively
destroy their ability to launch attacks across the world. Thirdly, Saudi
Arabia must stop exporting its Wahabist philosophy around the world. Fourthly,
the Saudis must become full partners in the war against terrorism, whether
aimed at the United States or Israel. Finally, Saudi Arabia should be encouraged
to become more democratic, and embrace women and religious minorities --
both Muslim and non-Muslim.
We can't compel the Saudi government to take these steps but we can take
concrete action if we have to. The Saudi royal family only remains in power
thanks to Western technology, our need for oil and the perception that we
will act to save the regime if their position becomes endangered. The West
must make it clear that none of these things should be taken for granted
because our alliance with the present Saudi government is predicated on friendship,
not the veil of lies that mask the real truth. If the Saudis aren't willing
to make those changes than perhaps our friendship should be extended to the
merchants of the west or the Shias of the east.
Steven Martinovich is the editor in chief of Enter Stage Right.