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July 1, 2005
Saudi Columnist: We Owe America For Our Development

MEMRI provides a translation of a column that ran earlier this month in the influential Saudi newspaper, Al-Jazirah. In an interesting departure from normal Arab anti-American rhetoric, the state-approved daily published this reflection on the historical benefits that the Saudi-American association has provided the oil-rich kingdom. It also argues against the pan-Arabist impulse that has destabilized the entire region of Southwest Asia:

What have the Arabs given us Saudis in comparison to what we have gained from our relations with America? I know very well that this is an extremely sensitive issue that many would hesitate to address; they are restrained by a culture of fear that prevents them from confronting controversial and sensitive issues head-on.

The late King Abdul Aziz, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, was a resourceful and far-sighted statesman when he chose the Americans rather than the British to come and search for oil in the Kingdom. He did so despite Britain at the time being an important force in the region, with its colonies and dependencies surrounding the infant kingdom. The politics of the time plus the colonial legacies of both Britain and France made King Abdul Aziz distance himself from them and look to the New World.

Not long after the Americans and their expertise arrived, oil was gushing from beneath the desert sands and the development of the modern Saudi state began.

Muhammed al-Sheikh argues that the commercial relationships espoused by the Americans, as opposed to the colonial impulse of the British in the period prior to World War II, allowed the two countries to work as partners to develop the oil fields that created the vast wealth enjoyed by the Saudis. That argument cuts both ways, of course. That development put billions of dollars into the bloated and contradictory House of Saud, keeping a Wahhabist tyranny in place over the Arab nation most central to Arabist thought, thanks to its stewardship of Mecca and Medina. While some of the leaders of the Sauds appreciate American and Western modernity, undoubtedly others find that Western influence dangerous -- and have funded innumerable madrassas to combat it. They have generated the Islamofascist strain of Muslims that strap on bombs to kill civilians by the dozens, hundreds, and as we saw on 9/11, thousands.

American interest in stability over democracy has contributed to this result. During the Cold War, America understandably had its sights on the more dangerous enemy of the Soviet Union and its satellites. Our energy needs dictated that we not only ensured stable access to Persian Gulf oil, but in that binary world, that we kept the Soviets from establishing a hegemony in that area. We succeeded in Saudi Arabia and Iran, until 1979, but failed in Iraq, which aligned itself with the Soviets shortly after the Ba'athists took over in the 1970s.

Now we need to focus on democracy, especially in Saudi Arabia, where the radical Wahhabist autocracy and the suppression of almost all political activity has generated a clear impetus for the Islamofascists worldwide; the majority of the 9/11 attackers came from Saudi Arabia, after all. The Saudis appear to understand this. They have started municipal elections to replace royal appointments as a halting first step for reform. This passage from the al-Sheikh column signals that they recognize the destructive nature of the message they had a large part in communicating and want to combat as another step:

We must admit that our relations with America were the cornerstone for our development and progress. In return, we must ask what we have gained from our relations with the Arab world. Speaking frankly and unequivocally, all we got from them was trouble. Our brothers, as they call themselves, conspired against us, attacked us, and used all the means at their disposal to derail our plans for unity.

History has proven that Arab nationalism is a destructive ideology. We, the Saudis, must set our priorities and carefully read history to extract its lessons while at the same time endeavoring to build something new that does not take anything for granted as has been the case in the past but that thoroughly debates and analyzes everything. We must rely on an ideology that treats the national interests of this country as the top priority.

That statement powerfully separates the Saudis from the Islamist/Arabist impulse. It also discounts the value of building further relationships with neighboring nations that buy into that philosophy. Such a breach puts pressure on nations like Syria, which still holds out hope of Saddam's pan-Arab dream, only with Assad at its head, as a rallying point for Stalinists and Islamofascists alike. Hopefully, this column expresses the clear direction for the next generation of the House of Saud.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 1, 2005 11:10 AM

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