August 12, 2004


House of Saud exits cocoon of denial (Ehsan Ahrari, 8/13/04, Asia Times)

The war between the Saudi monarchy and al-Qaeda is fast becoming a struggle between regime survival and regime change. The underlying objective is replacement of the royalist autocrats by puritanical hierocrats. Saudi autocrats are finally convinced that their regime is faced with the possibility of extinction. Consequently, their natural survival instincts have nullified all previous claims that responsibilities for the al-Qaeda-related terrorist acts should really be placed elsewhere.

Reports currently filtering from Washington and Riyadh state that intelligence agents of the monarchy and the American democracy are reportedly joined at the hip - with the creation of one or more "fusion cells" in Saudi Arabia - to save the autocratic regime, and to ensure uninterrupted access to world's largest oil reserves. The unanswerable question is whether this cooperation will save the oil kingdom, or has it already become a futile endeavor to save a doomed cause.

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, brought the United States out of its long-standing denial that the Saudi monarchy, despite its firm commitment to Wahhabi puritanism and its profound mindset of anti-Westernism, was not driven by an equally intense sentiment of anti-Americanism. It was as if those two mindsets were unrelated. About the same time, the Saudi monarchy entered its own cocoon of denial, but of a different sort: that the September 11 terrorist attacks were not perpetrated by 15 Saudi citizens (and four Arabs belonging to other countries); that the al-Qaeda threat was exaggerated by the United States and its media; that it was anti-Western in orientation; and that it would certainly not target the Saudi regime.

From September 11, 2001, until approximately the middle of 2003, Saudi officials repeated the aforementioned mantras so frequently that they started believing in them.

But then al Qaeda did our job for us, snapping the regime out of its delusion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 12, 2004 10:48 AM

I'll dispute a few of the assertions in the quoted article.

I arrived at the US Embassy in Riyadh in late Sept. 2001. At that time, I was informed by intell people I worked with that by Sept. 12, the Saudis had already "detained" over 800 people who might have information pertaining to or connection with the 9/12 perpetrators.

The author's problem, IMO, is that of viewing the entire ruling family--not to mention the entire Saudi population--as being single-mined. They simply aren't.

Some members of the ruling family are still denying Saudi culpability--but it's not because they are "in denial". It's because it serves their own political purpose to assuage popular fear that the country may have headed down the wrong path.

Others, most notably the Crown Prince, were very quick to accept that the kingdom had a lot of self-examination to do and reforms to make. He and his supporters are pushing for reforms. But they are also conscious of the fact that reform can be pushed faster than a population can swallow it. The example of the Shah's Iran, less than 200 miles away, stands out pretty vividly in their minds.

Saudi Arabia needs reform. But reform doesn't come exclusively from the top. And it most certainly doesn't come at the end of a NYT editorial.

Posted by: John at August 12, 2004 1:13 PM