Links for 11/9/07, and a little on Saudis

Regarding the last article on Saudi Arabia, Hamid makes the argument that the US should put democracy-promotion at the forefront of its policy because lack of democracy creates terrorism and extremist ideology, and calls for conditionality on the US arms deal with Saudi Arabia. It seems to me that this is a fundamental misunderstanding of both Saudi Arabia and the US. The Saudi regime is an active exporter of terrorism and extremist ideology, and this has nothing to do with lack of democracy. It is a long-standing, deliberate policy backed at the highest levels of the royal family. This is a country that has funded and provided manpower to paramilitary movements in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia and many other places. It has also exported and financed the most intolerant strands of Islamic theology throughout the Muslim world. At one point the US backed this, or was tolerant of it at least. But it is very much the same phenomenon that is taking place today, only this time against US interests.

With regards to conditionality, the Saudis could very well buy the weapons themselves, and the deal is a boon to the US arms industry. The important thing about the deal is not the money or weapons being delivered but the underlying strategic alliance that provides security for the Saudi royal family. But this regime will continue to promote extremist ideologies at home and abroad, and genuine democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia (a goal desirable in itself but that is certainly not linked to greater stability) would be better served by weakening, not strengthening, the al-Sauds -- not that this is going to happen, for obvious oil and corporate power reasons.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.