Two intriguing meetings took place this past week in the Arab world. In Egypt, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with the intelligence services directors of four Arab states - Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Just days later, Arab heads of state met in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for their annual Arab League summit.
Which of the two meetings was more significant and signaled the tone, content, and direction of Arab state policies? Was this a natural interplay between three separate factors - United States foreign policy, Arab security systems, and Arab leaderships? Or did the three converge into a single trend, where US foreign policy blended with Arab security policy?
The Arab summit was a routine event that reissued a historic, but five-year-old peace offer to Israel. Rice's meeting with the intelligence chiefs was a novelty that deserves more scrutiny, for both its current meaning and for its future implications.
Whatever the nature of Rice's meeting with the Arab intelligence chiefs, it seems like the sort of noteworthy development that Arab governments should explain to their own Arab citizens. As the Iraq situation shows with gruesome daily regularity, security is a core imperative for Arab citizens and their states. Citizens need to know that they can leave their homes in the morning and have a good chance of returning alive at night. States, societies, and governments need to know that theirs are orderly, secure, stable communities that can aspire to achieving their full potential and even some prosperity.
Security is not a dirty word, and Arab security systems need not remain a secret and forbidden world of shadows and whispers. Arab security agencies have important, legitimate roles to play. The modern Arab states have all pursued domestic policies that place security and regime survival before any other value. Most Arab citizens who live in safe, stable societies appreciate that fact. A few Arab states that have allowed security agencies to abuse their roles have been transformed into grotesque police states, to the discomfort and disdain of most of their citizens, and the world.
A new set of questions arises, though, if some of these states now consider giving security agencies a role in foreign policy in addition to their established role in domestic governance. The wider context in which this may be happening is pertinent. Rice's latest visit to the region included her quest for "moderate Sunni Arabs" who would join the United States and Israel in their face-off against Iran and its Arab allies, alongside her meeting to foster bonding between the US State Department and Arab security establishments.
Arab citizens in whose name and for whose interests this is happening deserve to be informed about the full implications of what is going on. This is especially true if we are witnessing a confluence between the largely Israeli-defined Middle East foreign policy of the US and some Arab security agencies. Security agencies play a central role in Arab public policy, and are moving into foreign policy duties. Egyptian foreign policy relations with the Palestinians and Saudi links with Washington, for example, are both being handled today primarily by top security personnel, rather than Foreign Ministry officials.