The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Of Saudi Arabia and US policy

This BeastWeek piece by Eli Lake touches on the important topic of the Saudi-led counter-revolution and US policy: 

Retired Marine Gen. James Jones, who served as national security adviser in 2009-10, told a private meeting at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that the United States' Persian Gulf allies interpret the president's handling of the Egyptian revolution as a sign that Washington will dump their monarchies or governments if enough demonstrators take to their streets, according to a recording of the speech reviewed by The Daily Beast.

“We have paid a price,” Jones said of the decision to call for Hosni Mubarak's ouster. “Our policy with regard to Mubarak as interpreted by some of our closest Arab allies in the Gulf has not gone over well.”

“In their interpretation of our dumping President Mubarak very hastily, [it] answered the question of what we would be likely to do if that happened in their countries. So there is a chasm there that somehow has to be bridged,” he added.

Of course these "closest allies" are mostly Saudi Arabia, whose regime basically made 9/11 possible and then was very happy as the US tried to blame Iraq for it, then spent the last decade backing extremists groups in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as more generally financing extremist networks across the Arab world. And that is now backing the counter-revolutionary movements in the Arab world and underwriting poorer corrupt monarchies. If the Saudis are pissed off, this article does not really make clear what the price is. The kind of financing of religious radicals and conservative forces is something Saudi Arabia did before the  Arab uprisings, and is continuing to do after. The US did nothing about it before and won't do anything about it now, for various reasons, the most important of which is a foreign policy devised by military planners, oil executives and lobbyists.

Another point of debate is whether the US "dumping" Mubarak had an impact on the outcome of the January uprising. Mubarak (and Gamal) was done by January 29 and the army had deployed. Whether he remained president or not, his time was up, and it was protestors and internal dynamics in the Egyptian military that led to his removal. The argument that Obama "dumped" Mubarak is thus dubious, although the lack of strong support for him may have indeed pissed off the Saudis. But I think the Saudis are passed that now, they are smart enough to have shifted policy from sulking about the uprisings to trying to manage the outcome.

The second part of the article, basically trying to condemn the Obama administration for not listening to "Egyptian democrats" (a classic neocon meme since they've been out of power — as if they listened to democrats or were impervious to lobbies), is kind of silly:

According to some Egyptian observers, the Saudis also have sought to bolster political parties in Cairo ahead of the upcoming elections in Egypt.

Shadi Taha, deputy to the liberal Egyptian political leader Ayman Nour, said in an interview that since March he has been urging U.S. diplomats in the region to use American influence with Gulf countries to curb unaccountable funding for political groups that are sympathetic to the return of Mubarak.

“The funding is coming from charities,” Taha said. “It's not the government, it's from families. But the Saudi government can stop this easily.”

The Saudi ambassador in Cairo has publicly denied any role in funding political parties in Egypt. Along with other Gulf countries, the Saudis have made grants to Egypt for development in the country after the fall of Mubarak.

Taha said he was frustrated that the U.S. has not responded to him about funding from Gulf Arab countries to Egyptian political groups. “I have heard nothing back from the State Department, from the U.S. Embassy, or from the organizations that work closely with Egyptian parties,” he said. “This leads me to think that there is probably a greater power than me on this. I think there is a strong network of lobbying in Washington from Gulf countries that are frankly more important to this administration than Egyptian democrats.”

Ya think?