Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Saudi Regime is Flooded with Problems, Some of which It Can’t buy off

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By Barry Rubin

Four years ago, in my book, The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, I wrote about an American-educated Saudi building contractor named Hussein Shobokshi. He had written an article warning that the infrastructure of Saudi cities was so poorly designed that there was tremendous danger of a massive flood which would cause great destruction.

Why? Because corrupt government officials had done a bad job but they went unpunished and their bad work unrepaired because of their royal family connections. 

In another August 2003 article in a Saudi newspaper, Shobokshi related a bedtime story he told his seven-year-old daughter about his dream that Saudi Arabia would one day be a country where she would be able to drive and be a lawyer; where there are elections and human rights’ conferences, female cabinet ministers, and mosques hold educational classes that discuss religion freely. In response, he received some praise but more death threats.

The government did respond to his complaints and criticisms. Despite the fact that he was a major stockholder of the newspaper, his column was permanently cancelled.

And now, guess what? Under similar conditions there was a flood in the city of Jiddah. The incomplete death toll now stands at 113.

The Saudi government has responded by forming a committee, which formed sub-committees, which planned their agenda, which will some day supposedly lead to the issuing of recommendations.

One of the sycophantic Saudi newspapers put it this way:

“The King’s historic order to determine the real cause of the disaster and who or what was responsible for it has been widely welcomed by the public, Prince Khaled said. “It was a great gesture from the King that has resulted in widespread public appreciation and positive feelings,” he said.

With years of praise for allegedly making reforms by various Western researchers, British refusal to investigate Saudi bribes to UK defense contractors and the near-appointment of an American who was virtually on the Saudi payroll to manage U.S. Middle East intelligence, the Saudi regime continue to remain rather under-criticized. The previous president of the United States was also quite friendly toward Saudi regime interests. study undertaken in part by a Georgetown University research center which received funding from Saudi royals has recently declared the Saudi king to be the world's most important Muslim.

The reason, of course, is that Saudi money  buys a lot of friends and a great deal of silence.

The regime could have listened to Shobokshi and other Saudi liberals years ago and prevented the need to hold these investigations into why a flood did so much damage. It certainly has the money to fix anything wrong within the kingdom.

Ironically, though, the Saudis have now run up against a force that cannot be bought off so easily: Iran. They are very nervous about the likelihood that the United States won’t protect them against Tehran, as well as its Syrian ally. They are going to have to cut their own deal in that direction.

This is, then, the worst of both worlds: the Saudis get away with all too much domestic corruption and repression, coupled with spreading corruption and Islamism abroad. Yet when they really do deserve real Western support against a genuine threat from something worse, they can’t get it.

Irony roosts in the Middle East

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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