From Saudi Arabia with Love

One objective of the invasion and occupation of Iraq was to control a key source of oil and reduce the American dependency on Saudi crude. Another was to fashion a democratic Iraq as a model for other Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia.

Yet here we are - 2 1/2 years, $200 billion and tens of thousands of deaths later - seeing the law of unintended consequences unfold in the most disastrous of ways.

There's the daily death and destruction and buried under it the news that Iraq is producing only 2 million barrels a day, less than under Saddam Hussein.

The price of crude has doubled since the war. So have Saudi revenues, to $150 billion a year. 

Despite pumping 9.5 million barrels a day, the Saudis can no longer tamp down the price, to please Washington. And America is as dependent on them as ever, given the domestic demand.

This is decidedly not what George W. Bush had in mind.

Little wonder he set aside the post-9/11 anger at the Saudis, and kissed Crown Prince Abdullah's cheeks at the presidential ranch in Texas in April, and sent Dick Cheney, Colin Powell et al to Riyadh last week to see the prince become the king.

The Saudi economy is booming, as are those of the other oil states in the Gulf. Fuelled by oil dollars, and the investments pulled out of America, regional stock markets are soaring. At $450 billion, Saudi market capitalization is larger than China's. 

There are American goods to be sold and deals to be made. "Our relations are strategic, based on mutual interest," said Salman, the king's brother.

America has its quid pro quo with the royal house of Saud. They have theirs with the Wahhabi clerics. Life goes on.

What of King Abdullah?

Whereas he ran the country for the decade that King Fahd was ill, he never was fully free. 

An absolute monarchy dictates a strict protocol of proclamations and decrees in the name of the king, even a comatose one. That empowers his family, which is why they kept Fahd alive as long as they could.

But now that Abdullah is in charge, he is in charge. Speculation that the "Sudairi Seven," the sons of a beloved wife of the late King Abdul-Aziz, might undermine him, is just that.

Fahd was a Sudairi, as are Crown Prince Sultan and the powerful Interior Minister Prince Nayef. But other royals more than balance them.

They all jockey for positions and power. They do have differences of opinion. But they never, ever, show it. That's why this family compact works - well.

Abdullah, unlike Fahd, is in good health, the result of a lifetime of desert outings and horse riding. He also has a reputation for being forthright and honest. He may crack down on corruption. Rather than risk his wrath, most princes will toe the line.

Abdullah may be confident enough to take on the clerics as well. He already has, quietly.

"The religious doctrine has had a 180-degree turn," says a Canadian who used to live there and visited recently. "An advice column in a magazine counsels the questioner that Muslims must interact with non-Muslims. That would not have been the answer just a few years ago."

The religious establishment, the second pillar of power after the royals, remains strong. But following the death in recent years of two top hard-line clerics, moderates are in charge of the religious council and the ministry of religious affairs.

Expect Abdullah to end the ban on women driving cars. It was no accident that a cleric close to him urged women to take the bayah, the traditional male allegiance to a new king.

The media are already more open. They began tackling the taboo topic of terrorism after terrorists killed 100 people. 

One doesn't know how much to read into Abdullah's release of jailed dissidents. Pardons are customary at the start of a reign. 

Far more significant may be that he has held off designating the third in line for succession. Nayef - in charge of the torture chambers where Canadian William Sampson spent months - must be disappointed.

Even if Abdullah eventually does give the nod to Nayef, the delay can only help in neutralizing resistance to reforms.

Social change. A more representative and accountable government. Jobs for the young. Eliminating terrorism. The agenda has been clear enough. What's new is the new leadership - and much hope.

Haroon Siddiqui is the Toronto Star's editorial page editor emeritus. [email protected]

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Older Comments:
The Salafis are just one branch of muslims who believes in upholding the basic principles of Islam.Imagine 4 azans at the holy mosque of Mecca
if everybody wants to uphold their own mazhabs.
Go back to the Quran and sunnah if you want to upheld Islamic unity.

NA FROM US said:
The revenue of oil is always good for the country. Saudi must take stand for becoming more modern country with it's laws and regualtions.
With the respect of it's islam. Islam plays a large part of our lives.
These terrorist have ruin the good name of our


May Allah always keep them on straight path.

Beside wealth, the blessed land also producing the brave of Muslemeens. The enemy of Islam knows that, and they did try their best to undermine it. But this is what Allah's promise comes true, That when you are on straight path, and doing dawah on every corner of Allah's world, its he who will protect you, so, even with all the planning even the super powers on earth cannot harm you.

wa salam

They should kick out the Salafi's and stop teaching people the writings of ibn Taymiyya and his followers

What I find funny is that the King awaits bay'ah from his citizens, yet allegiance (bay'ah) should be given to the representatives of Rasul-Allah (sawaws), to his(sawaws) al-Abdal, the Awliya al-kiraam.