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A naive understanding of Saudi Arabia | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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In the January/February 2004 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, Dr Michael Doran, formerly of Princeton University who later became responsible for Middle East policy at the White House under the George W Bush Administration, wrote about what he described as “The Saudi Paradox.”

Doran summarized the issue in a naive analysis that became popular in western political and academic circles as if it were the irrefutable truth.

In his analysis Doran says that there is a conflict ablaze under the cinders in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia “between the wing of Prince Abdullah, the (then) crown prince, which represents the openness to the west and the wing of Prince Naif accompanied by the Wahhabi religious institution, which hates the United States and the west.” According to Michael Doran, “There is a fierce conflict between Prince Naif and Prince Abdullah, which will put the Kingdom in the focus of political crisis, and will lead to the disintegration of the Kingdom.”

Doran wrote this article in 2004, while at Princeton and consequently it became his passport to a distinguished post at the White House. As the article created reverberations in both the Middle East and Washington, a rebuttal was in order, and I wrote an article responding to Doran in the 12th of January 2004 edition of Asharq Al-Awsat, which was entitled “Notes on the Foreign Affairs Article.”

After the publication of my rebuttal, a verbal argument ensued between Doran and I in Washington, which led to a falling-out between us. There was no reason for this other than that I dared to say: Doran’s talk about a blazing dispute between Prince Naif and Prince Abdullah is silly, and does not rise to the level of academic discussion about the Kingdom.

Here time has proved the exact opposite of what Doran said. When Prince Abdullah became King, he put his trust in Prince Naif and appointed him as his second deputy. The days have passed, and King Abdullah nominated Prince Naif as his crown prince, the Allegiance Council accepted the King’s nomination, and Prince Naif became the crown prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Where is this conflict between King Abdullah and Prince Naif, which the folks over in Washington with their Michael Doran-types have been giving us a headache over since 11 September 2001? Where is the crisis that has led to the disintegration of the regime, which our friend and his gang from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which is affiliated to Israel, and the group of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, who talk about the Kingdom within the framework of gossip, and not science.?

I do not know what new stories Doran and his clique will invent after Prince Naif, who according to their viewpoint was engaged in a conflict with King Abdullah, has become the crown prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia? I wonder, how Doran and his clique, who attacked me then because of my reply to them and accusing them of naivety in understanding the Kingdom, the entity of high special character, will interpret the coming out to the airport to receive the remains of the late Crown Prince Sultan, and his insistence on being with his brothers at these difficult moments, despite the fact that he recently came out of hospital after a surgery in his back? How can they interpret the fact that Prince Naif himself tried to dissuade King Abdullah from going to the airport fearing for his health?

How can these people interpret this family cohesion, which we see with our own eyes, and how can this be compatible with the theory of the wings and conflicts within the Saudi household and within the Kingdom? Of course this claim does not rise up to the level of science, but unfortunately sometimes charlatans control the dialog in Washington, and drag a superpower of the US size into problems with the world.

For instance, Israel’s clique in Washington wants the United States all the time to ride on the bandwagon of Israel in the Middle East, because in their viewpoint, the enemies of Israel are the enemies of the United States, and anyone who says otherwise either hates and is hostile to the Jews and ought to be punished for his anti-Semitism, or is apologizing on behalf of the Arabs.

This is in Washington. However, in our countries, the person who speaks the truth, or tries to approach the truth in his understanding of the Kingdom is an intellectual bought by the Kingdom.

Therefore, we are in a dilemma in the east and in the west. This dilemma is the basis of the real problem in writing about the Kingdom. The reader in the west and in the Arab radical circles prefers to read attractive illusions rather than the truth.

I do not have a problem in trying to understand the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the areas of dysfunction or distinction in it, in the same manner we study other societies, i.e. we read the economic indicators, in addition to the demographic and population indicators, or the extent of renewal or erosion of legitimacy during a certain period. This is what we do for any regime, and this is what is natural in analysis. On the other hand, the claim by any individual, who visits the Kingdom once or twice, that he knows the details of the conflicts among the members of the royal family, especially the senior members, is closer to charlatanry.

The people of the Kingdom pledge allegiance to Prince Naif as crown prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh and in all the regions of the Kingdom. This allegiance was obtained by King Abdullah twice, once as a crown prince, and the second as a King. Therefore, the Saudi King does not receive the pledge of allegiance only once, but twice, which is a clear popular referendum. Moreover, the Allegiance Commission selects from within the family, and hence there is unanimity from the royal family and the people on the leadership.

The western naivety, promoted by Doran and his kind, about Prince Naif’s hostility to King Abdullah, and which they conveyed to the White House, this naivety has been proved wrong by time, and the reality of politics. But the question remains; Will the west abandon the naivety in attempting to understand the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Middle East region in general?