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Opinion: America’s Saudi Confusion | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Bahraini voters cast ballots in the run-off parliamentary and municipal elections in Manama yesterday (AP)

Before I begin this article I would like to offer my condolences first to the people of Bahrain, and then to the King and people of Saudi Arabia, and the Arab and Islamic world on the passing of King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, may he rest in peace. He was like a gracious and merciful father to Bahrain, which he referred to as his “youngest daughter,” when he rushed to its rescue at the time of distress in March 2011. At the time he said to us: “I have been waiting for you. What took you so long?” We, as Bahrainis, will never forget his words, particularly when he said: “The borders of Riyadh end in Manama and what affects you affects us.”

His words, which were balm to our hearts, determined the stances of the superpowers towards what was being planned against our country. His position directed a fatal blow to a conspiratorial scheme to topple the small state of Bahrain, which was thought to be the weakest link and an easy target. This remained the belief until King Abdullah came to stem the tide of sabotage.

This is how we have always known him to be. And his memory will remain immortal among the people of Bahrain and Egypt as well as other nations to whom he stretched a helping hand. We pray for the late King, may God accept his soul in paradise.

In fact, those who planned to establish a “new Middle East” did not expect this reaction from Saudi Arabia to their project. While the surprise that has been expressed at the smooth succession following the passing of King Abdullah indicates that what they know about the Kingdom contradicts what is really happening inside it. By looking at their newspapers, one can clearly see this surprise—for the second time since 2005 and the death of King Fahd Bin Abdulaziz—at the stability and lack of turmoil in Saudi Arabia. Their research centers and think tanks, such as the RAND Corporation, the Washington Institute and the Hudson Institute, and political analysts such as David Hearst and Robert Fisk, seem to have gotten all their information from the same source. All have flooded successive US administrations with studies that analyze in detail the factors contributing to the weakness of the Kingdom and the differences within the ruling house of Saud, giving the impression that they are more familiar with the Saudi scene than the Saudis themselves.

As is well known, these think tanks have a major impact on decision-makers and consequently help determine US policy towards the region. Nevertheless, they continue to express their surprise at the way the Saudi people respond to events, particularly as what is happening is the opposite of their expectations.

On June 6, 2002 the Hudson Institute organized a seminar entitled “Discourse of Democracy: Saudi Arabia, Friend or Foe?” Others have questioned whether Saudi Arabia is funding, or fighting terrorism. Those studies run against their officials’ statements which confirm that Saudi Arabia is a major supporter of the war on terror, as the Director of RAND Bruce Hoffman told Al-Riyadh newspaper in 2010. He praised the Kingdom’s efforts in the fight on terrorism. They expressed similar surprise at the Saudi oil policy. Simon Henderson of the Washington Institute recently wondered whether the Saudi policy on oil prices is a clever or emotional political game. In an article published after the death of King Abdullah, David Hearst wondered whether the Saudi ruling family was in a state of conflict or harmony. “Are the Saudi-US ties stable?” professor of political science at the University of Vermont Gregory Gause asked. According to Atlantic Council Senior Fellow Barbara Slavin, the statements of Saudi officials do not involve a real intention to change relations with Washington, but rather aim to put pressure on the US to change policies they are dissatisfied with.

This confusion towards Saudi Arabia and all Saudi issues would not concern us if it was not a sign of the extent of the confusion in US policy towards the region in general and the Kingdom in particular. This confusion and uncertainty is the foundation on which the US is basing its policies and scenarios for the region.

What was surprising in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s position towards the so-called “Arab Spring” and particularly its support for Egypt and Bahrain is nothing more than one of a series of surprises that struck American political observers. This was followed by their surprise towards Saudi Arabia’s position towards declining oil price, and following this surprise towards its position on Yemen and finally their surprise regarding the smooth transition of rule. These are all surprises that contradicted their expectations which was built on a plethora of information speaking about the weakness of rule and internal division in the country.

This is the same ignorance and confusion that beset them when the people of Bahrain confronted their plans, and these are all scenarios, policies and projects based on incomplete information or a biased view to the consequences of the foreign policy of the US Democratic Party and its position on Iran, Shi’ite groups and so-called peaceful moderate groups (the Muslim Brotherhood). The information that they built their plans on was that the people of Bahrain are a Shi’ite majority ruled by a Sunni minority, so they supported who they believed and which some think tanks said was the representatives of this majority, and which represented an image of “moderate” Islam. So they were surprised once more, and forced to ask: Who are these people who stood up in Al Fateh Mosque to protest against Bahrain being transformed into an Islamic Republic? Who are the 53 percent of the people who voted and took part in the 2014 elections? Their confusion is not over yet, while there are more surprises on the way.

They have plentiful “intelligence” information, but they lack a proper analysis that can link this information with the mentality of the people, including their approach, culture, customs and traditions and experience. Some writers have attributed the House of Saud’s ability to keep hold of power to its survival “instincts.” The reality in Saudi Arabia is mysterious to the US. I particularly like how one Arab writer described these US think tanks, asking whether they are information brokers or political deal-makers?

In conclusion, there are and will be many surprises for American observers in terms of what is happening in the region and particularly Saudi Arabia. The US has failed to appreciate the extent of the loss it has made in rushing to judgment and drawing up its future policies based on reports and studies by people who have not stepped foot in Saudi Arabia or the Arab world.