September 27, 2005

The Saudis: Why They are Not Liking Us?

I was asked by a friend who recently returned from a trip to Egypt. He was told by some Egyptians that they were not enamored of the Saudis and asked if I had ever heard that. My reply:

The Saudis are not universally liked for several reasons.

They have alienated much of the Muslim world for their embrace andcontinued support of Wahhabi Islam, a fundamentalist adherence that drives people like Usamah Bin Ladin and Abu Mus'ib Az-Zarqawi, in addition to the Saudi royal family. They came to power in the peninsula by subduing or co-opting the other tribes. One tribe/family that they ejected from the Hijaz was the Bani Hashim - direct descendants of the prophet - or as we know them today, the Hashemites. They were the initial ruling family ofIraq, and are still on the throne in Jordan.

The oil wealth has transformed the House of Sa'ud from desert warriors to a bunch of wealthy, hypocritical spoiled brats. They run the country like it is their private property, despite machinations to wrap themselves in the mantle of Islam - changing the title of the monarch from King to Custodian of the Two Holy Places, things like that.

There is real resentment and unrest in the Magic Kingdom. If the royal family does not address the political aspirations of the newly emerging technocrats that have been schooled at some of the best universities in the world, we may be looking at Iran in about 1975, when the first cracks started to appear. Add to this the fundamentalist backlash to the relationship between the royal family and the United States - fueling organizations like Al-Qa'idah.

On a more direct level, Saudis are arrogant travelers and tourists. They demand all the things they cannot have in Saudi Arabia - wine,women and song, and they have the money to buy all three. When I was stationed in Damascus, I used to frequent the bars and night clubs looking for contacts (tough job, but somebody had to do it). In the summer, the place was overrun with Saudis, since Damascus sits at a little over 2000 feet elevation and the weather was pleasant year 'round. The Saudis would show up with major money and start offering young Syrian girls (who are quite pretty, much more so than the Egyptians) more than the equivalent of three months pay for one night with them. Can you blame some of the girls for giving in? Then there was an outbreak of AIDS as these same Saudis were often frequent travelers to the sex shops of Thailand. The Iranian "pilgrims" to the holy sites in Lebanon and Syria were not as bad, but only because they hadless money.

During Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the Saudis acted pretty much the same way with everyone - "You are mere servants." When I got into a conversation about the inequities of wealth distribution in what they like to call the "Arab Nation" (a myth as far as I amconcerned), a Saudi brigadier just shrugged and said, "God meant for us to be rich." How do you argue with that? Sort of like theIsraelis and the "God gave this land to me" argument.

Yeah, they're real sweethearts. You may ask why my book is banned in the Kingdom.