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The Saudi Counter-Revolution

G-8 leaders pledged $20 billion in support of the Arab uprising in a communique. That same communique acknowledged that member nations did not follow through on their prior pledges of aid to Africa. All of the successful Arab revolutions thus far have been in Africa. I’m not expecting much out of that $20 billion.

The truth is that G-8 nations will do what they have done almost completely to this point, with respect to the Arab uprising: follow the lead of Saudi Arabia, which has generally managed the response.

Saudi Arabia is flexing its financial and diplomatic might across the Middle East in a wide-ranging bid to contain the tide of change, shield fellow monarchs from popular discontent and avert the overthrow of any more leaders struggling to calm turbulent republics.

From Egypt, where the Saudis dispensed $4 billion in aid last week to shore up the ruling military council, to Yemen, where it is trying to ease out the president, to the kingdoms of Jordan and Morocco, which it has invited to join a union of Gulf monarchies, Saudi Arabia is scrambling to forestall more radical change and block Iran’s influence.

The kingdom is aggressively emphasizing the relative stability of monarchies, part of an effort to avert any dramatic shift from the authoritarian model, which would generate uncomfortable questions about the glacial pace of political and social change at home.

So far, I would say that the United States has gone along with this. Despite the apparent “anger” from the Saudis about President Obama nudging Hosni Mubarak out of power, they have supported the military transition as the Saudis have. They joined with Saudi Arabia to sponsor the agreement in Yemen for a transition, which Ali Abdullah Saleh has yet to take. They stood by almost mute as Saudi troops went into Bahrain to put down a rebellion. They’ve said even less about Jordan and Morocco.

The Saudis are trying to hold on to the kingdom theory of the Middle East, aggressively promoting their setup as one that allows for stability. Which is a magic word, because to the West it means “your oil will reach your shores on time.” I think it’s fair to call this a counter-revolution, because it perpetuates a deeply corrupt status quo. This is the normal course of events:

In 1952, after toppling the Egyptian king, Gamal Abdel Nasser worked to destabilize all monarchs, inspiring a regicide in Iraq and eventually the overthrow of King Idris of Libya. Saudi Arabia was locked in confrontation with Egypt throughout the 1960s, and it is determined not to relive that period.

“We are back to the 1950s and early 1960s, when the Saudis led the opposition to the revolutions at that time, the revolutions of Arabism,” said Mohammad F. al-Qahtani, a political activist in Riyadh.

And the West is being led by the nose, selling images of freedom and democracy back home while huddling with the Saudis in their fight to maintain their own power.

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David Dayen

David Dayen