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conventional long form: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia conventional short form: Saudi Arabia local long form: Al Mamlakah al Arabiyah as Suudiyah local short form: Al Arabiyah as Suudiyah


AREA: total: 1,960,582 sq km. land: 1,960,582 sq km. water: 0 sq km. lowest point: Persian Gulf 0 m. highest point: Jabal Sawda' 3,133 m. special note:Saudi Arabia is the largest country in the world with no significant rivers.

CLIMATE: harsh, dry desert with great temperature extremes.

TERRAIN: mostly uninhabited, sandy desert. habitable areas mainly along the coast of the Red Sea (the Hijaz, where Mecca and Medina are located) and the central-northeast area, known as the Najd, ancestral home of the Saudi clan and location of the modern capital, Riyadh. The rest of the country is largely comprised of totally uninhabitable wastes, especially in the northwest (an-Nafud) and the southwest (Rub' al-Khali, the "Empty Quarter), a trackless desert larger than most countries of Europe.

NATURAL RESOURCES: petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, gold, copper. Saudi Arabia contains almost 25% of the world's petroleum reserves, mainly along its eastern coast, near the Persian Gulf.

Image:Saudi Man.jpgPEOPLE

POPULATION: 25,795,938 note: includes 5,576,076 non-nationals (July 2004 est.)

ETHNIC GROUPS: Arab 90%, Afro-Asian 10%

RELIGIONS: Muslim 100%

LANGUAGES: Arabic, Gulf Dialect.

Saudi Arabia is the most direct inheritor of the ancient Bedouin nomad tradition of the Arabian peninsula. The kingdom was founded by a bedouin family, and even though the Saudi dynasty has since become a very modern affair, the entire country identifies very strongly with its nomadic heritage, and traditional bedouin hobbies like falconry and camel racing remain very popular sports in the country. There is a small cultural difference between western and eastern regions, with westerners (Hijazis) seen as more cosmopolitan and refined than easterners (Najdis), who are seen as the more direct descendants of desert dwellers. Within this mix is a very large proportion of "guest workers" from the Muslim nations of south and southeast Asia, primarily Pakistanis, Indonesians, Bangladeshis and Malaysians. These guest workers do not have formal rights of citizenship, are not permitted freedom of movement throughout the country, and are seen by many outsiders as essentially constituting a slave caste within Saudi society, a charge the government obviously denies.

Religiously, Saudi Arabia subscribes to a very conservative form of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism or Salafism, depending on one's research perspective. This faith stems from the 18th-century Najdi religious leader Abd'l-Wahhab, who sought to reinvigorate "pure" Islam amongst the Arabian bedouin, many of whom worshipped Islam in strange local varieties. Wahhab united his puritanical vision with the warlord of the Saudi clan, and the union of religious fervor and tribal loyalties eventually led to the conquest of the entire peninsula. Wahhabis are generally considered intolerant of other faiths, particularly Shiites, and "fundamentalist," in that they do not subscribe to any religious interpretations outside the Qur'an itself. This has profoundly effected the Saudi political and legal system (more below).

Internationally, the faith of Saudi Arabia is important because Saudi money has allowed Wahhabism to be exported more widely than any other breed of Islam, particularly to regions recovering from military and humanitarian crises. The Saudis take their role as the leaders of global Islam very seriously, and this means that Saudi money is spread widely throughout the Islamic world, particularly in the form of humanitarian aid missions. Along with these aid missions come Wahhabi missionaries, which tend to create societies where young generations now look to Saudi Arabia directly for religious guidance, including:

Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Egypt, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Thailand, Yemen

while this kind of religious authority has made the Saudi religious establishment incredibly powerful internationally, it has also created many problems for the kingdom, because these global outreach projects tend to promote extremism and sometimes even armed conflict, making Saudi money a contributing factor to international conflicts throughout the Islamic world.

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Much of Saudi Arabia's religious authority derives from the fact that is controls the two "Holy Cities" of Islam, Mecca and Medina. Medina was the first city ruled by the prophet Muhammad, where much of the Qur'an and subsequent Islamic legal history developed, and Mecca, the great pilgrimage city of the Middle East, where Muslims converge yearly in a pilgrimage festival called the Hajj to worship god before the Ka'aba, a cubic temple-structure Muslims believe was built directly by Adam, then refurbished by Abraham. The Saudis spend billions yearly on supplementing this festival, particularly in the form of travel awards to Muslims from poorer countries, and this extensive philanthropy gives the Saudi monarchy an unbeatable claim to leadership of the world's Sunnis.


CURRENCY: Saudi Riyal (SAR)

GDP: purchasing power parity - $287.8 billion (2004 est.

AGRICULTURE PRODUCTS: wheat, barley, tomatoes, melons, dates, citrus; mutton, chickens, eggs, milk

INDUSTRIES: crude oil production, petroleum refining, basic petrochemicals, cement, construction, fertilizer, plastics

EXPORTS: petroleum and petroleum products 90%

IMPORTS: machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, chemicals, motor vehicles, textiles

This is an oil-based economy with strong government controls over major economic activities. Saudi Arabia has the largest reserves of petroleum in the world (25% of the proved reserves), ranks as the largest exporter of petroleum, and plays a leading role in OPEC. The petroleum sector accounts for roughly 75% of budget revenues, 45% of GDP, and 90% of export earnings. About 40% of GDP comes from the private sector. Roughly five and a half million foreign workers play an important role in the Saudi economy, for example, in the oil and service sectors. The government is encouraging private sector growth to lessen the kingdom's dependence on oil and increase employment opportunities for the swelling Saudi population. Priorities for government spending in the short term include additional funds for education and for the water and sewage systems. Economic reforms proceed cautiously because of deep-rooted political and social conservatism.


The government of Saudi Arabia, the lynchpin of the international petroleum economy,is an almost absurdly wealthy entity. This has been a traditional strength and weakness of the country as a whole. As an asset, this has obviously allowed the Saudis to become indordinately influential in international politics, particularly within the Muslim world, as mentioned above. It has also allowed the Saudis to develop a formidable military and an incredible array of social services for its citizens, making a relatively large population possible in an otherwise inhospitable environment. This very wealth is also Saudi Arabia's great weakness, however: by operating under the assumption that money can solve most problems, the Saudis have been able to avoid many hard issues which are essential to the responsible function of government, such as diversification of the economy beyond just petroleum products. Likewise, due to the incredible social services provided by the monarchy, Saudis do not have a strong incentive to become highly skilled or well educated--this has led to a dependence on outside contractors, technicians, and simple migrant workers to bolster an economy which many Saudis themselves do not see the need to contribute to. by providing amazing social services to its citizens, the Saudis have created a population which has traditionally accepted autocratic rule.



As a result of the "Basic Law" enacted by the first Saudi king, the entire country is actually the property of the al-Saud royal family. All important governmental positions are appointed by the King, which roughly correspond to the British ministerial system. The king himself, and his crown prince, are appointed from amongst the 44 sons of the Saudi founder Abd'l-Aziz ibn al-Saud; the exact mechanism of succession is kept a secret, but obviously involves a complex system of politicking and intrigue amongst the powerful members of the royal family.

LEGAL SYSTEM: based on Islamic law, several secular codes have been introduced; commercial disputes handled by special committees; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction.

The Saudi legal system is primarily based on the criminal code outlined by the Qur'an, a collection of strictures and punishments known as the Hudud. The most notable of these laws include the forced segregation and veiling of women and the amputation of limbs for criminal offenses, up to and including beheading for crimes against the state. Courts are overseen by Wahhabi sheykhs, who are largely independent of the royal family, including the direct descendants of Abd'l-Wahhab, who form a clerical elite within the Saudi religious establishment.

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CHIEF OF STATE: King and Prime Minister Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud; Crown Prince and First Deputy Prime Minister Sultan bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud. Abdullah is also the Head of Government.

CABINET: Council of Ministers is appointed by the monarch and includes many royal family members

LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY: The Saudi system does not allow for any representative body akin to a parliament or congress, as it is an absolutely monarchy. The closest analogue would be the "Advisory Council," a body of almost 200 Saudi community leaders and influential clerics appointed to advise the king, though they do not have any legislative ability.


BRANCHES: Land Force (Army), Navy, Air Force, Air Defense Force, National Guard, Ministry of Interior Forces (paramilitary)

AGE AND OBLIGATION: 18 years of age (est.); no conscription (2004)

EXPENDITURES DOLLAR FIGURE: $18 billion (2002), 10% (2002))

The Saudi military has not had to directly fight since the unification of the kingdom in 1932, though it did contribute advisors during the Yemeni civil war and mobilized units during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Regardless, international assessments have concluded that the Saudis have a very strong military potential. Through their close alliance with the US they are able to buy an incredible array of weaponry (comparable to that of Israel or NATO members). Likewise, they have a strong tradition of military training for their officer corps, and thus most Saudi commanders have received educations equal to that of British or American officers.


Image:Saudi BNW.jpgOrigins of Saudi Arabia

As a political unit, Saudi Arabia is of relatively recent creation. Its origins lay with the puritanical Wahhabi movement (18th cent.), which gained the allegiance of the powerful Saud family of the Nejd, in central Arabia. Supported by a large Bedouin following, the Sauds brought most of the peninsula under their control, except for Yemen and the Hadhramaut in the extreme south. The Wahhabi movement was crushed (1811’18) by an Egyptian expedition under the sons of Muhammad Ali. After reviving in the mid-19th cent., the Wahhabis were defeated in 1891 by the Rashid dynasty, which gained effective control of central Arabia.

It was Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud, known as Ibn Saud, a descendant of the first Wahhabi rulers, who laid the basis of the present Saudi Arabian state. Beginning the Wahhabi reconquest at the turn of the century, Ibn Saud took Riyadh in 1902 and was master of the Nejd by 1906. On the eve of World War I he conquered the Al-Hasa region from the Ottoman Turks and soon extended his control over other areas. He was then ready for the conquest of the Hejaz, ruled since 1916 by Husayn ibn Ali of Mecca. The Hejaz fell to Saud in 1924’25 and in 1932 was combined with the Nejd to form the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy, ruled under Islamic law. In much of the country, King Ibn Saud compelled the Bedouins to abandon traditional ways and encouraged their settlement as farmers.

Image:AbdulAziz.jpgDevelopment of the Modern State

Oil was discovered in 1936 by the U.S.-owned Arabian Standard Oil Company, which later became the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco). Commercial production began in 1938. Saudi Arabia is a charter member of the United Nations. It joined the Arab League in 1945, but it played only a minor role in the Arab wars with Israel in 1948, 1967, and 1973. An agreement with the United States in 1951 provided for an American air base at Dhahran, which was maintained until 1962. Ibn Saud died in 1953 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Saud, who soon came to rely on his brother, Crown Prince Faisal (Faisal ibn Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud), to administer financial and foreign affairs. King Saud at first supported the Nasser regime in Egypt, but in 1956, in opposition to Nasser, he entered into close relations with the Hashemite rulers of Jordan and Iraq, until then the traditional enemies of the Saudis. He opposed the union in 1958 of Egypt and Syria as the United Arab Republic and became a bitter foe of Nasser's pan-Arabism and reform program. When, in Sept., 1962, pro-Nasser revolutionaries in neighboring Yemen deposed the new imam and declared a republic, King Saud, together with King Hussein of Jordan, dispatched aid to the royalist troops. The Saudi family deposed Saud, and Prince Faisal became king in Nov., 1964.

Relations with Egypt were severed in 1962, but after the defeat of Egypt by Israel in June, 1967, an agreement was concluded between King Faisal and President Nasser. According to the agreement, the Egyptian army was to withdraw from Yemen and Saudi Arabia was to cease aiding the Yemeni royalists. By 1970, Saudi Arabia had withdrawn all its troops, and relations with Yemen were resumed. Saudi Arabia also agreed to give $140 million a year to Egypt and Jordan, which had been devastated in the 1967 war with Israel. In view of Britain's withdrawal from the Persian Gulf area, King Faisal pursued a policy of friendship with Iran, while encouraging the Arab sheikhdoms that had been under British rule to form the United Arab Emirates. King Faisal, however, maintained claims to the Buraimi oases, which were also claimed by the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi.

In 1972 the government of Saudi Arabia demanded tighter rein on its oil industry as well as participation in the oil concessions of foreign companies. Aramco (a conglomerate of several American oil companies) and the government reached an agreement in June, 1974, whereby the Saudis would take a 60% majority ownership of the company's concessions and assets. The concept of participation was developed by the Saudi Arabian government as an alternative to nationalization. King Faisal played an active role in organizing the Arab oil embargo of 1973, directed against the United States and other nations that supported Israel; as U.S. oil prices soared, Saudi revenues increased. Relations with the United States improved with the signing (1974) of cease-fire agreements between Israel and Egypt and Israel and Syria (both mediated by U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger) and by the visit (June, 1974) of President Richard M. Nixon to Jidda.

Contemporary Saudi Arabia

As a result of Saudi Arabia's increased wealth, its quest for stability, and its improved relations with Western nations, the country began an extensive military build-up in the 1970s. On Mar. 25, 1975, King Faisal was assassinated by his nephew Prince Faisal. Crown Prince Khalid (Khalid ibn Abd al-Aziz al-Saud) then became the new king, stressing Islamic orthodoxy and conservatism while expanding the country's economy, its social programs, and its educational structures. Saudi Arabia denounced the 1979 agreement between Israel and Egypt and terminated diplomatic relations with Egypt (since renewed). Saudi leaders opposed both the leftist and radical movements that were growing throughout the Arab world, and in the 1970s sent troops to help quell leftist revolutions in Yemen and Oman.

Saudi religious interests were threatened by the fall of Iran's shah in 1979 and by the growth of Islamic fundamentalism. In Nov., 1979, Muslim fundamentalists calling for the overthrow of the Saudi government occupied the Great Mosque in Mecca. After two weeks of fighting the siege ended, leaving a total of 27 Saudi soldiers and over 100 rebels dead. Sixty-three more rebels were later publicly beheaded. In 1980, Shiite Muslims led a series of riots that were put down by the government, which promised to reform the distribution of Saudi wealth. Saudi Arabia supported Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War throughout the 1980s. In May, 1981, it joined Persian Gulf nations in the formation of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to promote economic cooperation between the participating countries. Khalid died in June, 1982, and was succeeded by his half-brother, Prince Fahd ibn Abdul Aziz.

By the early 1980s, Saudi Arabia had gained full ownership of Aramco. Saudi support of Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War became increasingly problematic in the mid-1980s as Iran's threats, especially regarding oil interests, nearly led to Saudi entanglement in the war. Iranian pilgrims rioted in Mecca during the hajj in 1987, causing clashes with Saudi security troops. More than 400 people were killed. This incident, along with Iranian naval attacks on Saudi ships in the Persian Gulf, caused Saudi Arabia to break diplomatic relations with Iran. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in Aug., 1990, King Fahd agreed to the stationing of U.S. and international coalition troops on Saudi soil. Thousands of Saudi troops participated in the Persian Gulf War (1991) against Iraq. The country took in Kuwait's royal family and more than 400,000 Kuwaiti refugees. Though little ground fighting occurred in Saudi Arabia, the cities of Riyadh, Dhahran, and outlying areas were bombed by Iraqi missiles. Coalition troops largely left Saudi Arabia in late 1991; several thousand U.S. troops remained. In 1995 and 1996 terrorist bombings in Riyadh and Dharan killed several American servicemen.

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Following the Gulf War, King Fahd returned to a conservative Arab stance, wary of greater Western cooperation. Reforms instituted in the wake of the Gulf War included the creation of a Shura (advisory council), with rights to review but not overrule government acts, promulgation of a bill of rights, and a revision in the procedures for choosing the king. However, these measures left the royal family's power basically undiminished. In 1995 the king created a Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, composed of royal family members and other appointees, in an apparent effort to establish a counterweight to the Ulemas Council, an advisory body of highly conservative Muslim theologians. In the late 1990s, Crown Prince Abdullah, the king's half-brother and heir to the throne since 1982, effectively became the country's ruler because of King Fahd's poor health. Under the crown prince, the country has been more openly frustrated with and critical of U.S. support for Israel. A treaty with Yemen that ended border disputes dating to the 1930s was signed in 2000, and early the next year both nations withdrew their troops from the border area in compliance with the pact.

The Saudi government restricted the use of American bases in the country during the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003), and by Sept., 2003, all U.S. combat forces were withdrawn from the country. Also in 2003, the king issued a decree giving the Shura the authority to propose new laws without first seeking his permission. The move was perhaps prompted in part by rare protests in favor of government reform; the kingdom also was shaken by violent incidents, including a massive car bomb attack against a residential compound in Riyadh, involving Islamic militants. Such terror attacks continued into 2004.



Since then, the monarchy has passed to Abdullah, another of Abdul Aziz’s 44 sons. Abdullah is a widely considered to be conservative as far as religion and regional politics go, but in some ways this has given him greater freedom to maneuver than his brother Fahd, who spent the entirety of his reign battling allegations of corruption and general impiety. Abdullah is considered a strong ruler, and has openly allied himself with other powerful figures within the ruling family, most notably his brother Sultan and Sultan’s influential son, former ambassador to the United States Bandar ibn Sultan. Taken together, the ruling faction of Saudi Arabia has tried to deal with the international fallout of 9/11 and the subsequent invasion of Iraq, which has meant pursuing a policy along certain lines, including:

Rehabilitation of the Saudi image: After 9/11 it became common knowledge that Saudi citizens often manifest incredibly conservative religious beliefs, in keeping with the state faith of Wahhabism. Unfortunately for the Saudis, it has since become clear that many wealthy Saudis have used oil money to support Sunni militants throughout the world, which has led to a fraying of ties with the United States, which, owing to domestic pressures, can no longer countenance having close ties with a regime seen to embody radical Islamic values. A key goal of the Saudis, then, has been refurbishing its image into that of an internationally responsible actor in the US-led “War on Terror.” Domestically, this has meant that Saudi security services actively work at curbing religious zealotry within the Kingdom, and are actively discouraging the aforementioned tendency of wealthy Saudis to “donate” money to causes that are militant in nature.

Negotiating the Iraq Quagmire: Owing to the US invasion of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, as leader of the Arab world, has been forced to ride the waves of discontent current wracking the region. Politically speaking, this has meant that the Saudis have worked incredibly hard to keep other governments from opposing the American occupation directly, either in speech or by sending money and weapons directly to Iraqi insurgents. This program has been targeted especially at Egypt, home to a large, discontent and deeply religious population, and Syria, through which most Sunni insurgents are believed to penetrate Iraq. Although Saudi Arabia was by no means pleased with America’s invasion, Abdullah’s government has since become resigned to the fact that American forces are currently stopping Iraq from disintegrating any further.

Containing the Shiites: the current political order of the Middle East is based the principle of a handful of Sunni elites ruling over predominantly Sunni Arab populations. Shiites challenge this system, but were generally spread out over enough states to make them containable, if not absorbable, by the Sunni order. The collapse of Iraq changed all of that. Iraq was the traditional Arab line of defense against Iranian influence in the Arab world, but with the downfall of Saddam Hussein, Iran’s revolutionary clerics have been free to begin exerting influence over Arab Shiites, most notably in Iraq and Lebanon, where Iran’s clients, the Hezbollah, stunned the world by surviving a war against the legendary Israeli military in July 2006. Abdullah blamed Hezbollah for starting this war, and was afterwards forced to eat his words when Hezbollah, and its Iranian backers, seemed to emerge with a newfound credibility for standing up to Israel. Likewise, in December 2006 Abdullah warned American Vice-President Dick Cheney that if the US pulled out of Iraq before the country was stabilized, Saudi Arabia would start directly funding Sunni rebels to forestall what they declare will be Iranian-backed Shiite attempts to ethnically cleanse the country of its Sunnis. Saudi Arabia is thus taking a hard line against what some have called the “Shiite Revival,” and in January 2007 Abdullah directly warned the Iranian government not to meddle in Arab affairs, much less to empower a religious minority, the Arab Shiites, which most Saudis see as absolutely heretical.

Foreign Relations

As the most wealthy and strategically significant country in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has a complex web of alliances and rivalries amongst all significant players in regional politics.

Israel: Although the Saudis are the official patrons of a very intolerant and anti-Semitic form of Islam, Wahhabism, the Saudis are a pragmatic dynasty, and the fact is that they have always acknowledged the need to deal, clandestinely, with a country of Israel’s military power. Besides a number of complicated semi-secret arms deals since the 1970s, the Saudis have lately become closer to Israel as a result of the growing power of Iran and Hezbollah. In the July War, King Abdullah squarely accused Hezbollah of starting the conflict irresponsibly, which in the war’s aftermath left Saudi Arabia out of step with regional politics, seriously embarrassing King Abdullah. All the same, to deal with the growing power of Iran, the Saudis have begun holding semi-secret talks with the Israelis to reinvigorate the Peace Process, the logic being that if the Saudis are able to force the Israelis to sign a fair deal with the Palestinians, it will seriously weaken the influence of Iran over Hamas and completely remove Hezbollah from the strategic equation of Israel and Lebanon. Bandar bin Sultan is believed to be leading these efforts, though both the Saudis and the Israelis are keeping the matter quiet on an official level.


Lebanon: As part of its greater plan to stymie the influence of Shiites across the region, Saudi Arabia strongly supports the current Sunni-Druze government of Fouad Siniora and Saad Hariri in their political dispute with Hezbollah. Saudi diplomats have spearheaded Arab League efforts to reach a solution to this impasse, which as of early 2007 have proven unsuccessful, though it looks like extensive foreign support from the Saudis and the EU might be enough to keep the Siniora government financially solvent.

Syria: Syria was once the main ally of the USSR, but with the downfall of communism the Syrian regime found itself facing bankruptcy and a growing military gap with Israel. The Saudis have stepped into the gap once filled by Soviet backers, and provide billions yearly to help the Asad regime afloat. This is by no means an altruistic relationship: the Syrian regime’s known support of militant movements gives them a certain ability to blackmail the Saudis, and for the Saudis it is good PR to still appear to be supporting the Arab cause by funding Syria’s interminable rivalry with Israel. Saudi Arabia encourages Syria to establish normal ties with Lebanon, but will under no circumstances help Syria reestablish direct control over the country, especially if it leads to the overall empowering of Syria’s ally, Hezbollah.


Iran: Despite the fact that they are rivals in a larger strategic sense, relations are fairly good between Iran and the Kingdom. This is once again a purely pragmatic decision: the devout Wahhabis within the Saudi royal family find the idea of a Shiite theocracy, especially a Persian Shiite theocracy that meddles in Arab affairs, absolutely abhorrent. The détente between Iran and Saudi Arabia stems from the fact that both governments realize the oil security of the Persian Gulf is too important to threaten over religious disputes. Recent events have seriously stressed this relationship, especially the escalating civil war in Iraq and the purported Iranian nuclear weapons program. King Abdullah has recently warned Iran directly against intervening in Arab affairs, and prince Bandar has been reportedly building a coalition of Saudi princes to take a tough line against Iran, with the support of the Americans and perhaps even Israel.

Hamas: Saudi Arabia has traditionally been a generous patron of Hamas, especially through private donations from rich Saudis who the government claims to have no control over. This relationship is not a perfect match, however: since Hamas was elected to government, the Saudi government has been frustrated by Meshaal and Haniyeh’s total unwillingness to accommodate Israel, which wreaks havoc with Saudi plans for regional stability and might play into the hands of Saudi Arabia’s potential enemies, Syria and Iran. To quell the threat of a possible palestinian civil war, in early 2007 the Saudis made clear that they are leading the effort to create a national unity government between Abbas and Hamas, most likely involving Haniyeh stepping down. Egypt is cooperating in this effort, but it is a largely Saudi initiative at the moment.

Palestinian Moderates: In many ways the Saudis would prefer to have Abbas’ wing come out on top of the Palestinian power struggle, even though Hamas has religious views which mesh much better with Wahhabism. All the same, Abbas and Fatah have proven that they are willing to negotiate and take part in the Peace Process, though the Saudis undoubtedly wish that Abbas and Fatah’s militants would impose a stronger sensee of order over the fractious Palestinian elites.

Russia: The Saudis became patrons of radical Sunni movements and staunch allies of America because they hated and feared communism, and the threat it posed to their religiously based monarchy. Relations with the soviet successor state, the Russian Federation, have proven better, but the Saudis are still much more willing to deal with the EU and the US.

European Union: In early 2007, the Saudis declared a purchase of up to 72 Eurofighter Typhoon Fighter Jets from the EU, marking a strategic shift from the Saudis’ standard policy of only buying American hardware. The Saudis declared that they intend to diversify their military by looking to other suppliers, which some see as a sign that the Kingdom will begin to interact much more with the EU on a military level. As it stands right now, however, relations with the Europeans are very strong, because the Saudis supply a significant portion of Europe’s fossil fuel needs, and as a result the Saudis have invested heavily in many European economies. Socially, however, relations are less smooth: the trend in Europe towards secularism in politics and the EU’s strong human rights record have made many Europeans critical of the religiously based Saudi monarchy, and the harsh Islamic justice it imposes on its citizens.

United States: the Saudis are reported to own holdings in more than 11% of the 10 trillion dollar American economy, and the Americans are acknowledged by all as the undisputed protectors of the Saudi regime, most recently via two massive army bases in the northern Arabian desert, built after Desert Storm in 1991. As a result of this conflict, and the strong support President George H.W. Bush showed to the Saudi regime, the Saudis developed a very strong relationship with the Bush family, culminating in current US President George W. Bush. Much of the current American administration has strong ties to the oil industry, and peripherally, to many members of the Saudi royal family. As a result, the Saudis have a great degree of access to the American government, and likewise the American government has a great degree of influence over Saudi governmental policies. This close relationship has been sorely tried by the Iraq war, which many Saudis see resulting in a bloody Sunni-Shiite civil war culminating in an Iranian-Saudi regional war. From the perspective of Americans, the Saudis are just as aggravating: after 9/11 Americans have become hypersensitive to Islamic extremism, which Americans now associate closely with the Saudi regime. The Saudis have promised to keep their extremists in line, and the Americans have promised to stabilize Iraq and contain Iran, but for both parties it is becoming increasingly obvious that this strategic relationship produces as many constraints as it does benefits.


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