Thursday, August 29, 2013

Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria

It seems to me there is a paradox at the heart of recent events: while his policy towards Syria is given as a reason for the overthrowing of Morsi, at the time it was seen as part of a general hardening of Sunni Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, towards the Assad regime and, of course, Saudi Arabia has been a strong supporter of  of Morsi's overthrow.

One of main priorities of
Saudi foreign policy, evidently, is the struggle against Iran and Shi'ism in general. It is also, though, informed by hostility towards the Muslim Brotherhood.Joseph Kechichian, on Newshour (BBC WS, 18/8, 21:50) says this is because of the MB's "extremism", which does not take us very far. Frank Gardner (BBC WS, 20/08 11:12) says Saudi Arabia (and the UAE) cannot stand the MB, they view them as an existential threat. They are regret having hired lots of Egyptian teachers in the 60's, who then spread the MB message in Saudi Arabia.

Khalil Anani says that Saudi Arabia fears MB links to Iran (on Al Jazeera, 17/8, 14:45).  Certainly,  there is a link there,  from the MB to Hamas,  through to Hezbollah and Iran.  According to the Lebanese paper As-Safir (Why is Saudi Arabia Backing The Egyptian Revolution? ),  Gulf countries agreed to support the new regime "because the Saudi request was accompanied by a reassurance that Egypt after the Brotherhood will be a base of stability in the region,   and because Iran had a significant alliance with the Brotherhood.  So a revolution [i.e. the coup or counter-revolution] in Egypt will strengthen the anti-Iran front.  It will also weaken Iran’s project to "export the revolution" and cause problems for "Arab conservatives."

As-Safir again: "Saudi Arabia usually adopts policies that match its regime’s conservative nature. It is a regime that is resistant to internal change and to revolution — any revolution in any Arab country."

Finally, it is clear that Saudi Arabia acts as a force against democracy in the region (while remaining on good terms with Western democracies such as the US and Britain).  Bruce Riedel, in Saudi Arabia and The Illusory Counterrevolution:
In Syria, of course, the Saudis have backed the revolution against Bashar al-Assad but they are not eager for Assad to be replaced by a democratic, reformist regime. They would prefer a new strongman in Damascus but one who is a Sunni Arab who will tilt the country toward Saudi Arabia and away from Iran.
It probably thinks that the chances of a longlasting democratic outcome in Syria are pretty low.  Regarding Egypt's position on Syria,  it probably considers this does not matter much one way or another.
[ Update: on 1/9, at the Arab League meeting, Algeria, Iraq and Lebanon opposed US airstrikes and wanted a UNSC resolution (BBC WS, 9:00). Juan Cole has a map, which though unexplained, shows Egypt in the camp of Russia, Iran, Assad-controlled Syria ... (red), though edged in blue - aligned with Saudi Arabia  and other Sunni Arab countries.  ]

Incidentally, Riedel also has a reminder: 
Bahrain, too, is also far from stable. It is hard to get reliable information on the situation in Manama, largely ignored by the foreign press, but incidents of violence appear to be more frequent and more sophisticated.
Posted 10 Sep 2013


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