January 25, 2002 Special Dispatch No. 336

Saudi Shura Council Member: Saudi Arabia Should Seek a Strategic Alternative to U.S.

January 25, 2002
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 336

On January 18, 2002, The Washington Post ran an article quoting unnamed top Saudi officials who expressed hopesthat the U.S. would end its military presence in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi sources stated that this presence had becomea "liability" due to the Saudi public's hostility to the U.S. A few days earlier, columnist Dr. Othman Al-Rawwaf, amember of the Saudi Shura Council, published an article in the Saudi London-based daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat callingfor shifting the Saudi focus from the U.S. to Europe. Following are excerpts from the article:

Difficulties in Saudi-U.S. Relations[1]
"From their inception, Saudi-U.S. relations were based primarily on mutual strategic interests connected to oil and the transfer of advanced technology to Saudi Arabia. This led to a friendship between the two sides that became closer over time. However, from the outset, these relations faced two major challenges:"

"First, there is disagreement between the two, as Saudi Arabia is opposed to Washington's policy of absolute support for Israel. Second, there is a big difference between the cultural and political values of Saudi and American societies…"

The U.S. Media Campaign Against Saudi Arabia
"The events of September 11, 2001 exacerbated the challenges to the relations between the two countries. The official relationship between Riyadh and Washington was not greatly affected, due to the mutual strategic and economic interests. However, the American media and some American political commentators in research institutes have launched an extremely virulent media campaign against Saudi Arabia, which continues up to this very moment."

"The campaign was linked primarily to the Palestinian problem and the differences in values – with which U.S.-Saudi relations have been coping for half a century."

"Some of the columnists participating in the [media] campaign are well known for their pro-Israel bias and criticism of Arabs and Muslims. They enlist their pens [to] attack the Arab states that lead the struggle against Israel."

"It goes without saying that during the 1990s, Saudi Arabia sharply objected to normalization with Israel… and led the Arab countries in support of the Intifada and in defense of the rights of the Palestinian people in all regional and international forums."

"Some of these columnists… have [now] found a golden opportunity to pressure Saudi Arabia, or to settle accounts with it…

They demand that Washington adopt a hostile attitude towards Saudi Arabia…"

"It is also obvious that the American media campaign against Saudi Arabia is for the most part directly linked to the differences between Saudi and American cultural and political values..."

"What is new in the current media campaign against Saudi Arabia is the linking of Wahhabism with violence and the claim that Saudi schoolbooks educate to violence and extremism."

"It is known that Sheikh Muhammad bin Abd Al-Wahhab's movement is one of religious reform, not a political movement calling for confrontation and clashes with the West. This movement's foundations go back over 250 years, and the Saudi state arose upon them from its inception. This continued through to the modern Saudi state, which many in America and Europe have, during the past 40 years, described as moderate, wise, and renouncing violence…"

"So why, suddenly, do they attack Muhammad bin Abd Al-Wahhab's movement with [such] lack of objectivity?"

"The claim that the Saudi curriculum educates towards extremism and violence is another issue that can be neither accepted nor scientifically substantiated. During the 1980s and '90s, Egypt and Algeria witnessed violent and barbaric acts, perpetrated by extremist groups in the name of Islam. It is known that the curricula in both these countries… differ from the Saudi curriculum, and do not include such intensive study of religious subjects… If the curricula are the main reason for extremism, we shouldn't be seeing violence and extremism in Algeria and Egypt…"

"… [W]hat can be said, then, about the future of Saudi-U.S. relations after September 11?"

"… [A]s of today it is difficult to take [either] an optimistic or pessimistic approach. Perhaps, as some think, relations will continue as before… based on mutual interests – despite September 11 and despite… America's continued… support for Israel, and despite… the American media war on Saudi culture and religion…"

Replace U.S. With Europe
"Perhaps Saudi Arabia will start relying on Europe more than on the U.S. for partnership in economic and strategic interests. Perhaps America will accept this situation if it realizes that linking Saudi interests to Europe will not directly harm its own interests. If America decides that its main interests are linked to Israel at this stage, then it would be natural for Saudi Arabia to seek another partner to serve its interests."

"This partner – who would replace America and be able to enter into a strong relationship of mutual interests [with Saudi Arabia] – is Europe. America will find it difficult to oppose the strengthening of interest-based ties between Europe and Saudi Arabia. Countries with different interests may go their separate ways, without necessarily becoming enemies."

"In truth, Europe today is an important part of the [mutual] interests of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. In the event that this scenario comes to pass, what will change is that Europe will replace America as Saudi Arabia's first strategic ally – and, in the new framework of Saudi-Western relations, America will take second place."[2]

[1] Subheadings added by the translator.

[2] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), January 15, 2002.

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