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|House of Saud looks close to collapse|
|11/23/01 at 21:30:25|
|House of Saud looks close to collapse|
Modern Saudi Arabia is supported by the US and Britain in order to guarantee
a steady flow of oil. Their war on terrorism could destroy it
David Leigh and Richard Norton-Taylor
Wednesday November 21, 2001
While tabloid cheerleaders and spin doctors have been celebrating the fall
of Kabul and the retreat of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters, the mood in other
parts of Whitehall is much more sombre. For senior ministerial advisers know
that the real cancer in the Middle East is not Afghanistan, but Saudi
Fears are growing that the important but anachronistic country which spawned
Osama bin Laden and many of the September 11 hijackers faces the real
prospect of a coup. "The Saudi royals have been paying off the terrorists
with danegeld for a long while," says one well-placed source. "There is a
danger that well-educated returnees from US colleges who cannot get work
will make common cause with the people of the souks and overthrow them."
This week, newspapers, including the Economist and Time magazine, published
extensive and flattering advertisements placed by the Saudi regime - a clear
indication of its concern about the future, as well as the bad publicity
seeping out about its past links with Bin Laden and the Taliban.
Modern Saudi Arabia is to an extent a perverted creation of America and its
British ally. Henry Kissinger, the former US secretary of state, spelled out
in his recent book on American foreign policy its essentially manipulative
approach to such Middle East states as Saudi Arabia. The US, he says, cannot
afford the region to be "dominated by countries whose purposes are inimical
to ours". Their economic "purposes" have been to prop up a regime which
would guarantee a stable flow of petrol and oil to the US at relatively low
prices and recycle its petrodollars back to the west in the shape of
construction projects and arms purchases.
The Saudis control 25% of world oil reserves. The US has paid the royal
family up to $100bn a year for it.
The first bomb attack on the World Trade Centre in New York took place in
1993: Osama bin Laden was in exile in Khartoum, nursing his rage against the
Saudi royal family and the US bases they permit on Saudi soil. In Britain,
the then government was more interested in money-making opportunities than
in registering these sinister signs and re-evaluating their relationships
with a frustrated Muslim world.
British MI6 intelligence about Iranian military planning was being
circulated by John Major to the ailing King Fahd in Riyadh, to help keep him
on his throne in return for more lucrative arms sales: the notorious Al
Yamamah weapons deal was already transferring £1.5bn a year into British
The Saud clan - now estimated to number more than 7,000 privileged
tribesmen - are still clinging to absolute power. However, much of their oil
wealth has been frittered away, and unemployment among young Saudis is
rising. Per capita income in the early 1980s was $28,000. It is now below
The dictatorial Saud clan describe themselves as "guardians of the two holy
places" and preside over the vast annual pilgrimages to Mecca. They poured
cash into the Islamic University at Medina and similar schools across the
Muslim world, from Cairo to Peshawar.
The anti-modernist religion they promoted became a focus for guilt and anger
among young men frustrated at modern "corruption" and deprived not only of
normal social lives, but of all democratic political outlets.
In 1979, 200 armed fundamentalists, many of whom had studied Islam at
Medina, took over the grand mosque at Mecca. But 63 of the ringleaders were
publicly beheaded in selected town squares all over the country, and the
seeds of rebellion quickly led to repression. Shaheed Coovadia, who now
teaches in the US, studied at Medina. He says: "That incident was a turning
point. When I was there you couldn't move without permission. It was like
living in a police state. People even came to check your bed to see if you'd
risen for the morning prayer."
Providentially that same year, Soviet troops rumbled over the mountain roads
into Afghanistan to shore up a tottering pro-communist regime. The CIA had
been covertly undermining the Afghan government by arming fundamentalist
rebels - the mojahedin. In Washington, Zbigniew Brzezinski, President
Carter's national security adviser, was cock-a-hoop that the Russians had
been drawn into what he saw as his cleverly baited trap. The day Soviet
forces crossed the border, he wrote to Carter, saying: "We now have the
opportunity to give the USSR their Vietnam war."
Young Bin Laden, son of a wealthy construction magnate, joined the
anti-Soviet campaign. He set off for Peshawar, as the most prominent of a
Saudi contingent of poor citizens, students, taxi-drivers and Bedouin
For the Saudi regime it was an outlet for an otherwise dangerous fanaticism.
For the US, the Afghan Arabs were useful proxy troops in the cold war. As
Bin Laden himself later described it: "The weapons were supplied by the
Americans, the money by the Saudis."
Did the Saudi royals or the US have any qualms about arming and brutalising
these frustrated young fundamen-talists? Brzezinski had his response to that
question ready: "What is most important to the history of the world? The
Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the
liberation of central Europe and the end of the cold war?"
Nowadays, the west is less smug about its interference. It is beginning to
realise that the "stirred-up Muslims" may not have finished their upheavals.
∑David Leigh is the Guardian's investigations editor. Richard Norton-Taylor
is the security affairs editor.
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