October 29th, 2011
03:23 PM ET

A step backwards for Saudi Arabia

Editor's Note: Ed Husain is a Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. The following is his First Take, reprinted with the permission of the Council on Foreign Relations.

By Ed HusainCFR.org

I was in Saudi Arabia when King Fahd died in 2005. There was genuine remorse among Saudis young and old at the passing of the king. Portraits of the king covered car windows for weeks - a spontaneous and unprecedented outburst of Saudi national grief. There was also hope that the new king, Abdullah, would help bring Saudi Arabia into the twenty-first century. That dream ended yesterday with the appointment of Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz as crown prince, or de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia as King Abdullah continues to undergo hospital treatment for his declining health condition.

In the corridors of power in Washington, DC, and London there was some relief that Prince Nayef, as expected, had become crown prince. In contrast, young Saudis on Twitter, Saudi democracy activists and vocal women were filled with foreboding as to what lies ahead in their country. Granted, Nayef has been a vociferous enemy of al Qaeda elements inside Saudi Arabia and eliminated hundreds of operatives, while arresting thousands since 2003. But this was not because he opposed jihadi ideology or Islamist thinking. His public attacks on the Muslim Brotherhood come not because he differs with their brand of Salafi Islam, but because they seek to undermine the House of Saud.

It was the same Nayef that after 9/11 said the attacks were a Jewish plot and “the Saudis [were] being framed” because fifteen of the nineteen hijackers were revealed to be Saudi.

He only turned against al Qaeda because they started attacking Saudi oil pipelines, ministries and embassies within the Kingdom.

As interior minister, the same Nayef persecuted thousands of democracy activists across the country, blocked efforts for political reform, discriminated against Shia minorities in the east, and continued to subjugate Saudi women.

Western policymakers who think Nayef is good news because they can continue to count on Saudi support for countering al-Qaeda and undermining Iran will commit long-term mistakes if Nayef is not pushed toward reform.

Nayef’s basic instinct is the survival of the House of Saud. He sees Saudi Arabia’s religious police and other establishments under his control as a means for consolidating the Saudi monarchy. Just as al Qaeda and jihadis are a threat to the monarchy, so are democracy activists. Western diplomats interacting with the crown prince would do well to remind him that the long-term survival of the House of Saud can only come in the form of a constitutional monarchy and ongoing reforms. Refusal to change only threatens and weakens the monarchy. In the coming months in Riyadh, it is the language of survival that will matter most.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Ed Husain.

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Topics: Saudi Arabia

soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. j. von hettlingen

    Prince Nayef was born in 1933. He apparently doesn't seem to enjoy good health and suffers from diabetetes and osteroporosis. Of all the kings in Saudi Arabia from the first one to the last one. none – except Fahd – lived past 80.
    Adbul-Aziz, 1876 – 1953, becam king 1932
    Saud, 1902 – 1969, became king 1953, abdicated 1964
    Faisal, 1906 – 1975, became king 1964, assassinated
    Khalid, 1912 – 1982, became king 1975
    Fahd, 1921 – 2005, became king 1982
    Abdullah 1924 – became king 2006

    October 29, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Reply
  2. Toppolina

    Saudi Arabia and all the Islamic world will be much better without the Al Saoud family reign. They are corrupt and are exporting a fake and wrong Islam.

    October 30, 2011 at 11:50 am | Reply
    • Larry

      Yea, but they are Americas greatest middle eastern ally!!! LOL LOL LOL Not only corrupt, they have one of the worst inhumane governments over there. But, again, they are an ally in the fight for human rights in the mid east!! Hahahahaha!!!!! Let's see, 52 public beheadings last year. Women being imprisoned for driving vehicles, hands chopped off for thievery.

      October 30, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Reply
  3. Faisal

    I always get entertained when somebody suddenly wants to become an expert on Saudi affairs. Regurgitate something you read in the media, throw in a half Arabic name to build credibility, mention a visit, and voila ! Now you can speak with auhority and foretell the future.

    October 30, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Reply
    • Hope

      I salute you! =)

      October 30, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Reply
  4. Hope

    To Ed: & you say this on the basis of? What's your source? As the article says, this was your "first take" on this matter, have you read Saudi history? Culture? Have you read about Islam? Not extreme Islam, I mean the "true" meaning of Islam? Have you ever lived in Saudi Arabia & gotten to know the people? How they think? How they live? Until you have a full understanding of the previous, I'm afraid you have no right to say all that you have mentioned & don't bring up freedom of speech! There is no freedom of speech! Say what you like about Muslims because they deserve it but never say anything against the poor Jews! Where's the freedom in that?!

    To j. von hettlingen: Thanks for the history lesson! I suggest you alos read the history of the previous eras & point out their flaws, too! As if Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that went through all of this! Read HISTORY people! Saudi Arabia for a VERY long time was a TRIBAL area! NO MONARCHES! NO ELECTED PRESEDENTS & PARLEMENT! NONE of this existed here until 2 or 3 centuries! Like being above 80 & ruling a country is considered a MUST!

    To Toppolina: & what, pray tell, is the true Islam that should be implimented? I'm curious to understand what you mean. True not every rule is implimented properly, but there's hope. As for corruption: it runs in the blood of the powerful, only few know how to supress it. You think the West is any better? Deals are made all the time under the table! Politics is nothing more now than a nasty game of manipulation & seizure of more power, pride & money! Seriously man is just out there to control everybody & everything & not get caught for doing wrong things! Such is the truth of the hearts & minds of the mighty! Corruption is everywhere!

    To Larry:
    in Saudi Arabia: you steal (three times) under (specific conditions) a (certain amount), you are sentenced to the amputation of your right hand (under controlled conditions: paramedics are at the scene to secure the wound, the hand is sedated, the tool used in the amputation is sharp) with a (quick blow) in front of the public & the crime is announced so that everyone learns the lesson; & money is given to the thief to support himself & prevent him from having to steal again.. Result? No one even thinks of stealing..

    The West: You steal a million bucks –> prison for 5 to 10 years on the expenses of tax payers; & if you behave, you're let out early for good bevaior, & ultimately steal again! Result? Theft becomes an occupation with empty seats being filled by the dozens daily!

    Saudi Arabia: You take someone's right to live –> you are trialed, if found guilty, (all immediate family members of the deceased: they all MUST be ADULTS; if even one isn't, they wait till he reaches puberty) "choose" your punishement: they could forgive & forget, demand blood money (they name the price & it has to be from your pocket), or they demand your life, if they want your life –> the execution takes place in public, the crime is announced, & happens (under controlled conditions: you're sedated, your head is covered, the weapon used is sharp, one swift & powerful blow is given, paramedics are at the scene).. Result? No one dares to kill anybody..

    In the West: you kill someone –> prison (2 yrs, 5 yrs, life time) –> living a care-free life on tax payers' money while the family mourns on their beloved's demise; & maybe you'll be released for good behavior only to take another's life.. Result? Man slaughter left right & centre!

    That's why there's less crime in Saudi Arabia & more in U.S. & the # of people beheaded & # of hands chopped off has increased recently is because people of the law are becoming more lenient with these criminal under Western "Human Rights" pressure.. Let people kill each other & steal their savings but don't punish them!

    You tell me.. Did you know this before? Of course not! & even if you did, you wouldn't admit to it! There are limits for a reason!

    To all: there's a nice saying, credit goes to whoever said it first: "better to remain silent & be thought of a fool than to speak up & remove all doubt."

    October 30, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Reply
    • Faisal Al

      Hope, I read your post and I like your knowledge of the subject.

      But the author does not criticize Saudis, Arabs, or Muslims. He merely criticizes the newly appointed crown prince.

      The Arab world, especially the youth, are depending on Saudi to become the leader of progressive politics. Do you not agree with this?

      His article points fingers at Prince Nayef as being the opposite of what progressive, democratic ideals need.

      And for the rest of the ignorant people commenting on the subject, they lack tolerance and the mutual respect that do you. Continue being open minded and intelligent as you are on the subject so to change the way people around the world view us.

      Faisal

      October 30, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Reply

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