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While America protects the Kingdom from external threats, internal threats are every bit as dangerous to the House of Saud. Managing those threats means that America, Saudi Arabia’s ally behind the scenes, must be made the public scapegoat for all the ills that millions of ordinary Saudis suffer (along with Israel, of course). However many handshakes that Saudi and American diplomats privately exchange, or however many bows Barack Obama publicly offers to Saudi royalty, the fact of the matter is that the average Saudi Arabian despises America — and the Saudi royal family is quite happy with that arrangement.
I speak from experience. In the late nineties, I did a significant amount of work in the kingdom as one of the many expatriates who keep the wheels of industry turning in Saudi Arabia. The English language newspaper in the kingdom, the Arab Times, was constantly filled with virulent anti-American and anti-Israeli propaganda. (I can’t even imagine what was published in the Arabic-language newspapers.) Most – though not entirely all – of the native population treated Americans and Brits with undisguised contempt and, occasionally, employed the kind of physical aggression and intimidation that would shock the public if it happened in the United States. The Saudi religious police reveled in harassing Americans and Brits. There is a caustic, poisonous anti-American, anti-Western, anti-Israel atmosphere pervading Saudi Arabia and it could not exist without the tacit approval, if not the active encouragement, of the House of Saud.
This is the other half of the royal family’s strategy of holding onto power; wealth and privilege. Millions of ordinary Saudis are poor and don’t understand why that should be so in a nation so rich and so beloved by Allah. Many among the Saudi middle class resent the wealth and privilege that the ruling class enjoys. Absent a convenient scapegoat, this rage and resentment would be turned against the House of Saud and its fragile authority. And so, within the borders of our so-called ally, the myth that American imperialism and Israeli Zionism are to blame for all of the woes that ordinary Saudis suffer is both tolerated and encouraged. The House of Saud showers money onto radical Muslim clerics, perpetuating a centuries old partnership between the royal family and the fundamentalist followers of Muhammad Ibn Abd-al-Wahhab. The Wahhabis, in turn, use those riches to fund the terrorist organizations that want to destroy Western civilization.
The Sauds don’t appear to be troubled by the contradiction of relying on the protection of the world’s one remaining superpower, while simultaneously – if indirectly – undermining America’s ability to provide that singular service. The royal family has been happily playing both ends to the benefit of their personal middle for decades and they show no signs of stopping. As the WikiLeaks release confirms, the House of Saud knows that they hold the ultimate trump card in the form of black gold, and no one in America is willing to call.
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