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Saudi Crown Prince’s Medical Visit to the United States

8:08 AM, Mar 13, 2012 • By IRFAN AL-ALAWI and STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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In Tunisia and Egypt, religious parties exploited the sudden political void that opened up before their countries’ citizens. The Islamists successfully convinced large numbers of voters that given the corruption and unredeemed promises of political and economic advancement held out by secular politicians, it was worthwhile to allow the ostentatious believers an opportunity to apply their ideology to state policy.

Arab supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood were encouraged in this direction by the adroit political acrobatics of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, known as the AKP. While it is aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood, Erdogan portrays the AKP as a moderate Islamist alternative that does not challenge the secular state in Ankara. Ordinary Turkish citizens and Turkish émigrés abroad, however, warn that Erdogan and his supporters aim at reducing the rights of women and minorities–the same worries now voiced in Tunisia and Egypt after Islamist victories.

Saudi Arabia therefore plays an indispensable and complex role in Middle East affairs right now, based above all on its commitment to Arab stability. Prominent Saudis, such as Prince Talal Bin Abd Al-Aziz, another non-Sudairi known as an opponent of Crown Prince Nayef and the Wahhabis, have proclaimed Saudi Arabia’s official distance from the suddenly-powerful Wahhabi “Party of the Light” that, under the camouflage label of “Salafism,” gained a large share of the Egyptian electorate. The question of how the Egyptian “Salafi”/Wahhabis were financed remains unclear. Rich Saudis may have contributed to them, without official backing from the monarch. (Prince Talal is best-known to Americans as the father of Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, who offered $10 million to New York mayor Rudy Giuliani after 9/11, and was rebuffed. Alwaleed has positioned himself as a liberal in Saudi internal affairs, while financing academic programs and investing in media and social networking enterprises in the West.)

If King Abdullah survives Crown Prince Nayef, and remains in power long enough to entrench the reform course, it is doubtful that an active entry of the kingdom into the series of Arab transformations would lead to more fanatical regime. Saudis have experienced the worst of radical Islam, and it would be perverse if ordinary people were to leap to cast ballots in a Saudi election for the Muslim Brotherhood, or its Wahhabi rivals.

Many Saudis are deeply weary of their country’s history as an object of suspicion for fostering intransigent Islamist ideology. The confrontation between reformers and Wahhabi diehards is stalemated, as illustrated by developments in the case of the young blogger Hamza Kashgari, who was arrested for three allegedly “blasphemous” tweets referring to Muhammad. On March 6, Kashgari declared his “repentance” in a Saudi court. This may lead to his release with a reprimand. Or it may produce his execution, as an example for others.

Even in Iran, recent legislative elections have demonstrated that the reformist Green Movement, opposed to the deranged president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, remains powerful, if reduced in its capacity to challenge the Tehran tyrants. As reported by the Gulf News, based in the United Arab Emirates, on March 10, the Iranian elections of March 2 saw the defeat of most of Ahmadinejad’s candidates. Unfortunately, the main winner in the Iranian balloting was Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, whose social and political views are no less authoritarian and paranoid than those of Ahmadinejad. But as in Saudi Arabia, many Iranians appear sick of fanaticism, with its accompanying and increasing global isolation and ostracism.

The medical state of Saudi crown prince Nayef may be trivial, or it may be a key aspect of the situation shaping up in the Muslim lands, including the status of energy resources. Saudologists can only watch and wait for more clues to the future of the Wahhabi-dominated monarchy–through medical reports no less than dissident tweets.

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