Saudi Arabia’s silent battle to halt history

Der Spiegel reports:

Saudi Arabia feels like a realm that has come to a standstill in a rapidly changing world. Its leaders, most notably the 86-year-old King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, are pinning their hopes on the old principle of stability, as if Ben Ali had not been driven out of Tunisia, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had not been toppled and Yemen’s Saleh had not just been admitted to one of their hospitals with a piece of shrapnel in his body.

King Abdullah must have been pleased to see his enemy Moammar Gadhafi in difficulties, but it troubled him to see the avalanche the young protesters in Tunis had unleashed. He didn’t hesitate a moment before offering exile to the embattled Ben Ali.

Abdullah was disgusted to see what happened to Mubarak in Cairo. Saudi Arabia still hasn’t come to terms with the Egyptian revolution. Nevertheless, it promised €2.7 billion ($3.98 billion) to the military council in Cairo to provide the new leadership with “a certain level of comfort,” as an Arab financial expert put it. It went without saying in Cairo that the Saudis wanted the Egyptian courts to spare the elderly Mubarak, and the Egyptian chief of staff personally thanked the Saudi king for his pledge of financial support.

Abdullah noted angrily how the spark of revolution jumped to the small country of Bahrain in February, and the Shiite majority rebelled against the Sunni Al Khalifa royal family. The moderate king finally lost his patience and, in a first in Saudi history, sent the soldiers of his national guard across the King Fahd Causeway to Manama to crush the uprising.

Saudi Arabia cannot intervene directly in Syria, where the unrest began in March and came to a preliminary head last week with a massacre in the city of Jisr al-Shughour. The House of Saud and the clan of Syrian President Bashar Assad have eyed each other suspiciously for years, and yet the Saudis would like to see the Syrians released from the embrace of their Shiite archenemy Iran. But there is one concern the two leaders share: They want calm in their countries, not change. As a result, Damascus supported Riyadh when its troops marched into Bahrain, and Riyadh is remaining silent, no matter how brutally Assad’s forces crush the protests in Syria.

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