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Occupied Arab World

The boldest yet expression of popular anger against American presence

Crescent International

IT would be a great pity if the American public does not know what US policy-makers know: That there is growing opposition to US presence in Saudi Arabia. The bomb blast in Dhahran was the boldest and bloodiest expression of that opposition.

The mainstream Western media has concealed from the world the anger and disenchantment with US policies in the Arab world within a significant segment of Saudi society itself. Middle-class professionals academics, elements among the ulama, business people and even individuals connected to the Saudi aristocracy are part of a disparate movement that no longer accepts US dominance and control of the kingdom which has been facilitated for decades by the Saudi ruling family. The well-known Committee for the Defence of Legitimate Rights under Dr Muhammad al-Massari (photo left), which operates from London, is but one of many groups which seek an end to both US dominance and Saudi autocracy.

In the last five years or so, a number of these dissidents have been imprisoned or expelled. It is alleged that some of them have been tortured and even executed. Organisations such as Liberty for the Muslim World and Amnesty International, among others, have come to the defence of these victims of state oppression.

Opposition to the US presence and the ruling oligarchy, which has been simmering for a long while began to gather some momentum in the wake of the 1990-91 Gulf War. The stationing of a huge US military contingent on Saudi soil on the pretext of protecting the kingdom (when incontrovertible evidence showed there was no Iraqi threat) incensed many Saudis. Besides, the Ruler of Saudi Arabia is regarded as the custodian of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina and it was outrageous that there was now a (non-Muslim) custodian of the custodian.

That it was money from Saudi coffers that was used to finance, partly at least, a war that witnessed the wholesale massacre of tens of thousands of fellow Arabs was yet another affront to Arab dignity. For many Saudis, the cost of the war itself which had an adverse impact upon the financial standing of a kingdom that was fabulously wealthy was an ominous sign of its vulnerability. It was at this time that the rumblings against the royal family began to grow.

What exacerbated the situation was the circulation of lurid tales of-alleged decadence and massive corruption among the ruling elite. True or not, they provided grist to the mill for opponents of the Government who were already infuriated by the arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of the expanding circle of dissidents. The US was perceived by a section of the Saudi intelligentsia as supporting a despotic, decadent regime which was alienated from the people. Without the military and moral backing of the US, the Saudi ruling elite, it was widely believed, would not survive.

Two other events since the Gulf War have further discredited the US and the Saudi regime. An increasing number of educated Saudis are convinced that the so-called Israeli-PLO peace process is designed primarily to ensure US-Israeli dominance and control of the Arab world. They know that the US Government is not an honest broker in the peace process. Its major role is to protect and enhance Israeli interests. The Saudi regime is seen as colluding in this

For many Saudis, the one-sidedness, the biasness of the US became transparent in the recent Qana massacre. The US was not prepared to even administer a mild criticism of the Israeli regime. On the contrary, it was the only nation in the world that stood solidly by Israel when the entire international community expressed varying degrees of condemnation of the Israeli slaughter of innocent children and women seeking shelter in a UN base. The American public may not realise that the Qana tragedy has created an avalanche of anger and bitterness against US administration among the Arabs - a bit of which writer Robert Fisk has managed to capture in his articles.

This is what the American public should know. Whether it is Beirut in 1983 or Dhahran in 1996, at the popular level (as opposed to elite tie-ups with the US) there is a great deal of resentment against US dominance and control of Arab people and Arab resources. US dominance - even the most na‹ve are aware - is to ensure that the world’s most vital oil exporting region remains under its control and dictation. Besides the region has also strategic value to the rest of the world. For the US, the continued ability of its intimate ally, Israel, “to call the shots” in the region is also a matter of tremendous strategic and political importance.

Hence, the American public, in this election year in the US, should persuade the next President to adopt a just and equitable policy towards Saudi Arabia and the Arab world as a whole. Some of the ingredients of such a policy would be:

  • The US administration should cease to act as the custodian of despotic, decadent oil oligarchies in the region who have no support or whose support among the people is waning rapidly. For a start, it should withdraw its 5,000 troops from Saudi Arabia and reduce its military presence in the entire Gulf region. Surely, supporting unrepresentative oligarchic regimes is a betrayal of the democratic principles upon which the US is founded.
  • The US should persuade Arab Governments allied to it to provide space and scope for the growth of political movements in the region, many of which, like the Committee for the Defence of Legitimate Rights, abhor violence and would like to see peaceful change. In this regard, the US should exercise its influence over certain regimes in the region to dissuade them from using excessive force to crush the peaceful expression of dissent. It is the use of such brutal methods which encourages violence on the part of the dissidents.
  • The US should apply all the power and pressure at its command to compel the Tel Aviv regime to work towards a genuine negotiated peace which recognises the legitimacy of an independent sovereign Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. The US administration should realise that ordinary Palestinians and Arabs, including the Saudis, will not accept a farcical peace process which seeks to establish a Palestinian “Bantustan”.

If these and other elements are incorporated into US policy towards Arab world, there is strong possibility that the cycle of violence will finally be broken. If, on the other hand, the US administration, aided and abetted by an unthinking, uncritical public, continues to pursue its present policy, it is now inconceivable that the region will be converted into a cauldron of conflict which might even consume the whole of humanity.

The writer is Director, Just World Trust, Penang.

Muslimedia - April 1996-August 1996

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 25, No. 2

Dhu al-Qa'dah 12, 14161996-04-01

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