Thursday, March 10, 2011

Freedom to Be Confused in the Middle East

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal confirmed Saudi Arabia will "cut off any finger" raised against it.  Prince Faisal referenced Iranian foreign interference in Shiite citizen protests, according to Asharq Al-Awsat

U.S. President Obama, encouraged citizen protests in Iran.  Prince Faisal had this to say about Iranian protests:

"As for Iran, we hope that it deals with the demonstrations that are taking place in its own country." He added "In Saudi Arabia we don’t have any demonstrations such as those in Iran, and I reiterate what I said before, we will not tolerate any interference in our internal affairs by any foreign party…and if we find any foreign interference, we will deal with this decisively." 
Iran perpetrates violence on demonstrators, as does Saudi Arabia, which opened fire to disperse a protest.  The Prince stressed "reform does not come via protests and [the clerics] have forbidden such protests since they violate the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet."

"Change comes via the citizens of this country, not in accordance with the dictates of foreign parties" stressing that "our people have been living in this country since the time of Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) and they know their interests and requirements and how to reach their objectives. We aim to protect their independence and interests." 

How does change come via citizens in Saudi's monarchy, especially if they have no right to be heard?   Longtime Middle East tamperer Ryan Crocker weighed in on the protests, using a medical analogy:

“I think every country in the region has had or will have demonstrations.  It’s like hay fever; it’s everywhere, it’s pervasive.”
Speaking out against heavy handed, corrupt rulers is like hay fever?  Ryan Crocke should know.  His career in the Bush administration focused on delivering medicine in the form of business to politically connected Western companies.  The Obama team continued Bush's "economic freedom" mantra, sending Treasury's Neal Wolin scampering across the Middle East.

Prince Faisal offered a domestic version of "economic freedom" to quell the masses.  However, the Saudi carrot comes with a stick:

Last month, the ultra-conservative government announced an unprecedented economic package worth an estimated $36 billion that will give Saudis interest-free home loans, unemployment assistance and debt forgiveness. It also has reiterated that demonstrations are forbidden in the kingdom because they contradict Islamic laws and society's values and said security forces were authorized to act against anyone violating the ban.

Aren't Iran and Libya Islamic?  Why would the Saudi's, guardians of Mecca, act like demonstrations elsewhere are OK?  Here's Prince Faisal's take on Egypt:

"The relationship between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Egypt is a close and strategic one, [it is] a fraternal relationship, and therefore the internal [political] developments in Egypt will not affect our relations. We will stand by and engage with any leadership selected by the Egyptian people, and we will continue our strong relationship with Egypt which is in the interests of both of our countries and peoples, as well as in the best interests of the region and the Arab and Islamic world."

On Libyan unrest and the call for a no-fly zone:

The Saudi Foreign Minister said that this issue will be decided by the Arab League. He added that the most important thing is "to stem the bloodshed" in Libya and protect the country's unity. 
How will the Arab League handle leaders who fire on their citizens?  They have a long list in their midst.  The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) may provide a clue.  It recently weighed stability aid to Bahrain and Oman. Disturbing video from Bahrian (added 3-17-11):

Did Neal Wolin push the GCC to offer money instead of freedoms?

It's clear economic freedom has the upper hand amongst Middle Eastern leaders.  Who wants access to Libya's cheap oil, which CNBC reported costs $1 per barrel to produce?  With oil over $100 a barrel, that's one Golden Goose.  We're back to square one, enrichment of leaders and corporations, the very thing that incensed the populace.  

Manipulating forces remain and they'll say or do anything to get their way.  It can be as maddening and obfuscating as the official Saudi or U.S. government line.  

Update 3-12-11:  The Arab League asked the United Nations to impose a no fly zone over Libya.  President Obama hailed the request.