Saudi Arabia: Balance of Fear

Saudi Arabia faces the sharpest dilemma over war with Iraq. Its old ally the United States needs help, but this is deeply unpopular at home. Support for Washington could unleash divisive forces of domestic opposition, some of which are sympathetic to Al Qaeda.

The World Today
3 minute READ

Mai Yamani

Associate Fellow, Middle East Programme, Chatham House

Domestic pressure on the Saudi royal family, the Al Saud, is a result of widespread opposition to the war against Iraq and the American military presence. Opposition comes not only from ‘street’ opinion, but from the Wahhabi religious establishment – the Al Saud’s long term ally and legitimising power. External pressure from the United States, the government’s ally and protector from regional threats, makes matters worse.

Will Saudi involvement in a war on Iraq increase or decrease this dangerously contradictory position? The regime faces grim prospects: it is unsure that cooperation with America will guarantee its long term stability, while concessions which seem to run counter to the fundamental Arab cause will further undermine its domestic legitimacy. The outcome depends on what happens during the build up and preparations for war; the media and propaganda struggles over the moral status of the conflict; and the political alliances made.

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