Muqtedar Khan's Column on 
Global Affairs

  GlocalEye is Muqtedar Khan's Column on global affairs.  It seeks to understand the  simultaneous impact of globalization and localization.

Dr. Muqtedar Khan is the Chair of department of Political Science and the Director of International Studies at Adrian College. He earned his Ph.D. in International Relations, Political Philosophy, and Islamic Political Thought,  from Georgetown University in May 2000.

Flash: Muqtedar Khan is presently a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is a part of the Brookings project on US Foreign Policy towards the Islamic World at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy.  

Dr. Khan's column has appeared in The Wall Street, Dawn International (Pakistan), Daily Times (Pakistan), Outlook India (India), The Muslim Gazette (India), Nagasaki Post (Japan), The Daily Telelegraph (London), Manila Times (Philippines), Jordan Times (Jordan), Aljazeera (Qatar), The Daily Telegram, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, Detroit Free Press, Detroit News, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Muslim Democrat, I,, Arabies Trends (France), Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), Lebanon Daily Star, and many other periodicals world wide.

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The Empire and the Kingdom:
Saudi-US Relations in Crisis Again

By Muqtedar Khan

This article was published in The Globalist 08.01.2003,
The Star Ledger 08.03.2003, The Daily Star Lebanon (International Herald Tribune) 08.08.2003, Dawn International 08.09.2003,  Scoop NZ 08.04.2003,
Arab Political
08.03.2003, the Muslim Observer, and Voice of American Television Worldwide on 08.04.2003. Foreign Policy in Focus (Global Commentary) 08.13.03  Asian Times, 08.15.2003.

A joint congressional report on the intelligence community and its
role in investigation of September 11 attacks has once again brought
attention to the troubled relations between the US and Saudi Arabia
over the Kingdom's involvement in the attacks. The report that deals
with Saudi connection is classified and in spite of pressure from
lawmakers, the media and even the Saudi government, the Bush
administration has decided to keep details about Saudi support for
the terrorists classified while investigations are still in
progress. Understandably the Saudis are disturbed since everyone now
thinks that there is a link and without knowing what the link is
they cannot argue their innocence.

Map of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia, a strongly conservative Islamic monarchy with a
terrible human rights record, has been a close ally, friend and
business partner of the United States for over sixty years. Saudi
Arabia is also at the heart of all the key elements that have
contributed to the attacks on America. Fifteen of the nineteen Arabs
involved in the September 11th attacks were Saudi nationals. Bin
Laden, whose organization, Al Qaeda has taken credit for the attacks
and promised more, is from Saudi Arabia. The intelligence community
is strongly convinced that much of Al Qaeda's finances come from
private Saudi sources. The question that remains unresolved is if Al
Qaeda has managed to penetrate the Saudi ruling elite and whether it
has received any support, intelligence, logistical or financial from
official Saudi sources.

Saudi Use and Abuse of Islam

There is no doubt in my mind that the terrorist trail will
eventually lead to Saudi Arabia financially, politically as well as
metaphorically. We must understand that in spite of its claims that
it is a if not the Islamic State, Saudi Arabian foreign policy has
consistently remained pragmatic and even rational. They have not
used Islam as a criterion to determine their foreign relations as
Iran has. They have been guided by the singular overriding desire of
regime continuity in their foreign policy.

They have however used
Islam as a legitimizing tool first within their domestic
constituency by building a strategic alliance with Wahhabi Islam, and then within the global Muslim community through the expansion
and lavish redecoration of the holy mosques in Mecca and Medina and
through financing "Islamic projects" worldwide.

The Saudi ambition to sustain a medieval style Islamic society and
government has resulted in a policy of uniquely Saudi Islamic
imperialism. The Saudis in order to protect their Islam - the
Wahhabi Islam that is very narrow, intolerant and literalist
interpretation of Islamic sources - from the influence of Islamic
revivalism taking place in other parts of the Muslim World,
specially Egypt, adopted a policy of exporting Wahhabism to protect
Wahhabism at home. They have also tried to control the
interpretation of Islam even in America to prevent Saudi students
living here from discovering that there are other interpretations of
Islam, some of which are even tolerant and advocate freedom of
thought and claim that Islam and democracy are compatible. This
Saudi attempt to protect Wahhabism and the continuity of their
regime by reconstructing the rest of the Islamic world in their own
image has contributed to the growth of intolerance and bigotry among
Muslims. This tendency was most spectacularly manifest in
Afghanistan under the Taliban.

America and the Saudi Civil War

The Saudis were hedging their bets and playing both the Wahhabi card
and the American card. Even as they sought to Wahhabize the Muslim
World they continued to maintain good relations with rich and
powerful Americans and cultivated the US by becoming their most
important ally in moderating OPEC and maintaining the stability of
oil supplies and prices. There are numerous instances when the
Saudis have helped western economies by manipulating oil prices and
keeping it within acceptable limits; acceptable to American
consumers. By becoming useful to America they gained its support and

The fervor of Islamic resurgence had led to a widespread call for regime changes in most of the Muslim World. Islamists tried to come to power and succeeded in Iran and Sudan but failed every where else, particularly in Egypt and Algeria. Meanwhile the US in collaboration with Pakistan and the Saudis produced a new type of Islamic fighter - the modern mujahideen - to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan and thus Bin laden was born. After the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan this new breed of Islamic fighters turned to new battlefields. Some chose Kashmir and others chose Bosnia and Chechnya. But bin laden decided to go home and try to make Saudi Arabia a more Islamic state.

The presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia, which is considered
by many Muslims as "off limits" for non-Muslims, infuriated bin
Laden and helped act as a catalyst to exacerbate the conflict
between the kingdom and the prince of mujahideen. In this Saudi
civil war, the US took sides and has since worked to protect the
regime from terrorists as well as other Arab threats such as Saddam
Hussein. Over the years Islamists in Egypt such as Dr. Ayman al-
Zawahiri (bin Laden's right hand man and mentor) had concluded that
Egypt could not be transformed as long as it enjoyed US support. Bin
Laden soon reached the same conclusion that Saudi Arabia could not
be transformed as long as the US supported and protected it.

Hezbollah, which had driven both the US and Israel out of Lebanon
using truck and suicide bombers, became the strategic model and in
order to politically transform the Middle East, Al Qaeda decided to
drive the US out of the region through a sustained terrorist
campaign. Thus in many ways America suffered the attacks of
September 11 -because it has supported and sustained the Wahhabi
monarchy of Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis inadvertently have also sowed the seeds of hatred and
anger among Muslims against their greatest ally, the USA. The spread
of Wahhabi ideas which are extremely anti-Western and anti-modernity see the West as a threat to Islam and the US as a barrier to

American Dilemma

Now the US faces the daunting challenge of protecting as well as
reforming Saudi Arabia. It needs the present regime to stabilize
geopolitics and the oil economy. Regime change in Saudi Arabia could
bring pro-bin Laden forces to power. Maintaining status quo is also
unacceptable because September 11 happened as a result of existing
conditions in the kingdom. Even though the administration has
repeatedly proclaimed that it will go after all those who harbor and
support terrorists and that it hopes to democratize the entire
Middle East, it is generally understood that Saudi Arabia is
excluded from both these measures.

But the United Sates cannot continue to keep the Saudi Arabian issue
on the back burner. If democracy will reduce terrorism then we must
talk about democracy in Saudi Arabia. If liberal Islam promoted
dialogue and co-existence then we must support liberal Muslims in
the Kingdom and make their voices heard over the cacophony of the
fatwa regime. There are many issues and questions with regards to
Saudi Arabia; they cannot remain "classified" for long.

In the war on terror the Saudi regime and the US have common
interests and common enemies. Perhaps a more open dialogue between
the two will help them protect their interests. The Saudis have
dependent on two pillars for their security - the US and Wahhabi
Islam. Perhaps it is time to choose one.


Muqtedar Khan is currently a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institutionís Saban Center for Middle East Policy. He is the author of American Muslims: Bridging Faith and Freedom.


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