Saudi 311 R.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
DUBAI - Saudi Arabia has helped damp down democracy movements sweeping the Arab world but is waiting now to see how events play out in places like Syria and Yemen for fear of overplaying its hand.
After witnessing the sudden collapse of rulers in Egypt and Tunisia this year, the Al Saud family that monopolizes power in Saudi Arabia orchestrated Gulf Arab moves to stop the unrest from spreading through the Gulf region.
:Saudi maids become battlegroundDid Israel play kingmaker in the German-Saudi tank deal?
Saudi, United Arab Emirates and Kuwaiti forces went to Bahrain in March to help crush protests threatening to force the ruling family there to make democratic changes.
They offered money to Oman and Bahrain for more social spending, and Qatar's Al Jazeera TV toned down its hard-hitting Gulf coverage after meetings between Saudi and Qatari officials.
Riyadh was the prime mover behind a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)
proposal to enhance relations with Jordan and Morocco in an apparent
effort to boost other Arab dynastic systems. A Saudi official said
Jordan was given $400 million last month.
In March and April it also brokered a peace deal in Yemen, a republic
different in size and social make-up to the GCC countries, that was to
see President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down one month after forming a
Yet following that flurry of interventions, Saudi diplomacy has largely
gone quiet, most notably on two fronts where Riyadh has major interests,
Yemen and Syria. Its response also has been muted in Libya, a more
distant concern for Riyadh.
Analysts and diplomats say there are disputes within the ranks of senior
princes and officials on whether to take a back seat, intervene more
forcefully to stop democratic changes or, in some cases, to back them.
Turki Al-Rasheed, a Saudi commentator who runs the Saudi In Focus web
forum, said the kingdom's leaders had run out of ideas on how to
challenge the movements amid internal disputes and given the lethargy of
senior princes holding different briefs.
"They are quiet because they did something and it failed. Bahrain is
still boiling. The only card now is to pay the Americans billions for
their weapons," he said, referring to reports that $60 billion in arms
purchases from the United States would rise to $90 billion.
The ruling Al Khalifa family has instituted a national dialogue in
Bahrain, but protests continue in neighborhoods of the majority Shi'ite
population, who dominated the protest movement. Demonstrations rekindled
in Oman last week.
Saudi Arabia has seen only a small number of protests in Shi'ite areas
of its Eastern Province. Stern government warnings and promises of
massive social spending have helped hold back a protest movement taking
off on its soil.
"There is no one single Saudi policy. Each issue is handled from a
different point of view and they (the princes) are all very old and
sick," Rasheed said.
Diplomats in Riyadh often say rigor mortis usually sets in with Saudi policy initiatives during the long summer recess.
One Saudi commentator who did not wish to be named said there has been
division over how to proceed on Yemen. Interior Minister Prince Nayef
backs Saleh while Crown Prince and Defense Minister Prince Sultan favor
alternatives among tribes paid by the kingdom.
However, Sultan, in his 80s, left last month for treatment in New York
and Nayef, in his late 70s, also has been abroad for rest and