Saudi-Egypt Crisis Points to Conflict between New Democracies, Old Autocracies

The closure of the Saudi embassy and consulates in Egypt, and the continued demonstrations in Cairo in front of the Ministry of Interior, point to a coming crisis in the Arab world between the revolutionary states and the conservative ones.

So far that potential conflict has not riven the Arab League, because there have not been clear lines dividing the two. Saudi Arabia was opposed to the fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. But it supported the revolution against Muammar Qaddafi in Libya, and against the Baath Party in Syria. It played a role in easing Ali Abdullah Saleh out of office in Yemen. So the assumption that Saudi Arabia is always reactionary and is solidly a status-quo power is given the lie by any thorough consideration of their actual role in the Arab Spring. Of course, they have tried to bribe their own demonstrators to go home, and have largely succeeded, in Saudi Arabia itself.

But the norms of governance of the new Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen are diametrically opposed to those of the Saudi monarchy, especially in the realm of freedom of speech.

The crisis was kicked off by the Saudi arrest of outspoken attorney Ahmed El-Gizawi, an Egyptian national, in the kingdom. There is a large Egyptian guest-worker population in Saudi Arabia, whom Egyptians feel are not well treated.

Crowds gathered to demonstrate at the Saudi embassy and used insulting slogans, demanding the release of El Gizawi.

Given that the Israeli embassy was invaded, the Saudi authorities abruptly pulled out. They may have feared exposure of important secret records if the embassy were taken over (the diplomatic correspondence over their support for Mubarak is likely in there). The Saudis are saying they don’t mind some demonstrations but that the demonstrators should treat them with respect (i.e. they don’t get it).

The likelihood that the Egyptian government is going to prevent demonstrations in front of an embassy is low. It might be possible to up the level of Egyptian government guards for the facilities.

At the moment, the dispute is over how free people will be to demonstrate and name-call.

Saudi Arabia has offered some $4 billion in aid, which may or may not hang in the balance. Some leftist Egyptians are celebrating that it might be possible to dislodge Saudi influence from the journalism and politics of the new Egypt.

5 Responses

  1. There was some discussion in non-mainstream media like The Asia Times a few years ago about Saudi Arabia’s support of Islamist democratic parties like the AKP in Turkey and PML-N in Pakistan. The implication was that Saudi was quietly reducing its dependence on Washington by creating a sphere of influence of elected governments more palatable to the world than its own tyranny.

    If so, then neither that nor the attempt to extend the model to the Arab Spring parties is going quite the way the monarchy wants. No two conservative Islamist parties are the same, but none of them obeys a foreign king in quite the servile manner that the Sauds have grown accustomed to from their guest workers. Conservative Egyptians and Pakistanis and Tunisians do not seem to give a damn about the purported Shiite threat. They may not be willing to sell the Palestinians down the river to keep the US and Israel happy either.

    But if the Sauds want to keep pouring money into undermining the US-backed model of secular generalissimos, I’m all for it.

  2. The Saudis are saying they don’t mind some demonstrations but that the demonstrators should treat them with respect (i.e. they don’t get it).

    “They don’t get it” that the demonstrations are usually if not always by groups that are being abused and not being respected by their rulers or their temporary Saudi bosses.

    The Saudis, the royal royalties, the billionaires are saying don’t say anything negative about our country or government, be quiet, do your jobs, no complaints and kiss our royal rears or you won’t work in Saudi or get our oil. Sounds similar to fiasco in Bahrain that resulted in deaths of innocent demonstrators that the US press ignored because the US has its 5th Fleet stationed their. More US crap.

    The guest-worker population is probably doing work that the Saudis don’t have skills for or that the Saudis won’t do for such low wages.

    I worked as a geotechnical engineer from a California firm in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Nigeria. Occasionally I collected payments or made contributions, both in Saudi Arabia. I found the Saudi rich with their rears high in the sky, just like many rich all over the world and the billionaires, millionaires in America: the politicians, Congress, the President, millionaire puppets, etc.

    What to do?

    Real working suggestions would be appreciated.

  3. as sufis know, entire collective consciousnesses have to be evolved in order for any real change, apart from the names on top, to happen.

    takes time, attention, and belief.

  4. ‎”New Democracies”? Saudi and Egypt?!!! Really?! That is the loosest way yet to use the word “Democracy”, I mean I have heard “Democracy” been thrown about so indiscriminately but calling Saudi’s and Egyptian’s “New Democracies” is beyond wishful thinking and naiveté. Here is a new definition which is really an old definition of democracy;
    Democracy: The bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.
    PS: These “people” need not to be all from the same country :)

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