Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Asia Times Online :: Middle East News, Iraq, Iran current affairs
History haunts Saudi strategy with Syria
By David B Roberts

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

It is possible to look at the history of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a long struggle with religious forces. The very existence of the country is premised on a Faustian bargain of sorts between Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792) and Muhammad Ibn Saud (head of the House of Saud from 1744-1765), where each one was (and their descendants still are) utterly reliant on the other.

The al-Sauds provide the base for the Wahhabis to practice and

proselytize their religious doctrine, and the Wahhabis, in turn, provide the al-Sauds with the necessary religious sanctification as well as a proven ability to whip the masses into a religious fervor when needed.

As the powers of the al-Sauds and Wahhabis waxed and waned relative to each other, so did their relative influence over each other. For example, the Wahhabis found themselves in a strong position just before Operation Desert Shield when United States troops were moved into Saudi Arabia on August 7, 1990. At the time, the Saudi government desperately needed the religious blessing of the Wahhabi clergy to sanctify their decision to allow large numbers of US troops onto Saudi soil. The Wahhabis duly provided a declaration supporting the government but demanded a high price for their official approval: yet stricter controls over many aspects of Saudi society. Kepel, the noted French Arabist, characterizes this deal as completing the kingdom's fall into "bottomless Islamization".

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