Al Jazeera vs. Saudi Arabia (& Trump’s Mideast peace plan at risk without MbS?)

October 23, 2018

The headline of Turkey’s Yeni Safak newspaper reads: “(To the Saudi consul) Shut up”

 

A QUESTION OF LESSER EVILS

[Note by Tom Gross]

Following up yesterday’s dispatch, I attach five more pieces on the Khashoggi affair, published in today’s newspapers.

One is by Jamal Khashoggi himself (extracted from a speech he gave earlier this year).

Another, from Haaretz, points out: “Trump’s peace initiative, if it is ever put on the table, is apparently the direct result of pressure by Mohammed bin Salman, who wishes to legitimize Israel before embarking on open cooperation with it. For 50 years we’ve prayed for a key Arab leader who agrees to sign a significant pact with Israel. Such a leader has finally arrived, and calls to depose him, such as those by former U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro in an op-ed are destructive and in keeping with the best Obama tradition. Anyone waiting for a world of the purely just will have to struggle all his life with the purely evil.”

And in a piece below from the New York Times, James A. Baker, who was secretary of state under President George H.W. Bush, discusses “the Trump Administration’s hard choices on Saudi Arabia.”

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For new subscribers to this list:

I have on many occasions criticized the human rights of Saudi Arabia.

Here, for example, is my on stage interview with the wife of Raif Badawi, Saudi Arabia’s most prominent pro-liberal democracy (and anti-Muslim Brotherhood) political prisoner.

Here is one of several dispatches on the horrific situation in Yemen.

 

ARTICLES

SAUDI ARABIA BATTLES A NEW FRONT: ARAB MEDIA

Saudi Arabia, Reeling From Khashoggi Scandal, Battles a New Front: Arab Media
Qatari network Al Jazeera is providing the color and the harsh analysis that is roiling the Saudi royals
By Zvi Bar’el
Haaretz
October 23, 2018

Over the past two weeks, the nightly news on Al Jazeera has become a fount of reports on the Khashoggi affair. Evidently the Turkish authorities have chosen to use the Qatari network to dribble out new sensational bits of information daily.

Al Jazeera was the first to show pictures of the killers who dismembered Khashoggi’s body; it knew how they arrived and what they did; it reported on the Saudi consul’s actions in the room and that Khashoggi was injected with a drug to stop him from screaming in pain. It almost seems that the network’s correspondent in Turkey was present at the scene when it all happened.

While the Turkish government maintains proper restraint, stating that it is cooperating with the Saudi authorities or announcing that an investigation has been launched, Al Jazeera is providing the color and the harsh analysis that is roiling the Saudi royals.

The Saudi regime, which controls most of the major Arabic-language media outlets, has no answer for the narrative being laid out in the Al Jazeera reports. All it and its allies can do is attack the network and its owners.

“Qatar crossed all boundaries and its rulers crossed every red line as Doha ignores the demands of the Qatari people and the country’s internal problems and has instead become a puppet in the hands of Iran, the Zionists, the world regime and the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood. All of these are using it as a tool to achieve their desires… and to minimize the central diplomatic and security role played by Saudi Arabia for the benefit of the Arab nation and regional stability,” Egyptian journalist Dina al-Husseini wrote in the Youm7 newspaper.

Al-Husseini is best known for two particular moments in her journalistic career: One when she began her interview with deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak by saying “I love you and I’m crazy about you,” and then congratulated him on his recent vindication in court on corruption charges; and the other when she posed as a doctor and went undercover in Cairo’s Qasr Elyni Hospital to report on the corruption and chaos there.

Al-Husseini is certain she knows who is funding the propaganda campaign designed to blacken the name of Egypt’s close friend, Saudi Arabia, and who is profiting from Saudi Arabia’s humiliation. And it is equally clear whom Al-Husseini got her talking points from and who is dictating the media narrative in some of the Arab papers.

Under the headline “The Ugly Arab,” Saudi publicist Saud Al Rayes wrote a scathing indictment of the Arab journalists and media outlets, chiefly Al Jazeera, charging that they are hurting the Saudi kingdom while disregarding the fact that in so doing they are hurting the entire Muslim world. But Al Jazeera is not the only target in Al Rayes’ sights.

Muslim Turkey, which joined ranks with Qatar and thereby put itself on a collision course with Saudi Arabia, has also become an enemy: “Right now it seems that the Turkish state prosecutor is working as an emissary of Al Jazeera in Turkey,” Al Rayes wrote. And what about the Western media that have “ganged up” on Saudi Arabia?

“The West doesn’t care if the controversial reports are correct or not as long as they can be used to accuse the Arabs and Muslims of savagery and barbarity.” Al Rayes also has a warning for his readers: “Saudi Arabia will overcome this crisis and come out of it stronger than before… And mark my words… What comes after the Khashoggi affair will be nothing like what came before.” Whoever needs to be wary of the Saudi crown prince’s expected revenge is quite well aware of that. The message couldn’t be any clearer.

The American media had been quite fond of the Saudi crown prince before the incident.

Last year, Thomas Friedman wrote in The New York Times that the crown prince was leading the true Arab Spring, but this week he said, “I do not believe for a second that it was a rogue operation and that Saudi Arabia’s effective ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is very hands-on, had no prior knowledge, if not more.”

It’s unlikely that the American press will be treated to an interview with the crown prince anytime soon, but that doesn’t matter right now. The damage to the crown prince’s “good” name goes far beyond how he is perceived in Western media.

Judging by the critical articles that have been written against his detractors, the problem is Saudi Arabia’s standing vis-à-vis Qatar and the harm done to “the Arab world” and “the Muslim world” by the stain that has been collectively imposed on them.

The Arab media paradox is that the need to defend Saudi Arabia’s reputation as the protector of Arabs and Muslims is making it seem like a collective offense against them is being committed akin to a caricature of the Prophet Mohammed that requires them all to wage a holy war against the offenders.

An equally big problem is the message that Arab press outlets and human rights activists in Arab countries are getting from the West’s reactions. If world leaders, especially the president of the United States, accept the farfetched story that says Jamal Khashoggi died in the course of a brawl in the consulate and are satisfied with just seeing some of bin Salman’s top aides dismissed (though they are sure to be shifted to other top posts), it will deal another serious blow to those media outlets that still dare to criticize their countries’ governments.

For just as bin Salman has now come to symbolize the Arab victim who is attacked by a Western-Turkish-Iranian-Israeli coalition of evil, Jamal Khashoggi has come to stand for a critical press and human rights activism. The victor in this symbolic war will determine the standing of his adherents.

 

“WHY WE SHOULD GO EASY ON THE SAUDI CROWN PRINCE”

Why We Should Go Easy on the Saudi Crown Prince
For 50 years we’ve prayed for a key Arab leader who agrees to sign a significant pact with Israel. Such a leader has finally arrived
By Tzvia Greenfield
Haaretz
October 23, 2018

Turkey, a human rights champion under Erdogan, is accusing Saudi Arabia, another human rights champion, of the abhorrent murder of a Saudi journalist who entered the lion’s den in Istanbul and, as befits horror stories typical of places like Syria China, Iran, Russia and North Korea, disappeared from sight. Now we have recordings and videotapes, allegedly from the Saudi consulate, suggesting that his body was chopped into pieces.

The underlying reason for this gruesome act, that evokes something conjured up by the Coen brothers, is not completely clear. One shouldn’t treat any death lightly, particularly not a murder committed by an evil government. However, because of the political ramifications involved, it’s worth contemplating this episode a bit more.

It’s possible that just like Putin, the Saudi royal house cannot tolerate any criticism, which is why it decided to eliminate the rogue journalist in an acid bath (a no less likely possibility that has not yet been suggested by the authorities in Ankara). It’s possible that Recep Tayyip Erdogan is gnashing his teeth over Saudi Arabia’s bolstered global status, particularly vis-à-vis U.S. President Donald Trump, and over the central role played by Mohammed bin Salman in a regional coalition meant to block Iranian influence in the Middle East – which is why Erdogan is bent on deflating the Crown Prince’s image.

Erdogan may want to humiliate the Saudis, but his main goal is foiling the plan apparently devised by Trump and Mohammed to forge a regional alliance under the aegis of the United States, an alliance that includes Israel, the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt (and possibly Iraq). These countries will jointly try to block Iran, which endangers all of them. Turkey, which is struggling to find an as-yet-undetermined place within the Arab Muslim world, does not strive merely to lead the Sunni world. It also wants to depict Israel as a foreign colonialist implant in the Middle East. Any legitimization afforded Israel thanks to an alliance with Arab states has negative implications for Erdogan.

But fate obviously has a sense of humor. It has embroiled the Turkish rivalry with Saudi Arabia in the U.S. midterm elections. Since Mohammed is currently Trump’s most important international ally, mainly for economic reasons, the campaign advocating a “liberal order,” espoused by international media assailing the Saudi leader, is buzzing with excitement. Its main objective is not the brushing aside of Saudi Arabia, but the delivery of a humiliating knockout blow to Trump and his economic plans.

According to Time magazine, the level of public support for Trump remains stable at 43 percent, similar to that of Obama, Clinton and Reagan at comparative phases in their terms. It’s no wonder that after the failed attacks on Trump, who immerged unscathed from the intimidation of migrant children, the Stormy Daniels saga and the attempt to prevent the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, the left is eager to pounce on the Saudi murder case as if it has found a treasure trove.

However, this time it’s necessary to treat the suspect with kid gloves. Trump’s peace initiative, if it is ever put on the table, is apparently the direct result of pressure by Mohammed bin Salman, who wishes to legitimize Israel before embarking on open cooperation with it. For 50 years we’ve prayed for a key Arab leader who agrees to sign a significant pact with Israel. Such a leader has finally arrived, and calls to depose him, such as those by former U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro in an op-ed in Haaretz (October 21) are destructive and in keeping with the best Obama tradition. Anyone waiting for a world of the purely just will have to struggle all his life with the purely evil.

 

THE SAUDI CROWN PRINCE’S UNCERTAIN FATE

The Saudi Crown Prince’s Uncertain Fate
If he loses power, it could be by the gentle hand of his father or, like Caligula, in a violent overthrow.
By Karen Elliott House
Wall Street Journal
October 23, 2018

As the Trump administration wrestles with whether to buy Saudi Arabia’s belated and befuddled explanation for the death of Jamal Khashoggi, a thoughtful Saudi tells me: “Morality aside, the critical question is the sanity of our very own Caligula.”

Comparing Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the brutal and unbalanced first-century Roman ruler may be harsh, but it’s not entirely inaccurate. Both blazed to power as shining stars of change at a very young age: 25 for Caligula, 30 for Crown Prince Mohammed. Each loved organizing grand entertainment for bored citizens, building extravagant projects and, more to the point, humiliating and silencing associates. Caligula cruelly forced Roman senators to run for their lives before his chariot. The crown prince incarcerated his royal relatives, ministers and prominent businessmen at the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton until they agreed to return some $100 billion of ostensibly ill-gotten gains. Now his regime is offering two of his closest associates to take the blame for Khashoggi’s murder and dismemberment at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

“Remember,” Caligula loved to say, “that I have the right to do anything to anybody,” according to Suetonius, his biographer.

Crown Prince Mohammed has thus far enjoyed the same sweeping power – forcing the visiting Lebanese prime minister to resign on Saudi television, destroying the Gulf Cooperation Council by declaring Qatar an enemy, and now presiding over a system in which, by his own account, Khashoggi’s murder was carried out by his closest associates and numerous royal-court security guards.

If those associates and guards aren’t punished for the roles they allegedly played, Congress – and much of the world – isn’t likely to return to business as usual. And if they are executed, the royal guards of the crown prince may feel exposed and set against each other, which is what led the Praetorian Guards to cooperate with Caligula’s enemies and facilitate his assassination at age 29.

The looming question in U.S.-Saudi relations: Can the crown prince retain unchecked authority in the Kingdom? And if he does, can the U.S.-Saudi relationship – including close cooperation on Gulf security and global oil policy and large infusions of Saudi money into U.S. Treasury bills – remain undamaged? In short, can King Salman retain his son as crown prince and the U.S. as a close ally?

The latest accusation – that the Saudi coverup included sending a Khashoggi double out the back door of the consulate – raises further questions about what the crown prince knew. He told Bloomberg News the day after the disappearance that Khashoggi “got out after a few minutes or one hour.” If his subordinates fed him this cover story, it appears to have taken the prince a long time to get their version of events even though the Saudi team returned to the kingdom within 24 hours.

It is no small irony that a crown prince defined by his determination to control every aspect of the kingdom – a control freak even according to his fans – effectively put control of his own future and the U.S.-Saudi relationship in the hands of two adversaries: Congress and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Congress, never a friend of Saudi Arabia, can override President Trump to punish the kingdom. Congressional action is that much likelier if the results of Turkey’s investigation are released and prove as lurid as the press leaks of the past two weeks, thereby giving the lie to the Saudi explanation.

An additional threat to the crown prince is the thus-far muted opposition within the Al Saud family, many of whom he has humiliated and shunted aside. Their catalyst for unifying to force the prince from power could come from Turkish revelations that embolden Congress to oppose Mr. Trump’s efforts to continue a strong strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed. Most of the Al Saud family, along with most young Saudis, want access and acceptability in the U.S.

Given that the crown prince has decimated much royal, religious and other opposition over the past two years, his hold on power is seemingly strong. King Salman stood behind his son by putting him in charge of revamping Saudi intelligence in the wake of Khashoggi’s death. Yet it has become possible to imagine that the young prince won’t be the long-term ruler of Saudi Arabia. If not, what happens to his social and economic reform agenda, ranging from liberalization of social life to reducing Saudi dependence on oil exports? The reforms he has tried to institute are necessary, long overdue and largely popular with young Saudis. The tragedy is that he has put the reforms at risk along with his own reputation and rule.

If the crown prince loses power it could be either by the gentle hand of his father or, like Caligula, at the violent hand of cooperation between disgruntled princes and praetorians. “If the king stands by him, I believe there is plotting under way to remove the crown prince violently,” warns Bruce Riedel, a Brookings scholar with 30 years at the Central Intelligence Agency. Even before this, the crown prince’s concern for his security was evidenced by the growing number of nights he spent on his yacht in the Red Sea, seen as safer than princely palaces.

In the first scenario, the king would have plenty of princes to choose from within his immediate family, such as Mohammed’s elder half-brother Prince Sultan, a former U.S. Space Shuttle astronaut and the kingdom’s tourism director, or from the wider Al Saud family, such as Khalid Faisal, 78, a widely respected nephew of the king who serves as governor of Mecca. In this scenario, the reform program wouldn’t be reversed but could slow down to the glacial pace under past Saudi rulers.

In the violent scenario, all bets would be off. An assassination could set off a full-scale power struggle not just among princely branches of the Al Saud family, but including the religious fundamentalists seeking to overturn reforms and restore the restrictive social strictures the crown prince overthrew. What this would mean for U.S.-Saudi relations is anyone’s guess. Surely, however, if Mr. Trump has the ability to influence events, the first scenario is far preferable to the second.

 

THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION’S HARD CHOICES ON SAUDI ARABIA

The Trump Administration’s Hard Choices on Saudi Arabia
In responding to the death of Jamal Khashoggi, the U.S. should balance its values with its national interests.
By James A. Baker III
New York Times
Oct. 23, 2018

(Mr. Baker was secretary of state under President George H.W. Bush.)

In formulating and implementing United States foreign policy, there is often a tension between the promotion of America’s values and the protection of our interests. Toward the end of the Cold War, our espousal of democracy and free markets converged with our efforts to work with the Soviet leadership to achieve a peaceful conclusion of that conflict. But sometimes effective foreign policy requires balancing our principles and values with our geopolitical interests. That balancing act can demand painful compromises.

Such is the case with the death of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist. If he was murdered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on the orders of the Saudi government, the affront to American values is clear. Opposition to the killing of dissidents and support for a free and robust press are fundamental American principles.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia has been an important strategic partner of the United States since President Franklin Roosevelt met with King Ibn Saud, the founder of the Saudi state, at the close of World War II. In recent years, the United States has worked closely with Saudi Arabia on issues critical to both countries. Stabilizing global oil markets, combating terrorism and countering Iranian regional adventurism are just three. We also need to engage the Saudis in areas where we are not in 100 percent agreement, such as their debilitating war in Yemen and their conflict with Qatar.

In reacting to Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, the Trump administration should balance our values and interests. A critical first step is establishing the facts. The Saudi government should issue a comprehensive and accurate detailing of the circumstances of Mr. Khashoggi’s death. United States intelligence can do its part by gathering and assessing all materials necessary to determine what exactly happened to Mr. Khashoggi and on whose order. For example: What happened to his remains and why?

Partner or not, if it is established that the Saudi government arranged a murder, the Trump administration should provide a swift, firm and substantial response that makes it clear that the United States condemns behavior of this sort.

A good model would be the approach President George H.W. Bush took with China in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

In June of 1989, after several weeks of peaceful protests in Beijing and elsewhere, Chinese soldiers attacked demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. Estimates of the death toll ran into the thousands. The public reaction in the United States was one of horror followed by demands that President Bush punish China.

Mr. Bush had to strike a balanced response, just as President Trump must today. Mr. Bush wanted to safeguard the underlying geopolitical relationship between the two countries while also letting Chinese leaders know that killings couldn’t be business as usual in the future. The United States could not be viewed as a cynical paper tiger on human rights.

Two days after the massacre, Mr. Bush announced the first in a series of substantial penalties against the Chinese government that included suspension of military arms sales and a halt to all visits between American and Chinese military leaders. Further sanctions followed, including economic ones imposed by Congress and supported by the administration.

But even as Mr. Bush punished China, he strove to keep diplomatic relations between the two countries alive. While it was important that the Chinese understood he considered their behavior abhorrent and not to be ignored, he took no joy in imposing sanctions and sought ways to ease the estrangement. Mr. Bush dispatched high-level officials to China to let its leaders know that while he would not accept what they had done, he wanted to preserve the relationship.

Not being privy to intelligence reports about this matter, I cannot suggest a specific response that the White House ought to take if Saudi government responsibility is established. But it should include actions that signal clear disapproval and a message that reform, not repression, is the best route forward for Saudi Arabia. The response must also reflect a sober assessment of the substantial and abiding value of our strategic partnership with the Saudis.

Few will be pleased with the administration’s ultimate response to this crisis, particularly the hard-line realists on one side and the hard-line idealists on the other. Nevertheless, United States officials should consider how President Bush reacted to Tiananmen Square 29 years ago. This is the time for reasoned, careful actions that fully take into account both our national interests and our principles and values.

 

WHY THE ARAB WORLD NEEDS DEMOCRACY NOW

Why the Arab World Needs Democracy Now
In April Jamal Khashoggi gave this speech, saying the dangerous idea of the benevolent autocrat, the just dictator, is being revived in the Arab world.
By Jamal Khashoggi
New York Times
Oct. 23, 2018

Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi Arabian journalist who was killed by Saudi agents inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, was the keynote speaker at a conference in April organized by the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver and the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy in Washington. Excerpts from his speech, edited by the New York Times, are below.

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I am from Saudi Arabia, where the issues of democracy and Islam are very much relevant. When a Saudi official wanted to brush away the question of democracy, in the past, he would always raise the question of whether democracy is compatible with Islam.

The debate about the relationship between Islam and democracy conclusively ended with the coming of the Arab Spring, when the people of the Arab world, – especially the youth, and even the Islamists, including some Salafis, who were always critical of democracy – supported the protests for democratic and political change. Other Salafis remained very critical of democracy, viewing it as “kufr,” or un-Islamic, based on the belief that democracy represents a rejection of religious values.

The long voting lines during the 2012 elections in Tunisia and Egypt clearly demonstrated that the people of the Arab world were ready for change. They enthusiastically participated in democratic elections, including Islamist parties that had often been the focus of the debate on Islam’s compatibility with democracy.

Those images from Egypt and Tunisia of men, women, young, and old going to the polls should be contrasted with the sham elections we see today in Egypt and in other parts of the Arab world. This is an argument we can use against anyone who might claim that “Arabs are not ready for democracy.”

Today, Saudi Arabia is struggling with different aspects of modernity – with cinemas, art, entertainment, mixing of the sexes, opening up to the world, rejecting radicalism. The tight grip that the religious establishment has had on social life is gradually loosening.

But while we’re pursuing all these forms of modernity, the Saudi leaders are still not interested in democracy, They aren’t advancing the old, lame excuse that democracy is not compatible with Islam, however. Instead, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic they’re saying that absolute monarchy is our preferred form of government.

Indeed, we are living in the age of authoritarianism. Some people believe that it is a better form of political rule. They argue that societies need a great leader and that democracy will undermine the ability of the great leader to guide his people to a better future.

Today around a dinner table in Riyadh, Cairo or Amman, you are likely to hear intellectuals who were once considered liberals, who once supported liberty, political change and democracy, say, “Arabs are not ready for democracy.” If you push back against this argument, you would be told: “Even if Arabs are ready for democracy, they don’t know how to take advantage of it. They always make the wrong choice.”

A related argument is, “The Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood have kidnapped the Arab Spring.” In my country, a variant of this argument is: “The Saudis don’t know how to choose. If we have democracy, they will not vote out of their conscience, they will vote based on their tribal loyalties.”

A popular argument in the Arab world is that we need a strong leader. You can hear it in Egypt from an Egyptian businessman who supports the ruling regime. You can hear it from a doubtful Jordanian, maybe even a doubtful Tunisian who seeks a return to the old order.

A Saudi friend of mine who was raised abroad openly defends the term “benevolent autocracy.” He is prepared to write about the value of benevolent autocracy in an American newspaper and thinks it is the best choice for Saudi Arabia.

It is the old notion of the “mustabidu al-adl,” or the just dictator, that died with the rise of Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi, a late-19th-century Arab-Muslim reformist of Syrian origin. The Arab and Muslim intellectuals who followed Kawakibi supported democracy or at least some variant of it.

Regrettably, though, the idea of the benevolent autocrat, the just dictator, is being revived in the Arab world. A chorus of anti-democratic Arab and non-Arab voices are using the media and the lobbyists to oppose democracy. I’m told that at the Riyadh International Book Fair in March, which I was not able to attend, one of the books on display was called “Against the Arab Spring.”

Democracy in the Arab world is also under attack from radical Islamists who are making a comeback as the so-called Islamic State or as the Salafis fighting in Libya alongside Khalifa Hifter (who was a general in Muammar Gaddafi’s army and is now backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt). They preach against democracy in the mosques – and through acts of violence.

We must reassure people in the Arab world who either have lost hope in democracy because of its perceived failures or because they fell victim to the concentrated propaganda about democracy coming from television networks run by states and the intellectuals aligned with them.

When I use the term “democracy” I mean it in the broader sense of the term that overlaps with values such as liberty, checks and balances, accountability and transparency. We were aiming for these goals in the form of good governance, equality, and justice in the Arab world. There is another reason we need democracy now in the Arab world: to stop mass violence.

Today, there are two kinds of Arab countries. Some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Morocco, need democracy for good governance and the checks and balances it brings.

But for war-torn countries like Libya, Syria and Yemen, democracy would lead to some form of power sharing. It can be along the lines of the Afghanistan arrangement, where you bring all of the factions in one huge room and force them into an agreement on how to share power. The chief reason the wars in these countries are continuing is the lack of a mechanism for power sharing.

The immediate need for Libya, Syria and Yemen is not good governance, but a mechanism to stop the killing. Inevitably, the question of good governance will emerge. There is great hope for democracy in other countries that have not been mired in civil or internal conflict, such as Tunisia, which is struggling toward a lasting democratic system.

Many of my Tunisian friends, despite the progress they have made, are also worried about democracy. They do not want to appear to be preaching to the rest of the Arab world. They simply want to be left alone. Yet I still think that Tunisians have an important responsibility.

News channels that are supportive of freedom and political change in the Middle East should spend a considerable amount of time covering even municipal elections in Tunisia. Every Saudi, every Egyptian and every Syrian should see what the Tunisians are enjoying. I hope it will inspire the rest of the Arab world to work for a similar form of government for themselves.

We need to defend the rights of the Arab people to have democracy in our own countries, in our own localities, but at the same time we must speak to foreign leaders, foreign powers and foreign parliamentarians. They have a role to play and many of them have begun to lose hope in the prospects of Arab democracy.

Some of them are now repeating the old racist statement, “Arabs are not ready for democracy [because they are Arabs].” The Trump administration has zero interest in supporting democracy in the Arab world. Even the French president, Emmanuel Macron, has suggested that there will be little political change in Egypt or in Saudi Arabia.

People are losing hope in democracy because of the failure of the Arab Spring revolts. They’re afraid of ending up like Syria. Many Arab regimes, their television networks, their writers, their commentators, are trying to scare people off democracy by actively promoting this idea.

Both Arab citizens and foreign leaders are affected by the limited reforms that Arab leaders are pursuing. In Saudi Arabia there are serious reforms that Prince Mohammed is leading. Many of my Saudi colleagues are saying I should support them. I do support them.

My position is that we should take what we have and build on it.

When Mr. Macron stood next to Prince Mohammed, he made this point and he was correct to do so. We need to support the crown prince in his effort to reform Saudi Arabia because if we let him down, he will come under pressure from radical elements who are not willing to reform.

These limited reforms and the general political condition of the Arab world today are adding strength to the argument of the anti-democracy forces. This unfortunate reality puts more responsibility on our shoulders to resume our work and to redouble our efforts to push for democracy in the Arab world as a realistic choice for people and a solution to the failure of many Arab states.

 

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