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New Saudi Ambassador Faces Challenges January 31, 2007

Posted by publicpolitics in Uncategorized.
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Adel al-Jubeir, an aide to King Abdullah, will replace Prince Turki al-Faisal, who resigned last month after just over a year in the job.

Source: news.bbc.co.uk

When Prince Turki al- Faisal resigned his post last month, the media buzzed- or a better word might be “hummed”- with speculation, primarily because the resignation of the former Saudi intelligence chief turned ambassador was unexpected and out of character for representatives of the secretive Kingdom. The Saudis are dealing with a number of problematic domestic issues, one of which is a potential schism among the Islamic faithful. The Kingdom is at pains to deny that Iran has any influence among the Saudi Shia , who are “proud of their nationalism”, according to a recent statement by the Saudi cleric Sheikh Hassan al-Saffar, who believes that certain Shia clerics , especially in Iran, are using their authority to incite Shia.

Prince Turki al-Faisal trotted out the familiar story of wanting to spend more time with his family to explain his resignation. If that is not true, or not the whole story, then it is hard to get around the conclusion that al-Faisal and Riyadh differ on matters of policy.

The new ambassador comes to his position at a challenging time. The Saudis cannot afford to alienate their increasingly critical internal critics. Nor can they easily rid themselves of the American military presence in the country. With talk of alternative fuels graduating from the fringe of American political life to the legislative mainstream, the Saudis will feel pressure to keep production up, and prices moderate. On the other hand, they cannot afford to alienate the other major oil producers or to exhaust their supplemental capacity. On top of all these dilemmas, the Saudis are trying to contain their own explosive demographics, and will have to reserve an increasing number of jobs now held by expatriates for their own citizens, a process called “Saudization.”

Adel al-Jubeir, educated at North Texas University and at Georgetown, has his work cut out for him. The Saudi and American governments were much closer when the U.S. was less ambivalent about supporting the Islamic cause in Afghanistan. Then, there was a broad ideological consensus against what both powers perceived to be “godless communism”. With the spread of schism and sectarianism in the broader Islamic world, neither side’s interests coincide as neatly as they did sometime ago. And while the conversation about the Saudi record on human rights has so far remained in the American political background, there is no reason to believe that it will always be so. In fact, there is every reason to believe otherwise, as this 2007 summary by Human Rights Watch indicates.

Al-Jubeir comes into his position at the most critical of junctures in U.S. Saudi relations. Despite the advantages of strategic alliances to the elites, and some would argue, to the populations of both countries, shearing forces are at work that could turn the situation in any direction from what might be called the unstable equilibrium of the present.

Tags: relationshp | names | human rights | AMBASSADOR | Saudi Arabia | Saud-U.S. Alliance | Politics

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