Saudis and Syrians …Brothers or Rivals?

Written and POSTED BY ALEX.
March 5, 2007 for "Syria Comment"

Ibrahim Hamidi wrote in Al-Hayat today about the new, more constructive tone in Damascus:

President Bashar Assad spoke about the historic relationship between his father, late president Hafez Assad, and King Abdallah. He spoke about the personal respect he has for the Saudi king and for the significance of Syrian-Saudi relationships.

After a meeting with the Saudi envoy to Damascus, a marked change in the tone of Syrian media outlets has been discernible. Many journalists, from both state-owned as well as privately owned media outlets, were criticized by government agents for their previous criticism of Saudi role.

In sharp contrast to the general movement towards Syrian Saudi reconciliation, prominent Saudi journalist Mr. Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, director of Al-Arabia Satellite TV station, and ex-editor of the largest Saudi owned newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, wrote today an exceptionally negative piece on Syria. He even ended it with a strong warning.

Here is a translation and breakdown of the article:

The crisis between Damascus and Riyadh is a complex one that got worse with:

– Syria’s reaction to the adoption of UN resolution 1559

– The assassination of Rafiq Hariri which was “the biggest shock to Saudi Arabia” because of Saudi suspicions that Syria was behind the assassination.

– Syria’s role in facilitating infiltration of Saudis nationals wanting to fight in Iraq

– Syria’s open smears regarding Prince Bandar “the Personal Saudi envoy to Damascus”

– Attitudes that accompanied Hizbollah’s war with Israel

– The language used in the Syrian president’s speech who surprised all the Arabs with his attacks on Saudi, Egyptian, and Jordanian leaders.

– Syria’s “open alliance with Iran against the Gulf countries, Egypt, and the rest of Arabs”

– Vice president Sharaa stating that there is a personal component to the Saudi leadership’s problems with Damascus.

– Syria’s support for Lebanese opposition in their attempts to undermine the Seniora government.

Al-Rashed claims that after this “extreme deterioration” in the relations between the two countries over the past two years, Syria now feels that the upcoming Arab summit is its only hope “after it has lost almost everything .. even its ally Iran showed readiness to sell Syria at the first opportunity”

Mr. Al-Rashed then compared Bashar’s approach today to that of late President Hafez Assad, who, Al-Rashed claims, always moved quickly to fix Syrian mistakes that led to problems in Syria’s relations with Saudi Arabia. For example, he lists:

– Syrian attacks on the PLO forces during the early stages of Lebanon’s civil war.

– Syrian attacks on the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood

– Syria’s decision not to side with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in his first war against Iran.

Syria’s actions over the past two years have been bewildering, Al-Rashid insists. Syria destroyed its most significant alliance in the region (that with Saudi Arabia). As a result, Syria became exposed to “internal, regional and international hazards”.

This is how he perceives the state of Syria prior to the upcoming Arab summit.

He explains that political differences among enemies are never impossible to fix, so it should not be impossible to do so among brothers. But Syria will be mistaken if it believes that its disagreements with Saudi Arabia are based on personal issues. The way Syria opened the door for Iran into Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestine is not a simple matter… it changes the map of the Middle East and it leaves the door wide open to a major war … with sectarian, security, regional, and international aspects.

The article is concluded with a warning: If Syria does not take steps to fix the causes of its problems with Saudi Arabia, then the Arab summit will not save Syria from a dark future ahead … Syria is responsible for its own encirclement.

Questions and background:

Mr Al-Rashed’s tone and his long list of alleged Saudi grievances with the two Assads, lead to the following question:

What exactly does Saudi Arabia stand for?

It is obvious that Syria cannot please all the Saudis all the time… Saudi Arabia has many, often contradictory requirements. Saudi journalists have been critical of the Syrians for many reasons: Syria is not democratic; Syria is giving a role to non-Arab and non-Sunni Iran in Arab affairs; Syria is helping the Iraqi Sunnis; Syria did not expel the leader of Hamas from Damascus, when the US insisted that he do so. Later, the Kingdom seems to have reversed its positions on these same issues. Just like Syria, the Saudis warmly welcomed Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Mecca, and closely coordinated with Iran officials their joint proposed solutions to many Arab conflicts. What is it exactly that they still do not like in Syria's behavior? The lack of Democracy?

Mr. Al-Rashed’s argument that during the past two years the Syrian regime has made many mistakes leading to an unprecedented deterioration in Syrian Saudi relations in not entirely convincing.

The proof is in going back two years to an article by another prominent Journalist, Mr. Mamoun Fandy, close friend of many members of the Saudi Royal Family. In a 2005 article in Al-Sharq al-Awsat, Mr. Fandy was already warning Syria that it had one last chance to make dramatic changes in its position or it would slide toward hell at the speed of light (that was two years ago):

“Syria is now in real trouble. What can be done to save Syrian people from paying the price of their governments wrong decisions? The solution is a meeting between all Arab countries including Syria, on the condition that Syria listens without being allowed a single one of its long disdainful speeches. The aim of such a meeting would be to give Syria a political cover to use in coming out of its current bottleneck. It would also present Syria with a frame to preserve its dignity as it withdraws from the pack of policies that reflect a state of obstinacy. Without such rapid Syrian withdrawal and without a similarly rapid Arab political involvement we will watch Syria move confidently towards hell with the speed of light. A group of foolish Arabs will remain applauding Syria as it heads to the bottom of the rank of Arab nationalism. I also hope that Syria will not imagine that this scenario will take many years to be executed, or that the Bush regime may have departed before the effects fully impact Syria.”

President Assad was not impressed by Fandy's "last chance" warnings. Instead, Assad announced his decision to defy Saudi Arabia and resist US pressure in a speech at the University of Damascus in November 2005, during which he said:

“Many times we read or hear from foreign emissaries that the reason some foreign officials in these countries are angry… The reason they are angry at Syria is that President Bashar Al-Assad made a commitment to them to carry out internal reform, and has not done so. I didn’t know that the Syrian people appointed them as representatives instead of his parliament members, and President Bashar is supposed to make commitments to these foreign officials. I didn’t know they cared for us more than we care for ourselves. I didn’t know someone appointed them to be in charge of us and to give us grades… The region is now facing two options alone: either resistance and steadfastness, or anarchy. There is no third option. Resistance prevents anarchy. Resistance has a price, and anarchy has a price, but the price of the resistance and steadfastness is much lower than the price of anarchy.”

Conclusion:
The death of Hafez Assad and the demise of Iraq’s strong man, Saddam Hussein, created a perceived "leadership gap" in the area. America, Saudi Arabia, and Iran competed to fill the vacuum.

Those presidents and kings who attended Hafez Assad's funeral in 2000 all wanted to change Syria's traditional role in the region. They believed that they could take the young and unproven Bashar al-Assad under their wings and direct him to abandon Syria's positions on Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran. President Bashar al-Assad turned out to have a mind of his own and refused to cooperate with the KSA, France or Jordan, causing grave concern about his leadership abilities. The first real test for Bashar al-Assad was the US invasion of Iraq. His refusal to cooperate with America's invasion meant Syria was elevated to the status of an adjunct participant in the "axis of evil."

Here are photos of the presidents and kings who attended the funeral of Hafez al-Assad in 2000.

at_hafez-assads_funeral.jpg

Rather than supporting the US in its invasion of Iraq, both Syria and Iran competed with the Untied States to share the Iraq pie. Syria and Iran made gains in Palestine through their Hamas allies. Saudi Arabia, the U.S., and the French took Lebanon away from Syria and probably had plans to "change Syria's behavior", preferably through regime-change in Damascus. Because of the lack of a better candidate, ex-Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam was floated as a possible alternative president for Syria. He is known to be a friend of President Chirac, King Abdallah, and the Late Rafiq Hariri.

Thomas Friedman’s syndicated columns are translated every week and published in the Saudi Al-Sharq Al-Awsat. A few weeks ago his column did not appear in the Saudi paper, however. In that column he explained his preference for Iran over Saudi Arabia as the more natural future ally of the USA in the Middle East.

The Saudis are worried that the Untied states will eventually talk to Iran. When this happens, there are many reasons to believe that the Americans will rediscover the tremendous utility of Iran. Should Washington find common ground with Tehran, it will be at the expense of Saudi Arabia’s exclusive role as US ally and heavy hitter in the Middle East.

Today’s article by Mr. Al-Rashed reflects Saudi fears, which are mixed with self confidence and even arrogance. The kingdom is feeling both powerful and vulnerable at the same time… just as Syria and Iran do.

Hopefully, at the upcoming Iraq round-table meeting, all the competitors (The US, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran) will find a way to reach an acceptable compromise over who will play what regional role for how long and towards what purpose. It seems that Syria’s request that the meeting not restrict discussions to the subject of Iraq will be accommodated, if not at the table, then through the Iranian/Saudi negotiations in Riyadh and elsewhere. For example, a new Lebanon agreement seems to be in the making. Syria has already given the Saudis a gift by facilitating the Mecca agreement. A lot more give and take can be expected.

Still, coming to total agreement will be difficult, if not impossible. There are too many players sitting at the table and there are too many conflicts to be managed.

One fears that another round of muscle flexing might be necessary to better determine the strength of each player. An Israeli summer war against Hizbollah or Syria is not out of the question. Neither is an American attack on Iran, or Sunni-Shia confrontations in Iraq or Lebanon. Al-Rashed's clear warnings to Syria might be connected to joint American and Saudi plans to destabilize Syria, as reported by Seymour Hersh in his article in the New Yorker last week, in which he writes:

This time, the U.S. government consultant told me, Bandar and other Saudis have assured the White House that “they will keep a very close eye on the religious fundamentalists. Their message to us was ‘We’ve created this movement, and we can control it.’ It’s not that we don’t want the Salafis to throw bombs; it’s who they throw them at—Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran.”

Hopefully, the competing powers in the region will have the wisdom to diffuse the simmering conflicts that threaten to drag the region into another round of blood letting. Much hangs in the balance during the next month of conferences and negotiations.

Comments (59)


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51. EHSANI2 said:

Dr. Landis,

For those who argue that the European economic system is superior to that in the U.S., I think that it is worth reading through at least the summary pages of the link below (study published tonight by the European chambers of Commerce of all people)

Please note how economic growth in the EU is near to the level the US achieved 20 years ago. The EU’S current per capita GDP was reached by the US in 1985. The EU’s employment rate and level of investment in research and development were reached in the US in 1978.

http://www.eurochambres.be/PDF/pdf_press_2007/09-TimeDistanceStudy5Mar07.pdf

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March 6th, 2007, 1:52 am

 

52. Akbar Palace said:

youngSyria said:

“Akbar Palace ,
when did you start defending Saudis?”

Unlike most of the participants here, who find it easier to label ME machinations in terms of Black and White, I don’t.

If Iran is “Black”, the KSA is “Gray”. The Saudis have experience with madmen and terrorists like Sadam Hussein. Also, the KSA has NOT threatened neighboring countries with annihilation like Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran has.

The KSA has taken the role of promoting peace in the region, which relatively speaking, is pretty WHITE in my book.

“…Saudi Arabia does not employ, arm or export terrorism like the Iranians and the Syrians do. Get your facts straight.”
duh..they don’t arm “terrorists”

“but they supply money.. I dont need to tell you that fundamentalism started in KSA somehow!!”

Every Arab/Muslim country is one way or another supplies money to terror organizations. Americans do too. The question is, what are they doing to prevent it. It is a difficult problem to solve, and I think the US is doing a good job sifting through bank accounts;)

“they don’t export “terrorism”..mmm… oh.. bin laden was manufactured in one of CIA labs (genetically mutant : he can dodge missiles pretty well!”

The Saudis didn’t “make” OBL. OBL is a product of Islamic brainwashing which, again, is prevalent in EVERY Arab/Muslim country on the map. There is a fine line in between being a devout Muslim and one who aides and abets Islamic terrorists. Fortunately, now, after a number of years fighting the war on terrorism, this line is becoming clearer and more noticeable.

“where do you think all radical movements get their money from(apart from syria and iran )?”

Everywhere.

Mike said:

“Syria from the beginning told the U.S. not to invade Iraq, as it would be disastrous. That was good of them, to give us prudent, wise advise, even if it was ignored.”

I disagree. Of course the Syrians didn’t want to see a Baathist despot get thown out of office and hang in the wind. But if they didn’t, they shouldn’t have voted for UNSC 1441.

“Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, does a double-act: they pretend to along with the Iraq war, while their citizens send millions of dollars to Sunni insurgents and while Sunni clerics label Shias heretics.”

I don’t have any statistics on this. Do you? Speaking of “double acts”, the Syrians talk peace while their clients Hezbollah fires thousands of missiles into Israeli population centers. The KSA hasn’t quite reached this level of terror supporting.

“Some more facts:

Saudi Arabia actually DID fund terrorism, against the Soviets…”

So did the US. At the time, the US was trying to buy a friendship with the Muslims in their fight against Communism. Par for course in the Arab world: no good deed goes unpunished.

“… and these are the same people who came back to fight against them and the U.S. The conflict is now now against communism but against neo-colonialism.”

There is no more colonialism. The US does not claim any land in the ME. The secret is, it is a fight against terrorism, as hard as that is to believe. You remember, 9-11 and all that jazz…

“While I applaud Saudi Arabia for taking a more active diplomatic approach as of late, one cannot simply ignore the fact that because they have repeatedly gone along with U.S. plans in the region (first against the USSR, and now against Iraq), this has caused a surge in terrorism of the salafist and Sunni variety.”

Terrorists “cause” terrorism. Period.

“I mean, really, do you think the clerics in Qom are telling the Sunni Muslim terrorists from Algeria to Iraq to wage their defensive jihad?”

I think Sunni terrorists are terrorists. I think Shiite terrorists are terrorists. And I think the Arab and Muslim government should play a constructive role and urge their people to put down their arms, and take the necessary steps to help ensure this.

“edit: I should add that the conflict is not against “neo-colonialism” per se, but that that is how it is perceived in many corners in the region, in the same way that the previous campaign was seen to be against Communism.”

Yes, “perceived” greivances. A fly in my soup. A Jew in my country. I lost my job. ect, etc.

It’s all about the Arab/Muslim Press, the Arab/Muslim Media and the clerics of hate.
______________

Kidnapped or Defected? Top Iranian General Disappears

http://blogs.abcnews.com/theblotter/2007/03/kidnapped_or_de.html

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March 6th, 2007, 1:53 am

 
 

54. simohurtta said:

For those who argue that the European economic system is superior to that in the U.S., I think that it is worth reading through at least the summary pages of the link below (study published tonight by the European chambers of Commerce of all people)

Please note how economic growth in the EU is near to the level the US achieved 20 years ago. The EU’S current per capita GDP was reached by the US in 1985. The EU’s employment rate and level of investment in research and development were reached in the US in 1978.

Hmmmm Ehsani2 those statistics depend much about the structure of European Union. As you certainly know EU has taken many new relative poor member states, which undoubtedly lower the EU’s performance. What if USA and Mexico would be united and statistics calculated of that unit?

American’s have all the reason to earn more GDP per person so that they can afford their healthcare and university studies. As you know the “socialistic” European healthcare system is far more cost-effective and better performing as the US private version. See the WHO statistics. By the way are USA’s millions of prisoners calculated to unemployed or free labour force?

Most European’s are satisfied with the European model. They want to keep their good social security system, free education, good workers rights etc. They do not want the “Wal-Mart” economy model where there are no holidays, no healthcare, no workers rights and a worker has to have several jobs to survive.

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March 6th, 2007, 3:59 am

 

55. norman said:

The diffrence between the american and the EU economies is simmiler to the difrence between the growth company (US ) and a divident paying company (EU) Growth company can grow fater but does not pay dividents while dividentpaying companies are more stable but can not grow and and build wealth , yes in the US we work hard and pay for our healthcare and higher education but our chance of wealth building is much more than in the EU and that is why the weathiest people on earth are in the US ,anybody can get rich in the US if he has an idea or an education and the guts to start a buisness , In the EU people are comfortable they have vacations and free education but never have a chance or as much of a chance as in the US to build wealth. I would rather to be in the US , beside racism is not tolerated in the US as much as in the EU.we all become American when we know the diffrence between the Republican and the Democratic parties.

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March 6th, 2007, 4:28 am

 

56. Alex said:

Norman?!

You prefer to be rich to having a better standard of living?

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March 6th, 2007, 5:06 am

 

57. lirun said:

makes me feel so ignorant.. interesting piece..

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July 23rd, 2007, 3:14 pm

 

58. wizart said:

The Future of Lebanon

The Future movement strives to contribute to the construction of a modern, just, and democratic state. It believes that Lebanon is a sovereign, free, and independent country, providing a permanent homeland for all Lebanese citizens. It believes in Lebanon’s territorial unity, its people and institutions and the country’s Arab identity and Arab affiliations.

We believe that Lebanon is a democratic parliamentary republic, based on public freedoms and the freedoms of belief and expression. Lebanon is founded on social justice and the equality of all citizens before the law.

The movement is deeply committed to democracy, respect for the Constitution, the rule of law and upholding human rights. It is equally committed to the peaceful co-existence of all segments of society and adheres to moderation as a method of reconciling differing beliefs and ideologies. It denounces all forms of fanaticism, sectarianism, insularity and is against the use of violence to resolve political differences. It believes in the freedoms of working people and the rights to political action. It supports all forms of freedom of opinion and expression, particularly freedom of information and a free media within the limits of the law.

Economic freedom and openness are also at the core of the movement with private ownership and the free-market as its base. All regions have to be treated equally and according to need in any development plan. We believe in the state’s role in promoting social welfare, healthcare, education, and the care of our elderly. The movement believes in protecting the environment by promoting environmentally friendly ways of life among Lebanon’s citizens coupled with supporting and enforcing relevant laws.

We believe in the equality of women and the need for them to play an effective role in wider societal and national revival. Women possess potentials and abilities that deserve to be expressed in, among others, the social, political and economic fields. An increased role for women gives all social forces a better chance of operating and interacting successfully in national development plans.

The Future Movement represents youth, the spirit of renewal and the drive for modernization. As such the young are at the heart of all the movements’ policies, especially programs designed to prepare the young for future leadership.

Founded on belief in Lebanon’s Arab identity, the movement believes that relations between Lebanon and Syria ‑ based on the mutual respect of the sovereignty and independence of each country ‑ are in the best interest of both countries. These relations are a political fact and are the result of long standing historical, geographical and demographic associations. Honesty, respect and co-operation must characterize them. They must also be protected from short-term political thinking and selfish personal agendas.

The Future Movement believes that Lebanon must be open to co-operation with all Arab and non-Arab nations. Lebanon must establish foreign relations that enhance co-operation and dialogue and promote regional development, progress and prosperity.

We are committed to a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East recognized by international law. We believe in the legitimate right of the Palestinians to return to their homeland and categorically reject their permanent settlement anywhere else.

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May 14th, 2008, 4:20 pm

 

59. Syria Comment » Archives » Alex on Saudi Arabia; Hamidi on Turkey said:

[…] So we are not there yet … but there is improvement. […]

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October 12th, 2009, 4:01 am

 

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