Monday, August 08, 2005

Trying my amateur hand at Arabist analysis:

The U.S.-Saudi alliance is not always a comfortable for either party though it remains close. The internal workings of the Saudi side, the network of the top fifty to two hundred senior princes, are opaque enough to require the same kind of tea-leaf reading skills once employed by Sovietologists during the Cold War ("...CIA analysts report a decline in the standing of the Soviet military-indusrial complex after Brezhnev was seen sneezing on Marshal Ustinov at the May Day parade..."). Moreover the decline and death of King Fahd, always weak ruler, has led to shifts within the KSA and in Saudi representation in Washington.

The new King Abdullah is a conservative who had been associated with tribal interests, Beduoin traditions and the National Guard; Abdullah is from the Rashidi branch and not the dominant Sudairi line of the senior al-Saud princes. The Rashidis had once been rivals to the al-Saud but had been defeated by King Abdul-Aziz and amalgamated into the Saudi ruling elite ( the Hashemites of the Hejaz, another rival family, were expelled and now rule in Jordan).Thirty years ago we might have called Abdullah's religious views " fundamentalist" but the king is not an Islamist. His power bases in the KSA have been repeatedly targeted by al Qaida while he was Crown Prince and Abdullah, in turn, forced the Saudi regime to crack down on religious militancy in KSA, allegedly over the objections of other senior al-Saud princes, notably Sultan, the Defense Minister, a Sudairi and new Crown Prince.

In Washington, the new Ambassador is Prince Turki bin Faisal, who headed Saudi intelligence for twenty-five years until resigning ( or being forced to resign) two weeks prior to 9/11, after which he became ambassador to Britain. Conspiracy theorists have made much of Turki's timely resignation but it is equally likely that Abdullah, de facto ruler of KSA at the time, had quite enough with the Sudairis occupying all key posts in the kingdom at a time when Fahd's longevity was in serious question.

Prince Turki, who is featured prominently in Steve Coll's highly regarded Ghost Wars has longstanding, almost intimate connections at the very top of American political, media and intelligence circles. He is the son of the the assassinated King Faisal, the pious ruler who intiated Saudi funding of a global Wahhabi missionary outreach as a counter to the threat of Nasserism and secularism. Despite vigorous denials, Prince Turki's ties to Islamist groups are as deep as they are to the CIA and DIA and not all of those agencies field operatives share the same enthusiasm for Turki's appointment that their upper-level managers and political appointees do. Nevertheless, Turki remains a key figure in the Saudi hierarchy, like his younger predecessor as ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan.

Both men seem likely potential candidates for very senior posts in KSA, perhaps even the throne, when the Sudairi gerontocracy passes from the scene. The Saudi monarchy at present is fratrilineal one and new monarchs are chosen by a family consensus that emerges as figures are named to the position of Crown Prince, with an effort to give due consideration to seniority, experience and the interests of various clans within the al-Saud. This is a complex and difficult to measure variable because the founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdul Aziz, fathered many children by different wives throughout his long life. While many clans are unlikely to see a monarch from their line emerge any time soon their voices are raised and their support must be secured.

This aspect will make reforming KSA into a constitutional monarchy very difficult because the minor branches of al-Saud would be forced to give up their most effective lever of influence if a formal line of succession was to be established. The net result for the U.S. being that a period of instability seems very likely in Saudi-American relations because the internal political needs of the al-Saud are going to predominate over external diplomatic considerations


From Crossroads Arabia - " Looking down the Road"

From The Daily Demarche - " Majesty, they are your windows to the civilized world"
Not bad. I note Wikepedia contacts some small errors, the most trivial of which is that it misrenders Al Saoud as As-Saoud. The Al Saoud (which is correctly rendered in Arabic) is a seperate form from as-Saoud. There the Al (or better Aal, but that looks weird) here is a signifier for tribe or family (like Al Sabah, the Sabah of Kuwait).

Trivial Arabic grammar.....

Most interestingly, in poking around to refresh my memory I found there is an Arabic lang wikepedia: http://ar.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D8%B9%D8%A8%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B2%D9%8A%D8%B2_%D8%A2%D9%84_%D8%B3%D8%B9%D9%88%D8%AF
Thank you Col.

"Aal" would be the phonetic pronunciation of " Al" or the correct written transliteration ?

Wiki is a convenient link for blogging or a fast reference but its open system of editing has the drawback of letting semi-knowlegeable but hyper-motivated individuals impose their idiosyncratic take. As a result, I see a lot of things in my field of expertise in Wikipedia that while not flatly wrong, are overemphasized over more important aspects. But for a basic intro it is handy.
Regarding translit, hooh. Correct in what system? The Arabic written version of the word Al contains a "diacritic" that indicates the Aleph cares a long A, and while typical pronounciation might not differentiate strongly, one should give a longer vocalisation.

So, "Aal" might marginally more correctly render the word, but it's a pretty picky point I confess - plus it just looks bizarre. On the other hand it does prevent confusion with "Al" which is 'the.'

The 'error' I noted is simply the incorrect glossing of Al Saoud as Al-Saoud (i.e. prefixed by the simple "Al" which is "the" and which would be pronounced as-Saoud), versus the seperate word Aal (or Al, meaning family/tribe) which would not.

There are a few items overall there, but I am no Saudi specialist....
"There are a few items overall there, but I am no Saudi specialist...."

You'll have to do until one comes along ;o)
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