Panel Scrutinizes Political Reform in Saudi Arabia

Article excerpt

The New Republic, a national 40-page weekly news magazine published by Martin Peretz, hosted a panel on "Political Reform in Saudi Arabia" at the Senate Office Building on Oct. 2, to examine the Kingdom's political future. Disappointingly, there were no Saudi Arabians on the panel. Moderator Lawrence Kaplan, senior editor at The New Republic, previously served as executive editor of The National Interest, a foreign policy journal published by neocon patriarch Irving Kristol. Some commentators, Kaplan noted, have decided toppling the royal family would serve U.S. interests in Saudi Arabia, while others contend that the alternative would not be an improvement.

Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the AIPAC-spinoff Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and a senior editor of Middle East Quarterly, leveled a series of charges against the Saudi royal family. According to Clawson, they encourage Saudi extremists to direct anger overseas in order to discourage rebellion at home, where, he claimed, the lack of reform and opportunities inspire religiosity and radicalism. While not going so far as to advocate the violent overthrow of the Saudi regime, Clawson said the U.S. should encourage change.

Chas. W. Freeman, former ambassador to Saudi Arabia during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and chairman of Projects International, agreed that unemployment was fueling discontent in Saudi Arabia. Freeman, who has served as president of the Middle Bast Policy Council since 1997, noted that there are seven million guest workers in Saudi Arabia, so there is no lack of jobs. "Foreigners are employed to do the work Saudis do not care to do," he said. Freeman also countered one Clawson charge by pointing out that Saudi textbooks have been reviewed and rewritten to remove extremism.

Responding to Clawson's point that Saudi Arabia finances terrorism and religious extremists overseas, Freeman recalled past U.S. support for extremists abroad, including the funding of Irish extremists for years. The Irish Republican Army used to collect cash outside U.S. churches to help finance its bombing campaign, Freeman said. The American Christian right supported the murder of a half-million people in Mozambique, and Pat Robertson's son funded Charles Taylor's abuses in Liberia. Freeman argued that Saudi Arabia has traditionally funded social welfare carried out by organizations like Hamas, which most people outside Israel and the U. …