Saudi rulers locked in power struggle over response to Iran threat
Saudi leaders cannot decide whether Iran is more of a threat than is Israel.
Saudi King Abdullah believes that Iran represents the greatest threat to the Gulf Arab kingdom and must be fought at any cost. The king regards Iran as intent on taking over the Sunni oil sheikdoms in the region, with Saudi Arabia being the biggest prize.
Abdullah sees Iran's leadership as intent on forming a Shi'ite arc that would dominate the Middle East and destroy the Sunni world. Already, Iran has in his view effectively taken over Iraq, Lebanon and Syria while making serious inroads in such countries as Bahrain, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.
As a result, Abdullah wants to form an alliance with Israel and Jordan to prevent a Shi'ite takeover. The king's idea is for the three countries to cooperate against Iran both on its home court as well as in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. The United States could be counted upon to support such an alliance.
The king's half-brother, Crown Prince Sultan, opposes this strategy. Sultan has not ignored the Iranian threat, but he believes that Riyad must keep away from Israel at any cost and prepare other options against Iran. The crown prince is unclear about what those alternatives are.
At the bottom of the dispute rests a naked power struggle between the two elderly royals. Abdullah has appointed a commission to decide on succession and whether Saudi monarchs are fit to rule. This has frightened the ailing Sultan, who badly wants to succeed Abdullah and eventually transfer power to his eldest son.
The United States leans toward Sultan. The U.S. intelligence community has assessed that the crown prince, who is also defense minister, would take greater account of American interests than any other successor.
But a British Defense Ministry report provides a glimmer of insight into Sultan's character. In a cable written in the late 1980s from then-British Ambassador William Morris, Sultan was described as corrupt, "not highly intelligent, inflexible and imperious, and drives a hard bargain."
King disturbed by reports of orgies in Wahabi Saudi Arabia
As a modest and pious man, Abdullah has good reason for seeking major reforms in Saudi Arabia. The king has been hearing steady reports of a sharp decline in morals in the country.
An immediate danger is the breakdown of the Saudi family. Young Saudis are often forced into marriage by their elders. But once behind closed doors, there is no pretense of any commitment.
In Jeddah, the Mawadda Social and Family Reconciliation and Counseling Center has been processing requests for help from thousands of married couples on the verge of breaking up. The threat is not divorce, heavily frowned upon in the kingdom, but of the husband establishing a second home with a concubine or prostitute.
"Our youths are not, unfortunately, educated on the importance of leading a secure married life," said Hassan Al Shelabi, the center director. "While the parents are keen to give their children luxury homes, rich food and fashionable clothing they neglect to prepare the children for a healthy married life and being good husbands or wives."
Al Shelabi said his center has received reports of wife swapping, of husbands pressuring wives to sleep with their friends and of orgies. He said these requests reflect the influence of Western culture, easily accessible on satellite television or the Internet.
Not surprisingly, the disdain that young Saudi men have for marriage has led to a huge increase in single Saudi women. The Saudi men would rather use their spare time to play house with Western women in Europe or the United States rather than raise a family back home.
Abdullah regards this phenomenon as part of the corruption of Saudi life fueled by easy oil money that has wrecked traditional values of honesty and work.
With the price of oil steadily moving to $100 a barrel, the life for Saudi youngsters is expected to only get easier.