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The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the Mideast's enigmatic paradoxes. It's a country made up of many contradictions, from laws touching upon social norms where the government, through the religious police -- the mutawaa' -- dictates dress codes and other social behaviors to the country's foreign policy that is now directly involved in trying to oust a sitting president. Of course, nothing that Saudi does today would have been possible without the impressive revenue the country rakes in from the 11.2 million barrels of oil it produces daily.
Thought to espouse ultraconservative religious and political ideas -- in many Muslim countries, the religion and politics often intermingle -- the Saudis have, for decades, professed a policy of no changes, no waves, and no public show of interference in other countries' affairs. At least officially. Unofficially, it's been another story altogether.
Saudi Arabia has long played a major role in the region's politics, supporting or opposing factions and politicians from Beirut to Yemen, projecting the conservative beliefs of the Saudi royal family, and using the leverage of their oil and their clout within the Arab world and OPEC, when needed. When politics and religion failed to produce the desired outcome, as in Syria, they play the terrorist card, and try and drag the United States into the conflict. In addition, they have been suspected of "buying stability" from a number of groups and organizations, similar to how a person used to purchase protection from the mob. And it nearly backfired at one point.
Of late, the usually discreet Saudis have gone public with their views of the battle taking place in Syria, as opposition forces made up of an amalgam of parties, tribes, factions, families, clans, and religious mercenaries have descended upon the Syrian front lines, attracted to the action of the civil war now raging in the country, much like flies are attracted to sweet and often not-so-sweet droppings.
It is therefore no accident or sheer coincidence to learn that just this last Sunday, the Syrian government, the very ones Saudi Arabia is tying to oust, has declared Saudi as its number one enemy, and accuses it of trying to destroy the country by arming jihadists and other rebels fighting to depose of President Bashar al-Assad.
The oil-rich Gulf monarchies have sided with the opposition from the start of Syria's conflict in March 2011, with Riyadh leading calls for the fall of Assad.
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad told AFP this week that Saudi Arabia was providing unfettered support for "terrorist groups" in Syria, while other nations had reviewed their positions. Last week, former CIA chief Michael Hayden said that perhaps the U.S. had backed the wrong side in supporting the rebels, and that at the end of the day, the regime may be the lesser of two evils.
"I think that all those who supported these terrorist groups have the feeling now that they have made big mistakes," Muqdad said in an interview on Thursday, referring to the rebels seeking to topple Assad. "The only party who is declaring the full support to the terrorist groups, to al-Qaida, is Saudi Arabia," he stated.
Another irony is that the rebels who Saudi Arabia are supporting are the very same ones who it fought on its home turf after the September 11, 2001 attacks, when al-Qaida was actively trying to oust the royal family. The Syrian minister said that if the world wanted to avoid another September 11, it should stop supporting the rebels.
Earlier this month, Assad's government urged the United Nations to take a stand against Saudi support for Islamist groups whose influence has grown on the battlefield. "We call on the UN Security Council to take the necessary measures to put an end to the unprecedented actions of the Saudi regime, which is supporting takfiri (Sunni extremist) terrorism tied to Al-Qaida," the foreign ministry said in a message to UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
It was the first time the Syrian government has appealed to the international body to take action against Riyadh. "Saudi Arabia is not content to merely send weapons and to finance but also mobilizes extremist terrorists and sends them to kill the Syrian people," the Syrian message said.
Saudi Arabia's relations with Syria have never been the smoothest, with Riyadh taking a very negative view of the Assad regime's treatment of Sunnis, with whom Saudis identify. The Saudis regret the manner in which some are often mistreated under the Alawite rule.
Saudi Arabia's relations with Damascus began to go south soon after the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, who had very close ties with the Saudis. To date, more that 126,000 people have died in the brutal war. But as the war progressed, relations between Syria and Saudi Arabia worsened.
Earlier this month a film depicting the Saudi royal family in an unflattering light was screened at the Damascus opera house. "Al-Qaida didn't come from Mars but from Saudi Arabia, from the Wahhabi, extremist way of thinking," Anzour told AFP.
If Saudi Arabia is being accused of trying dirty tricks on Syria, just wait until the Syrians start launching their tricks on SAUDE Arabia. Yes, Saudi Arabia is indeed a paradox if there ever was one.
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