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Saudis wonder if the Americans have gone mad

Opinion: The deal struck between US and Saudi Arabia in 1945 seems like its falling apart in 2011. Is Saudi Arabia’s great protector becoming unreliable?

When the telephone came to Saudi Arabia, the religious authorities first thought it was the devil’s work and wanted it banned. The story is told that Ibn Saud brought the religious authorities together into a room with a telephone, and when it rang he answered and passed the receiver over. It was prayers being read from Mecca, so the Mullahs relented.

The royal family consider themselves reformers, but cautious reformers, because the lesson learned by the Shah of Iran, and by countless impatient reformers as far away as Afghanistan, has always been: Don’t push reforms too fast or the counter reaction will overwhelm all you have tried to do.

And now the mobs were in the streets all over the Arab world howling for reforms. But what reforms? What devils-you-don’t-know would emerge to take the place of devils you do? Yes, as has been pointed out, hereditary kings were doing better than autocratic presidents in the Arab world, but wouldn’t this chaos, if allowed to continue, ultimately benefit extremists such as Al Qaeda? After all, the Saudi monarchy was Al Qaeda’s first target. The United States was only the “far enemy.”

Well, at least the Saudis could say that Obama has remained silent about the Saudi effort to crush dissenters across the causeway in Bahrain while he sent American bombers to defend rebel dissenters in Libya. For Saudi Arabia there was at least a little comfort in that double standard.