Authors: Isobel Coleman, Senior Fellow and Director of the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative; Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program, and Tamara Cofman Wittes, Senior Fellow, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institution
Council on Foreign Relations
April 17, 2008
In February, Tamara Cofman Wittes and Isobel Coleman met with business leaders, academics, journalists, and civic activists in Riyadh and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Among Wittes and Coleman's key findings are that many Saudis welcomed the emergence of a more open atmosphere, pointing to King Abdullah's ascension to the throne, dynamism in neighboring Gulf states, and a new "post-post-9/11" environment as key catalysts for the change. Yet, there was frustration at the unpredictability and arbitrariness of the newly expanded social and political space. The next U.S. administration may have a new, but narrow, window of opportunity to reintroduce itself to Saudi Arabia. Many Saudis argued for the creation of a deeper, multi-dimensional relationship between both countries that engages civil society, not just the government and business sectors.
Isobel Coleman is Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations and Director of the Council’s U.S. foreign policy and women program. She recently coauthored Strategic Foreign Assistance: Civil Society in International Security (Hoover Institution Press, 2006). Prior to joining the Council, Dr. Coleman was CEO of a healthcare services company and a partner with McKinsey & Co. in New York. She was formerly a research fellow at the Brookings Institution and an adjunct professor at American University, where she taught political economy.
Tamara Wittes is a Senior Fellow at the Saban Center. She served as Middle East specialist at the U.S. Institute of Peace and director of programs at the Middle East Institute. Her work has addressed a wide range of topics, including the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, humanitarian intervention, and ethnic conflict. Her current research concerns U.S. policy toward democratization in the Arab world and the challenge of regional economic and political reform. She is the author of the book How Israelis and Palestinians Negotiate: A Cross Cultural Analysis of the Oslo Peace Process (2005).