Mohamad Bazzi, CFR's adjunct senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies and assistant professor of journalism at New York University, and Eugene Rogan, faculty fellow and university lecturer in the modern history of the Middle East at University of Oxford's St. Antony's College, discuss how Middle Eastern monarchies are responding to the pressures created by the Arab uprisings.
This session was part of a CFR symposium, Implications of the Arab Uprisings, which was made possible by the generous support of Rita E. Hauser, and organized in cooperation with University of Oxford's St. Antony's College.
RAGHIDA DERGHAM: Good morning. Welcome to the second session of today's Council on Foreign Relations symposium on implications of the Arab uprisings. Our discussion will focus on the monarchies in the region.
And so first, announcements: Please completely turn off, not just put on vibrate, your cellphones, BlackBerrys and other wireless devices to avoid interference, please, with the sound system. And I would like to remind you all that this session is on the record.
And I'd like to welcome my two guests, Mohamad Bazzi, adjunct senior fellow for Middle East studies here at CFR, and Eugene Rogan, faculty fellow and university lecturer in the modern history of the Middle East at St. Antony's College, Oxford. Thank you both for being here. And welcome, everyone.
What we're going to be doing is that we're going to engage -- we'll engage each speaker for five minutes, then I'll go to the next speaker, then I'll engage them both together for 20 minutes and go to you for question-and-answer.
So I would like to start with Eugene. Let's talk about the monarchies in the Arab region. Are they resisting change, or are they doing their own transformations that we don't understand yet?
EUGENE ROGAN: I think the priority for the monarchies across the board is to put a fire wall between them and the revolutionary pressures that have emerged across the republics in the past 14, 16 months. And it's just that they have different means to get there. So for those who have the wealth, they are spending it on their populations to try and expand the number of people with a vested interest in the status quo. For the oil-poor states like Morocco and Jordan, the idea is to try and keep one step ahead of the reform demands, as Michael Willis said in the last session.
DERGHAM: So the haves and the have-nots -- are they having their own transformations differently? Are the monarchies that have oil sort of anarchy-proof where others are most -- probably more problematic?
ROGAN: Nobody is change-proof. You can only buy stability for a certain amount of time. By best estimates, Shell says that oil has got to stay sort of above $120 a barrel if the kind of spending countries like Saudi Arabia and Oman are embarking on is to be sustainable for very long. So you let the price of oil go down, this is going to be stability through deficit spending, and that will be the cause of the crisis down the road for the oil-rich.
So no, I think the pressures that have been unleashed in the region are of such a nature that no country is going to be immune. They're going to all feel the pressure to change, and then it's a question of how they moderate that pressure.
DERGHAM: Right, but asking whether they were upheaval-proof rather than change-proof, because I think you're right, there is a lot of transformation and change that's going on and in different -- (inaudible) -- some of them even close to a constitutional change, to become constitutional monarchies.
But I guess I meant to say first of all, before I get to the second part, do we -- do you feel or do you agree with the Gulf monarchies that say, because it's oil-rich, because there is a tradition of loyalty to the rulers, they will remain a stable region rather than what's happening to the republics in the region?
ROGAN: I think Elliott Abrams is right to point to the degree of legitimacy that governments in the Gulf tend to enjoy. The question I would ask is, for how long will citizens of Saudi Arabia be happy to enjoy fewer political freedoms than citizens of, let's say, Tunisia or Egypt? I think that's where the pressure will come from. It's been the kind of period of rapid transformation that makes anybody hesitant to say that a part of the region is free of the pressure of political turmoil. I think that that is an omnipresent threat.
But managing the threat, given the means, and the degree to which these countries will allow themselves to devolve power away from the ruling families and to their citizens to actually create an empowered citizenship, those are the kinds of questions I think we need to be asking in the coming decades.
DERGHAM: Yeah, we'll come -- when we engage further, the three of us, we will get into whether the means that are being pursued by different Arab monarchies are the right means.
But let me take Morocco for an example -- completely a different style, if you will -- and its way or its attempt to absorb the opposition. The king brought in the leader of the opposition, made him prime minister. It's a different role model. Would it work?
ROGAN: Morocco represents a distinct model of a monarchy adapting to revolutionary pressure. And in a sense, you could say there has been something of a revolution in Morocco. The fact that a PJD government has been elected by the people has brought the what was once opposition Islamist party into government. And it's done so through, you know, sanctioned means that does not challenge the authority or legitimacy of the monarchy. So they've managed to have this transformation take place without rocking the foundations of their political system. That is what makes the Moroccan model such a threat to countries in the Gulf. And I hope, Raghid, that we can come back to this extraordinary invitation of the GCC --
DERGHAM: Yes, indeed, we will definitely.
ROGAN: -- to bring Morocco in, because I can only see it as a bid by the GCC to contain the threat of the Moroccan model.
DERGHAM: Yeah. By the way, which I'm told that this is no longer a very solid invitation to both Morocco and Jordan. But definitely, I'd like to get back to this when we exchange views on this matter.
But let me take Jordan. Does -- is Jordan sort of the weakest link because of its, again, nature, away from the Gulf's wealth, doesn't have the -- you know, the king of Morocco could always say, I'm the descendant of the prophet and I am the cohesive -- the cohesiveness of this country. And is Jordan in need for a new model of constitutional monarchy -- not the English, not the French, something that we have to invent?
ROGAN: I think the Jordanians are more aware of that than we credit them. Their legitimacy is no weaker than that of the Moroccans. The Hashemites can claim as good a family tree as the Alaouis can.
But Jordan has always made a strength of its weakness. The fact that the Jordanian monarchy can say to its Gulf neighbors, if you don't support us against the turmoils of this revolutionary moment, we could become the sink hole that draws you all down -- and I think when Elliott Abrams talks about checks being written to Jordan, it reflects the degree to which the Saudis are concerned to prevent that kind of collapse.
So as was the case under King Hussein before him, I think King Abdullah is playing on the strategic position of Jordan and its importance as a pillar of stability for a regional order to try and use its weakness -- i.e. we can't satisfy our citizens, we can't create the jobs, we have the split between Jordanians and Palestinians that divide us from within, but after us, it really is the deluge, so don't us go -- to try and leverage the kind of support it takes to allow them to just give enough out to stay in power.
DERGHAM: Interesting. Actually, I was in Jordan recently, and I found that they almost are in need and search for the new model of constitutional monarchy, if you would, because this is -- they understand the need for change, and I think they're looking for the right model.
But Mohamad, let me turn to you and to -- because we had this conversation before, and you were very keen to address the issue of sectarianism. So do you want to -- let me, first of all, let you make your case. Why is this the most important thing for you? And you wanted to talk about Bahrain. So let me give you your opening on that.
MOHAMAD BAZZI: OK. Sure. Well, I think in a lot of ways Bahrain -- the experience in Bahrain has poisoned the Gulf, and in other ways it's a poison that's spreading through the region. It's poisoned the Gulf in this way, by taking the action that it did, Saudi Arabia, as the lead actor behind the GCC, sending troops into Bahrain last year, and also pushing the line that this was -- that the uprising in Bahrain was instigated entirely by Iran. It's made any kind of Shia action in the region suspect. And this attempt to dismiss the entire uprising of something like half of the population in Bahrain as an Iranian tool has consequences for the small Shia populations in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. And we see the counterweight to the sectarian poison playing out in Syria today.
DERGHAM: Right, except that you do have the Bassiouni report that came out, that held the government of Bahrain responsible for several things and demanded several steps, and the king said yes and has started. So -- and there has also been evidence of -- yes, you're right, it was not exclusively Iran-driven. Certainly the Shiites -- (inaudible) -- right, but there was an element of Iran-driven.
Why would this not let you also think of the GCC agreement amongst them that they have to come to the defense of each other? Even the Qataris came to the defense of Bahrain, and they -- you remember how they sort of thought they were the small island that you can step on.
BAZZI: Well, the Qataris came to the defense of Bahrain for much the same reasons as the Saudis. The Qataris don't have a Shia problem of their own to deal with, but the Qataris began to perceive it as a threat to the GCC overall. You're right that there are the agreements of mutual defense within the GCC.
My concern and my fear over the sectarian poison that's spreading out of Bahrain and its legacy is that those leaders of the GCC, if we look at Saudi Arabia and Qatar as the leaders, are not putting the kind of pressure that needs to be put on the ruling family in Bahrain to really step up those reforms. There's been a lot of lip service in the region to reform, I mean starting with Bashar al-Assad and others. And every regime that's threatened promises reform immediately. We also see the sectarian poison sort of going back -- or turning around back to Iraq and the relationship between the GCC and Iraq, but --
DERGHAM: Yeah, except that I -- a lot would argue that, you know, the sectarian argument is overplayed, because in Syria it's really not about the Sunni-Shiite divide, it's really about, you know, wanting to get reform by any means, and now, unfortunately, it's a military means.
But -- so are you not worried about over-expanding on the sectarian divide? Because there is a movement in the region for something else, for liberty. It's not only about sectarian divide. Are you not concerned about your argument being over-extended?
BAZZI: I agree with you that there is a movement -- there is a strong national tendency in this movement and a national tendency that we haven't seen in a very long time in the region, and that's a very positive thing. I'm not -- I'm still not worried about overplaying the sectarian element.
Let's take Syria very briefly as an example. The regime has been most responsible for the sectarian poisoning of Syria, and that doesn't mean that the sectarianism isn't there. And it's used -- certainly used the experience of Bahrain to probably greater success at the beginning of this experience. Now it's so far beyond the pale that it can't make the argument anymore. But just because the Syrian regime is behind the sectarianism doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
DERGHAM: This is a point now where I'd like to bring you both into the conversation. Let me stay with Syria a little bit. You would have Qatar and Saudi Arabia -- again, rivals in the past -- working together right now on the issue of Syria, and in fact in the face of American objection in some cases, because they're pushing for arming the Syrian opposition. They're saying that we need to bring down Bashar al-Assad.
Where -- what sort of place does this put Qatar and Saudi Arabia for you, Eugene? Are they in the leadership of change in the whole region? And if so, what came about? How come? They were the conservative ones. You know, they both are Wahabis; they are both, you know, very traditionalist. So what happened?
ROGAN: I think what happened is they lost their confidence in the United States to play the role that it formerly had played of overseeing the stability of the order in the region. And from everything that we read, it's clear that President Obama came under a lot of pressure from Riyadh to prop up Mubarak, to keep the regional order in place, and that when the Obama administration took the decision to no longer support Mubarak against the crowds that the Saudis made a sort of strategic decision then and there that they would need to go into the driver's seat in trying to manage this moment of regional turmoil, that they couldn't trust the Americans to do it; the Americans didn't seem to be standing by their old partners like they used to, and so the Saudis couldn't leave this, as it were, to America to do that.
Qatar bears weight in regional affairs that far surpasses its demographic lack of might. But Qatar really needs to be in partnership with Saudi Arabia to be an effective tool. It's the two of them together working. Their aim seems to be not just to try and contain the revolutionary ferment of this year, but also to contain the threat of Iran, which comes back to, I think, the Bahrain question. The position they're taking in Syria is very clearly targeting Iran. If there's a regime change in Syria, it will weaken Iran's influence in the Middle East. And I think they're viewing Syria as a strategic battle that way. If you like, Syria is a crossing point of the interests of Turkey and of Iran and of the GCC. And that's why there is this current struggle for Syria.
DERGHAM: Mohamad, doesn't that beat the other alternative of having Israel have its military operation in Iran, and then it is militarized beyond what we know? Isn't that a good approach if you want to weaken the regional hegemonic Iran as that has been, really, in Iraq and Lebanon? Does that not make sense, what Eugene said?
BAZZI: I think what Eugene said makes sense. I'm not sure if it's either/or. I'm not sure if what's on the table is either a weakening and potential downfall of the Assad regime that would weaken Iran regionally or a potential Israeli strike on Iran. We might see both, in which case we probably see the Iranian regime strengthened with sort of a wave of nationalist sentiment sweeping certainly in Iran, at least in the short term, and possibly nationalist sentiment, you know, supporting Iran in the Arab world.
I want to make a brief point about the Saudi-Qatari alliance. And I think we've seen it at play in -- we've seen it in Libya; we've seen it in Syria; we've seen it in Yemen to an extent. They've taken the lead of the GCC together. I'm not entirely sure how long it's going to last because the Qataris and the Saudis have this history of rivalry, which you hinted at. We've seen it, you know, as recently as two or three years ago when they were sponsoring rival Arab League meetings over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We've seen it in Lebanon certainly from 2005 to 2008. And I think they have these common interests today, but very quickly I think we might see them part ways.
DERGHAM: Well, and maybe, but in 2011 Libya, for example, before it came to the Security Council of the United Nations, it -- and it was really -- the decision was GCC decision of the six countries; then it passed through the Arab League before it reached the Security Council of the United Nations. So they were in the lead of Libya change. They were in the lead of Yemen, which led to the departure of Ali Abdullah Saleh from the presidency. That's also another success story, probably. And they are now -- and on the issue of Syria.
So it seems to me that it's -- it didn't happen on a one-issue basis, but in a very systematic way. Do you agree, Eugene, that this may just, like, stop like that, or do you think this is strategically different geopolitical equation, particularly in its relationship with NATO in Libya and not -- and the noninterest of NATO to go into Syria?
ROGAN: Well, Libya is such a particular case because I think you can say without exception every country in the Arab world hated Moammar Gadhafi. So it was hard to find anybody in the GCC that was going to make a case not to overthrow Gadhafi. I mean, the moment there was a groundswell of popular support to do so, they seemed to jump in the glee.
But your point is well-taken. The way they managed the exit of Ali Abdullah Saleh, or mismanaged it -- I mean, it was -- it was many, many efforts to try and bring about that plan.
DERGHAM: But it happened.
ROGAN: But eventually it happened, and they finally got the wily fox to step out of Sanaa. It goes to show the degree to which they are trying to manage transition in a way which is least destabilizing to their region.
Syria is on the frontier of the GCC region as Yemen is on the frontier of the GCC region. And I think these are conflicts which are too close to their geostrategic interests to allow a violent process that could go on for a long time, serve to destabilize the Saudi heartland or the GCC heartland.
DERGHAM: And how damaged, if damaged -- you argue that it is a damaged relationship between the Saudis and the United States, and the Obama administration. I'm not so sure I would agree to use the word "damage," but let me see -- do you -- do you feel that relationship, the American-Saudi relationship is damaged now? Because Mohamad, you said that in our conversation. Eugene, do you agree with that?
ROGAN: Well, I'd love to hear the views of this assembly. From what I read in my newspapers, yes, it's been very damaged. I mean, King Abdullah stopped taking phone calls from the White House. The vice president, the secretary of state both had to cancel visits to Riyadh because it was clear that the king wouldn't receive them.
I think that they may have gone past that crisis point. I don't know what the current state of play is. I'd be curious to know your views. But my understanding was, in the aftermath of Mubarak's fall, Saudi-American relations suffered terribly. And the Saudis said, that's it, we can't trust them anymore.
DERGHAM: But then they --
ROGAN: We're going to take in (the driving seat ?).
DERGHAM: But then it was fixed, and -- during the Libya issue, it was fixed, during the Yemen -- and then it got, you know, sort of, like, tested again on the Syria -- on the approach to Syria. Right, Mohamad?
BAZZI: I'm not sure if it's been entirely fixed, but I agree that it's been -- it's been repaired by those issues, by Libya, and certainly by Syria today. We see a closeness. But I think -- I think it's hard for us, not being in the corridors of power, Riyadh or Washington, to assess the exact damage and the -- to assess the exact personalities.
I want to go back just to the -- not to beat the Qatari-Saudi issue to death, but there's a -- there's an internal -- I think there's an internal dynamic we should also keep in mind within Qatar and within Saudi Arabia that might also see them part ways strategically and regionally. And that is, I'd argue that the Qataris, and certainly the UAE, are probably safer in the grand scheme of things.
You asked if the monarchies are safe; they're safer because of their internal dynamic, their internal populations -- much smaller populations, incredibly wealthy. Saudi Arabia is incredibly wealthy, but a much larger population, a more dissatisfied youth population, more economic grievances and other dynamics, that if there is a ignition that we're probably not thinking of today, if there is some sort of ignition in Saudi Arabia in the next months to years, that could have -- you could have -- see this -- another divergence of Qatari interests and Saudi interests.
DERGHAM: Let me -- let me go back, though, to the geopolitical dimension, because it's rather interesting to me to see how the GCC, again led by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, had sent very strong messages to Russia and China when it came to the, you know, double veto in the Security Council on Syria, even when Sergei Lavrov was to be going to the Gulf summit or the Gulf -- not summit -- in the Syrian meeting, they said, no, go to the Arab -- altogether, this is -- your position hurts all of the Arabs.
So -- and it's -- they've been trying to even split the Russians from the Chinese, and -- or the Chinese from the Russians, for that matter, on the -- vis-a-vis the Syrian position. So they -- they've been proactive. This is rather new that we see these Gulf monarchies taking on superpowers like this, isn't it, Eugene?
ROGAN: Again, I think it's all part of the same package of them taking over regional affairs and trying to manage this regional crisis. It's really important to stress, Raghida, how existential a threat revolutionary change is to the monarchies of the Gulf. This is one of those moments that they'd all been preparing for as a worst-case scenario, and it came with such a storm and so unpredicted by people at home or abroad that the Saudis, the Qataris have been working overtime to try and address the change.
I think Mohamad makes a good point. The Saudis are in a different position from their other, smaller Gulf neighbors. Qatar has the highest per capita income of any country in the world. It has no demography. It has tremendous oil wealth. You could say the same thing about the UAE, really. If the key word today is provision, how well does the government provide for its people, these countries are revolution-proof in that sense.
The Saudis are not. They really have -- they have a demography, they have poverty, they had a history of domestic opposition movements that have gone to violence, they've gone to exile.
There is potential for things to blow up in Saudi Arabia. And that is why I think they are so unwilling to allow things to roll out of their control. They wish to manage what's going on now, and they're mobilizing their Gulf partners with real strong-arm tactics, whether it's in their relations with the superpowers -- here I'm thinking of China and Russia, not just the USA -- as well as with the Arab League states and the smaller GCC states.
DERGHAM: I'm sure we're going to get a lot of this from the audience engaging into this matter and others. But let me be -- put one other thing on the table before I open it up, a couple of things.
Geopolitically, Iran: They had their own Green Revolution in 2009 before the Arab Spring, and it was crushed. So it isn't -- you know, it's an autocracy, a religious autocracy, actually. In fact, aren't the monarchies -- the Arab monarchies better than the religious autocracy of Iran? Or are they equal in terms of not letting their people want that -- on freedoms? I mean, you know, Mohamad, you seem to have a view on that, no?
BAZZI: Are we talking in terms of the legitimacy of the regime?
DERGHAM: Well, I'm talking actually about -- let's focus Iran. Iran, when it crushed its own revolution -- put that in perspective. And it is no longer a monarchy. So its position right now -- it's not enviable. I mean, no Arab monarchy wants to be an Iran, right?
BAZZI: No, definitely not with the kind of internal pressures it's facing. We've probably seen more -- in Iran, we've seen this consolidation of power around Ayatollah Khamanei that's probably strengthened his hand than his position in 2009 when the Green Revolution began. I mean, we can also make the argument that the -- that the Green Revolution and the uprising in Iran was somewhat of an inspiration to some segments of the Arab world. And certainly -- (inaudible) --
DERGHAM: And could that inspiration be the other way around now with the success of the Arab Spring? Do you think --
BAZZI: Could it instigate --
DERGHAM: Could it instigate -- if we have -- (inaudible) -- in Iran?
BAZZI: It could. We haven't seen the signs of it because there's such broad disillusionment and because the repression in Iran has -- had been so effective.
DERGHAM: I want to just, the last three minutes that I have with you, talk about if the changes that are taking place -- and let's say Saudi Arabia, in -- by building -- by emphasizing the importance of universities, like a very great network of universities, even women -- (although ?) to my disliking, of course, the status of women is nothing to be enviable. But however, you know, there's been quite a lot of advances -- slow pace, but wouldn't the Saudi ability, it seems, or you know, pace that they need -- you look at Kuwait; you have practically that on the way of constitutional monarchy, because when you have the prime minister -- questions like this by the parliaments, and you know, they're demanding of them to do what you have to do. And then you look also at, you know, United Arab Emirates and Doha and every place -- you see beautiful cities coming out of the sands, a rebirth -- or the birth of new cities. Is this not -- or can we look at this as transformation of a different kind on the way to suit themselves in terms of the liberty they need? I mean, are we wrong to say these monarchies and, like, look down at them? Are we -- maybe they've got it, and they're doing it their own way? What do you both think about that? Eugene?
ROGAN: We come back to the word "provision" and the degree of your population that has a vested interest in the status quo. I think this is a very important concept for understanding the balance of stability in the region. The higher the percentage of people who have a vested interest in the status quo -- your job, your livelihood, your kids going to school is vested in keeping this government in power -- so much more the degree of loyalism you're going to get from your -- from your population. And I think that you can break down the Gulf countries according to the degree to which they achieve that.
Kuwait kind of lost it in the way in which the sovereign wealth fund was squandered after the Iraqi occupation. And it meant that the regime was challenged by its people in a way that forced the regime to concede more power to a parliament and whatnot. It really did go down the route of a constitutional monarchy. But let's be honest: The other GCC states saw that as the nightmare. They talked about Kuwait before 2011 as the nightmare scenario. They didn't want to look like that.
So I think that, you know, this question is one of provision -- it is what we should be watching -- but fundamentally, it is still the case that people in the Gulf are subjects. They, with the exception of Kuwait, aren't citizens. And how long will they be happy to stay subjects? When will they demand the full rights of participating in their own countries' public and political lives? And that is where I think the change is going to come from.
DERGHAM: Mohamad, same question to you.
BAZZI: I think we've seen this kind of cultural openness or cultural policy in an extent -- or at least much -- the smallest extent or the least extent in Saudi Arabia. We've seen it in Qatar and the UAE, bringing in universities, bringing in Western institutions. We've also seen a little bit of the scaling back on that. The UAE, for example -- partly it's the financial pressure, but partly also a concern about the cultural openness. UAE has scaled back a bit on some of the universities and the museums and has extended them, you know, years down the line. And I think there's some political concern about that, because ultimately cultural openness and these cultural programs are also going to bring about some kind of political motivation.
DERGHAM: At this time I would like to invite members and guests to join our conversation and ask their questions, make their comments. So I need to read you the instructions. You have to wait for the microphone and speak directly into it. Please stand, state your name and affiliation, and please limit yourself to one question and keep it concise to allow as many people as possible to participate.
I read it. (Laughter.) So now. Yes, please go ahead. And stand and identify yourself.
QUESTIONER: Thank you so much. Helene -- (inaudible) -- Barclays Capital. Can you get you both back onto the subject of Saudi Arabia and succession? We're going to be probably seeing Prince Nayef become King Nayef soon. Is there potential for instability in the eastern provinces, with the young population, with him becoming king?
ROGAN: I think it's a very genuine risk. I think under King Abdullah, there is consensus that you have a popular king who is seen as a reformer by nature. We were talking about the university scene. I mean, the way he's defended the KAUST -- the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology experiment with its mixed campus and its international student and teaching body against the Mutawas' accusation that this is somehow un-Islamic or against their values was just a little symbol of the way he is committed to seeing things change in the country in a carefully progressive, monitored way.
Somehow, everything we read about Nayef makes you believe he would be a very different monarch -- the very hard line he takes on Iran; we are led to believe he is a very hard line on (Shia-Sunni ?) relations -- are all grounds -- the fact that he is very resistant to change, he is not a reformer by nature -- means that he could actually prove to be a rather destabilizing person to come to power at this crossroads.
But, you know, he is not himself the healthiest, sprightliest of men, and so how long one would have a Nayef monarchy, you know -- (inaudible) -- but, you know, of course I wish (the man ?) long life and all that -- but I think it's really people looking for who is to succeed after Nayef before they can say whether Saudi Arabia will be able to evolve to avoid revolution.
DERGHAM: If you want to come in, you have to let me know. Do you want to come in on this one? Sure.
BAZZI: I'll say something on this very briefly. I agree with everything Eugene said.
I think one danger with the succession question is that it could divert Saudi -- the regime's resources and attention away from the grander geopolitical problems, and that's another fact, is the succession, if it becomes difficult, if it becomes protracted, we're going to see Saudi attention diverted from these important geopolitical problems in the region.
DERGHAM: The gentleman at the very last row.
QUESTIONER: (Off mic) -- from the NIC. A question about Turkey and the Gulf monarchies. Do they view Turkey's model and its rather more open quest for involvement, if not -- or influence or something more -- as a threat, as a possible help to them, or something else?
DERGHAM: It will help me, if you want a particular person to answer, to point that out. If not, I will assign it.
QUESTIONER: Well, I think I'd be interested -- I'd like all three of you to answer that. (Laughter.)
DERGHAM: Thank you for including me.
QUESTIONER: The Turkish relationship's so important.
DERGHAM: Yes, it is. Do you want to start, Mohamad?
BAZZI: Sure. I'll do it very briefly. I think probably it's more a question of competition, and we'll see the competition play out in Syria and -- I won't say it will extend to Yemen, but maybe one day it even will. And I don't think the model -- I don't think the Turkish model -- it's probably the nightmare scenario that Eugene talked about, but an even wider nightmare scenario to think of the Turkish model as applicable within the Gulf monarchies. But I think the relationship will be marked more by competition for ascendance in the region, and especially with a weakened Egypt and a weakened Syria. And we've seen a lot of signs of Turkey trying to fill that void.
ROGAN: My sense is that there are three countries in the region that have been most influential in shaping regional events. And it's Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. I mean, those three, to me, just seem to be the real managers of regional change. And there is a degree of cooperation and a degree of competition between Turkey and Saudi Arabia. But I think overall, for the Saudis, there is more to be gained by working with Turkey than trying to work against it.
They don't see Turkey as where things are going in their region because as monarchies, they don't relate to the republican nature of Turkish politics or the constitutional debates that are going on. They culturally are very comfortable with the AKP. It's an Islamist party, but it operates in a very different sphere from their own. And they see that Turkey is playing a very positive role in reinforcing Arab League positions. Ahmet Davutoglu has been very active in making the rounds of all Arab foreign minister meetings in helping to address the challenges of the revolutions of the past year.
So my sense is they see Turkey as operating in a different climate, but that it is probably better to work with than against its gravitational pull and that together, they stand a better chance of containing the threat of the third active partner, Iran. And that's how I read the runes. But it's not as though it's very publicly pronounced. It's funny; you've seen Turkey so open in its engagement with North Africa. I've seen very, very little in what it pronounces on its relations with Riyadh.
DERGHAM: But it's interesting also to look at the Turkish relationship with the United States in terms of handling what's going on in the region as a partner or not. Sometimes this administration in Washington is telling Turkey, slow down, and other times, you know, you be up-front. I think they have -- they have -- basically, the government in Turkey sort of positioned themselves recently since the Arab Spring to be in a better place with Washington. And in that sense, they are playing different roles because of Iran versus -- vis-a-vis, for example, Syria. So I think it's a very important thing to watch.
I don't think the model as -- and Mohamad spoke about it -- like the Islamic rule in the Arab region is a guarantee to be like -- secular as it is in Turkey, because Turkey has a geography and the history to protect it from, you know, going terribly in one direction. And I think the Arab region doesn't have that much.
But thank you for asking. This is the last time I'll answer. I'm not allowed to. (Laughter.) Please go ahead.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Raz Pujins (ph), New York University. My question is addressed to Eugene Rogan. You said that the smaller Gulf monarchies are upheaval-proof, whereas Saudi Arabia is not. But if Saudi Arabia begins to go, won't it affect the whole region? How long can the others stay out of it? They are so tied to Saudi Arabia. You implied that there's a difference between the two. Are they not connected?
ROGAN: I don't know. I think that there's a great deal of benefit that could come to Saudi Arabia's Gulf neighbors if its political stability were shaken in a way that made it more inward-looking and less assertive on the region. There are territorial disputes that, you know, have rocked these countries. They're (unfettered ?) agenda -- they don't really love Saudi Arabia very much, and they feel that if a Saudi Arabia were to turn in on itself, it would leave them more freedom to pursue their own interests. I know this goes against what you would think: A crisis in Riyadh would set off instability right across the GCC. But I'm not sure that it would.
QUESTIONER: Are you implying that it would be to their advantage if Saudi Arabia destabilized?
ROGAN: Well, they've spent no small effort over the past couple of decades, thinking of Qatar or the UAE, to try and assert their independence from Saudi Arabia. And they find Saudi Arabia overbearing culturally, politically, economically, socially. And so having a little relief from the Saudi big brother would not go down badly with these countries. And I don't know that the trouble that Saudi Arabia would face with its citizens would have a contagion effect in their countries the way we might think just because of the geographic proximity.
DERGHAM: But didn't things change after the Bahrain and -- after 2011, they now are -- the GCC countries, all of them are working together, particularly Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Aren't they -- this is just to follow up. Aren't they really right now more interested in their cohesiveness as the GCC rather than to compete and, you know, who's overpowering the other? I see much more closeness amongst the Saudis and the Qataris than -- I mean, I'm shocked at how, you know, they both changed and they are closer to one another. I don't think the Qataris see their benefit in destabilizing Saudi Arabia.
ROGAN: No, but that's a different point. I'm not arguing that they would want to destabilize Saudi Arabia. I'm just saying that were Saudi Arabia to be destabilized, it might not prove the threat to the other Gulf states that we would assume it to be. Remember I prefaced my answer by saying I don't know. (Laughter.) So I'm going to give you just one person's opinion based on the little I do know. But, you know, I think about the pressure that Qatar came under from the Saudis over Al-Jazeera.
DERGHAM: These are old stories, though. These are not in the last year and a half, right? You're talking about way before the change came to the region, to the --
ROGAN: (Inaudible.) I mean, you know, in a five-year time frame, even given the meteoric pace of change that we witnessed over the past couple of years, it's not ancient history and it's not forgotten.
And I'm not saying that there is a will to destabilize Saudi Arabia. All I'm saying is I've seen Saudi policies in the past year -- for instance, I keep trying to raise this GCC initiative to Morocco and Jordan. That was an initiative that I understand the Saudis shoved down the throats of the GCC. And they did so to try and stop the oil-poor countries from going down the road of constitutional monarchy. That is the big threat.
ROGAN: Now, this was a very unpopular policy to the other GCC members, who said, we are not a conservative club of kings, we're a regional organization, and Morocco is on the Atlantic, it's not on the Gulf. OK? I hear these sorts of things -- it's not something that the Saudis ever pronounce on. You read about it; you hear rumors. But it suggests to me that the tensions between an overbearing Saudi policy and its GCC neighbors means that if Saudi Arabia were a little weakened or there was, you know, some instability that forced Saudi Arabia to focus on its own affairs and less on the regional affairs, it might create space for its neighbors to come out from under the shadow of Saudi Arabia.
DERGHAM: I'll take a question, but the GCC -- because I know you wanted to talk about that. So do you think that they are going to let in Morocco and Jordan? My information is that, no. Do you think they will?
ROGAN: I don't think they need to let them in to try and control what Jordan and Morocco do.
DERGHAM: Say it again?
ROGAN: I do not think that Jordan and Morocco need to be admitted to the GCC for the GCC to try and exercise a degree of control over what those countries do. And what i think the GCC is trying to prevent or the Saudis are trying to prevent is a significant move towards a genuine constitutional monarchy and the devolution of authority from absolute rulers to their people.
I mean, you take a nice country like Oman. The sultan is not just sultan; he's foreign minister, he's defense minister, he's minister of finance, I think he's minister of the interior. There's room for devolution in Oman. That's not going to totally upset the apple cart. But a move towards constitutional monarchy is something that I think they want to stop at all. And so the invitation to join the GCC is one face of an initiative to contain that threat.
If they can't do it that way, they'll find another way to do it, but contain that threat I think they are determined to do. And I think it will be another one of the interesting things to watch as we see the transformations that have been set in motion since 2011 over what I imagine to be a decade of change in the region as a whole.
DERGHAM: Gentleman -- (inaudible).
QUESTIONER: Pincas Jawetz. I'm with Sustainability Tank. My question's about the Sheik Yamani family, and it's to all three of you. Now, Sheik Yamani says that the Oil Age will not end because of lack of oil, like the Stone Age did not end because of lack of stones. (Laughter.) Now, he lost his job, went to London, lives very happily in London, has a very interesting daughter. His daughter, as I was told, speaks 14 languages, is an academic.
My question now is -- (inaudible) -- my question is: Which of the two, Sheik Yamani, who would like to see the Saudi Arabia become something like the UAE, a post-oil financial state, development, things like Masdar City; or his daughter, that clearly would like to see the women of Saudi Arabia succeed, and she writes about that -- who of them is a bigger danger to the Saudi regime?
DERGHAM: And who is your question to, please? Who --
QUESTIONER: All three of you.
DERGHAM: We're going to --
BAZZI: I find it --
DERGHAM: Yeah, would you -- do you --
BAZZI: I mean, I liked her book on the Hijaz. I thought she wrote a great book on the Hijaz.
DERGHAM: There you go. (Chuckles.)
BAZZI: I don't know. Is she a greater threat? I mean, probably -- by force of her personality, she's probably a greater threat to the Saudi regime. But I don't know. That's a --
ROGAN: I'm going to generalize your question and say, is the expanding of women's role in public life in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf a threat or a positive development? And I think -- my reading of Saudi society is that women are looking for evolution more than revolution. They're looking to broaden their participation, but they don't want to -- they don't want to be so radical in their demands that they find that they're closed out. So I see them as a positive force for change within Saudi Arabia whose way of working is more incremental than revolutionary. But we are seeing a broadening of their participation in all levels of Saudi societies in ways that are perhaps not appreciated in the West. And these are gains that I think that women in Saudi Arabia hold onto quite firmly and don't want to jeopardize.
DERGHAM: Yeah, absolutely. I also sense the same thing from women in Saudi Arabia. And it's actually, the women in the Arab world, they are really a very important undercurrent of change. They are really agents of change, and in Saudi Arabia as well. And when you go there, you'll be fascinated how powerful they are, but in their own way, in their own -- on their own pace.
QUESTIONER: Thank you very much. We'll come back to it at the final session, but I'd like to get your views on how is the American withdrawal now from Iraq and Afghanistan going to affect attitudes within the area? Eugene, you suggested that the Saudis were totally shook up because of Obama's refusal to support Mubarak. Sure, there was a lot of -- and I know the back-and-forth of that, but it goes deeper than that. Obviously, all of them are seeing the American removal from the region and have to make their own calculations. I'd like you -- both of you commenting on that.
DERGHAM: Eugene, put it first to you.
ROGAN: I think, from Riyadh, there are places where American troops represent a force of stability in the region, and there are places where they destabilize the region. Having American bases in Saudi Arabia was destabilizing, and they asked them to go. And I think having American troops in Iraq was also destabilizing. And so I -- I'm guessing here again; I haven't any inside information of this -- that the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq is probably a good thing from the Saudi perspective.
But it's predicated on the idea that you're still going to have a fleet based in Bahrain and a -- and a Central Command based in Doha, which means that they Americans are there to continue to monitor Iran's influence in the region, which is, I think, the only reason why people in Saudi Arabia would want to see Americans in the region at all. It would be a better, more stable region without foreign troops, were there not what the Gulfies see as the strategic threat of Iran.
But where they -- where -- you know, where they have their bases and where they least rock the boat -- Bahrain, Doha -- Americans are good. And for the rest, as they withdraw, it probably does not in any sense concern the Saudis.
DERGHAM: Mohamad, would you take a crack at this, especially that if you think now after the withdrawal of Americans forces from Iraq, is it more in the pocket of Iran -- so you address that issue.
BAZZI: I'm glad you brought up Iraq, because I think in a lot of ways, it's been a missed opportunity for the GCC. We even saw it just in the past two days of the Arab League summit where Qatar and Saudi Arabia very pointedly did not send high-level representation to the first Arab League summit in Iraq in quite a long time, in two decades. And that's one of those things where you wonder what's going on in GCC -- well, what's going on in Saudi and Qatar that they have to make that statement. I mean, the Qatari prime minister actually was quite up-front about it on Al-Jazeera a few days ago basically saying that he -- that they did this because they want to send a message to Nouri al-Maliki about his close ties to Iran.
But I would -- I would argue maybe the best way to move Maliki -- or at least maybe Maliki is a lost cause on -- when it comes to Iran, but others in Iraq away from Iran, is to at least offer some counterpart or offer something else to the Iraqis, because right now, I mean, I think all Maliki hears from the Saudis and the Qataris is talk. And this kind of very public dismissal is something that he'll keep in mind and that other Shia leaders in Iraq will keep in mind. And it's another missed opportunity for the GCC.
DERGHAM: I will take another question from that area. In the meantime, when we come back in another round, maybe somebody could touch on this issue. You know, Qatar has changed tremendously in its relationship with Iran. They were much closer, and suddenly they are in the lead of just saying, no, we will not just (bow ?). And also, Maliki -- the Saudis are really appealing to Maliki. In fact, they are doing everything -- they sent -- to -- just to balance this off, they sent an ambassador recently. This was a message of confidence into the -- into Iraq.
Please, the gentleman over there.
QUESTIONER: Drosten Fischer (sp), MARTA (ph) Group. So with increasing amounts of oil going from the Gulf to China and decreasing amounts going to the U.S., is the Gulf still of strategic importance to the U.S.?
ROGAN: I mean, the short answer is yes. There's still significant amounts going to the West, and so the importance of Gulf oil is none the diminished. We see the way in which the severing of the Iranian oil supply line has driven up the price of oil. The Saudis are being forced to step up their production, which again goes to show the Gulf compensating for the Gulf. I think that that's going to remain unchanged, and is not challenged by the growing importance of China and India and Southeast Asia as clients for the region's wealth.
BAZZI: I think -- I think Eugene covered it.
DERGHAM: OK. I need hands, please. And identify yourself.
QUESTIONER: Joan Spero, Columbia University. Could I ask you to go back to a point that Raghida made earlier about the use of education, cultural policy in an effort to build a fire wall that you talked about? And a number of the monarchies have set up philanthropies; they are doing a variety of work with the poor, more like charities. They're building education facilities. Does this make any difference at all?
DERGHAM: Thank you for following up on that. (Laughter.) Mohamad, let me go with you first.
BAZZI: I spent January in Abu Dhabi. NYU, where my main job is, has a -- has a campus in Abu Dhabi, and I spent January teaching -- co-teaching a journalism course. It was fascinating. It was a different way -- I've never really experienced the UAE quite in that way before. And -- but the key component of this NYU outpost in Abu Dhabi is that most of the students were not Emirati. I mean the vast majority, 92 percent. And there are many reasons for that. Part of it is that NYU is trying to keep very high standards, and it's -- there's a problem with this --
DERGHAM: Too many -- (inaudible) -- (laughter) --
BAZZI: Well, no, I mean -- sorry, that's not --
DERGHAM: What do you mean by that?
BAZZI: It's sort of -- they're trying to keep admissions standards that are basically actually above the admissions standards of NYU in New York. And so a lot of -- a lot of students -- actually, in a lot of the Arab world, they're not drawing very many students from the Arab world as a whole.
DERGHAM: Is this the course that you fly every two weeks on -- (inaudible) -- teach and come back? Is this -- (inaudible) --
BAZZI: No, no, that's the president of the university who does that. I just went for an intensive three weeks. But it's a -- it was -- you know, in some ways it's this cultural policy of -- maybe of cultural ambassadorships, of getting young people -- training young people to have positive -- from all over the world to have positive feelings about the UAE.
DERGHAM: I think -- but I think Joan's point is about the universities being built in this part of the world, not only that program with NYU. I think her point is to take a look at the -- in Saudi Arabia, for example, there it's a whole city, I think -- can't come up with the name of the city, but incredibly network of universities. Same in Doha -- they also brought in lots of universities into Doha. I think that's her point.
BAZZI: Well, I mean, that's -- but that's -- I think it's this long-term strategy of cultural ambassadorship, to get both local students -- but a lot of it seems to be geared toward outsiders to have positive feelings about the countries.
DERGHAM: Speaking of ambassadorship, Ambassador Murphy.
QUESTIONER: Richard Murphy. More of a comment, but it does seem to me that you agree. In Saudi Arabia, the regime has, above all, the desire to survive and prosper in the leadership role. We still, after all these years, don't know them that well.
We knew that Abdullah hated America back in the '60s, and it was a -- it was going to be a terrible day when Abdullah became king of Saudi Arabia. Didn't happen. Doubts about Nayef are there. He'll slow things down, try to block, but he's been at Abdullah's side for years and knows -- always look for what's good for Saudi Arabia in these issues.
Abdullah was very unhappy with us over dumping Mubarak. That was, he considered, dishonorable, the way we behaved, and he had a good point. Forty-eight hours, we switched years of support. But in 72 hours, they came up with a statement of undying friendship for the Egyptian people and support of a good relationship there.
I think their interests in their security still require an American role. It's good we're not in the country, but it would be very bad if we weren't ready to come to their rescue, whether it's from Iran or any other nameless menace.
And on oil, they've continued to be what we used to call responsible, looking for moderate prices. It was one thing when moderate prices meant $3.20 a barrel, but -- (scattered laughter) -- that's long gone, but they are ready to increase the production and to play the old role that they've had of trying to steady the market.
DERGHAM: Maybe I could take advantage of what Ambassador Murphy said and just ask you both: Do you think that that relationship across the Atlantic, you know -- again, between this administration and Saudi Arabia in particular or the GCC -- is this going to change after the elections, after November? Do you think this is going through a crisis, temporary crisis, and things will be back to normal? Mohamad first, and then Eugene. And then talk the fact that Iran -- and I know you like to -- you know, you have to think geopolitically, because --
BAZZI: (Inaudible) -- weighs heavily on my mind?
DERGHAM: Yeah. Well, I mean, it -- on everybody's mind, because it is also on the GCC's mind.
BAZZI: With the relationship, I think, as you pointed out earlier, the relationship is not -- is no longer at the low point it was immediately after Mubarak's ouster. And there's been an effort to repair it on both sides, much more behind the scenes than has been publicly.
But will it change? I'm not sure -- I mean, did you mean, will Obama suddenly be in favor of a -- of an attack on Iran?
DERGHAM: No, I mean to say, for example, one of the reasons for the rifts right now is the policy towards Syria, for example, that it's not necessarily an attack or not an attack --
BAZZI: So will --
DERGHAM: -- but in terms of, you know, where do you go from here and do they see eye to eye on policy. Or -- I mean, I did not argue that there is a damaged relationship. To the contrary, I think it's a very solid one. It goes up and down, but I think in the final analysis, it is a strategic relationship. You are the one who's saying it was, you know, damaged.
BAZZI: Well, I think we're both saying --
DERGHAM: Yeah, both, both, yeah.
BAZZI: -- that it's been -- that it's been damaged, to a different extent. I mean, will we see a more muscular Obama administration policy towards Syria after the election? That's possible if this drags out, and there is many signs that it will drag out past the election. Will that necessarily bring the relationship back to the level it was pre-Mubarak? Maybe not, because I'm not sure if they're going to see eye to eye entirely.
DERGHAM: OK. Eugene. Last words?
ROGAN: I think at the end of the day, relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States are driven by interests, not by personalities, and those interests aren't changing, and so the nature of the relationship, I think, will continue, though there will be ups and downs.
DERGHAM: And I have two minutes to conclude, but Ambassador of Saudi Arabia just asked for the floor. So please, Ambassador Mouallimi? And I do have to conclude in two minutes, so I'll make that the last intervention.
QUESTIONER: Thank you, Raghida. Good morning. My name is Abdallah Mouallimi. I'm the ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the U.N. And I didn't recognize the Saudi Arabia sometimes that was being talked about a little while ago. (Laughter.)
I would concur with most of what was said from the panelists, but I think that in some areas, I would have thought that the portrayal of Saudi actions or intentions as being a sinister plot to resist change or to stop constitutional monarchy here or there or to overpower the Gulf neighbors and so forth, I thought that was unfair. And I was pleased, of course, with the remarks that Ambassador Murphy had just made because they put the whole thing in perspective.
The simple facts are that no country in the Middle East or anywhere else is upheaval- or change-proof. The simple fact is that change is coming to the region in its entirety. That change is yet to be proven to be all good or not that all good, and therefore we reserve the judgment to sort of hold our breath and wait before we jump into the fray.
In the meantime, of course we're not revolutionaries; we are evolutionaries. Of course we do not want to see the Middle East or the Arab world in turmoil in such a way that it is like what we have seen in Libya or elsewhere. And therefore, there's a leadership role that needs to be fulfilled, and at the moment in the Arab world, rightly or wrongly, the only country that is able and willing to step up to that leadership role is Saudi Arabia, whereby we try to, yes, influence change and manage it so that it is peaceful, so that it does not cause widespread chaos and so that it does not impact the interests of Saudi Arabia in the long term.
But at the end of the day, change is coming. We will be influenced by it just as much as anybody else. We will try to manage it in such a way that is least disruptive to our system and society, because we think that the system and society of Saudi Arabia surpasses and exceeds the requirements of provision that Eugene has spoken about in many, many ways. Our relationship with our Gulf partners, of course we are big brother; and you all had -- or some of you, many of you had big brothers, and big brothers are not always popular. (Laughter.) But big brothers are there to take care of their younger brothers.
DERGHAM: Thank you very much, Ambassador.
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