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The House of Saud strikes back

Saudi Arabia isn't taking this whole democracy thing lying down. It's putting down uprisings, beefing up alliances with fellow autocrats, and distancing itself from the US.

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Probably the most important regional effort has been the attempt to expand the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to include Morocco and Jordan. The GCC is the grouping of the oil-rich Sunni monarchies on the Persian Gulf. The Moroccans and Jordanians haven’t been members of the club because they’re not rich, and they’re nowhere near the Gulf.

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But they are, after all, monarchies, who are as terrified of democratic change as their wealthy Gulf cousins. The Saudi plan, which is being met with enthusiasm in both, is to provide the two states with outside funding, which could help stave off Moroccan and Jordanian subjects' calls for democratic change, in exchange for their diplomatic support. Closer defense and intelligence ties could result in joint actions to put down political uprisings, like the Saudi effort in Bahrain. Call it the legion of the Arab monarchs.

If the expansion is completed, we will soon see the largest per capita recipient of US economic aid in the world (Jordan) teamed up with one of America's biggest military allies (a $60 billion sale of advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia is currently being finalized by the Obama administration) in an effort to oppose democratic change – by force if necessary.

Efforts to create Arab alliance against Iran

Saudi Arabia is also reaching out farther afield.

A Wall Street Journal story last week says that the Kingdom's powerful Prince Bandar bin Sultan al-Saud sought Pakistani military support for the intervention in Bahrain. The Journal says that Prince Bandar told the Pakistanis that the US was an unreliable ally and that his efforts were part of a Saudi effort to rally "Muslim nations across the Middle East and Asia to join an informal Arab alliance against Iran.”

Pakistan already contributes a hefty chunk of Bahrain’s police force (the country has a policy of recruiting foreign mercenaries to fill its security jobs since it doesn’t trust its Shiite inhabitants). Bandar also recently visited Indonesia and Malaysia – whose prime minister has voiced full-throated support for the crackdown in Bahrain (which has involved the detentions of hundreds of democracy activists and credible allegations of systematic torture). Bandar was the Saudi ambassador to the US for 20 years until 2005, and when he went home, he took the reins of the national security council.

Unsustainable policy

Will all this work? For a time, certainly. Perhaps for a very long time. But Mr. Hertog argues at Foreign Policy that at some point the Kingdom will break the bank and find itself as vulnerable as Egypt was this spring.

"It is a lot nicer to be thrown money at than to be shot at and tortured, but neither strategy of containing political challenges appears sustainable," he writes. "The ranks of the young are swelling and their aspirations rising. Expectations of lucrative and low-effort public jobs are bound to be disappointed one day. By shifting precious resources toward a bloated bureaucracy, the regimes are kicking the employment problem down the road – and making it worse, as incipient private job creation for nationals is undermined."

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