Saturday, October 19, 2013


The Saudi decision to refuse its Security Council seat is as idiosyncratic as one would expect from an absolute monarchy that names its country after its own clan. It is even possible the King did not know what his foreign ministry was doing when they campaigned for a seat.  The last time Saudi  Arabia made a bid for serious UN glory was in 1991 when its UN Ambassador Samir Shihabi ran for President of the General Assembly, overturning the expected candidate, Papua New Guinea. The quip at the time was that most of the hands raised for the Saudi candidacy had a Rolex on their wrists.

More seriously, it showed the dilemma for a Saudi regime of trying to look after its home constituency and yet pander to its essential foreign backers. One of Shihabi’s first tasks was to preside over the special meeting of the General Assembly called by George H W Bush to rescind the “Zionism is Racism” resolution of the UN. Shihabi absented himself from the meeting - as in fact so did the Israeli ambassador since Israel saw the move as Bush’s attempt to win over AIPAC after refusing the loan guarantees that the Israelis wanted to build settlements with.

That hints at the reasoning behind the shocking decision.  Saudi diplomacy by its very nature has to be somewhat duplicitous. It wants Iran hobbled, for example, but cannot be seen supporting an attack on a Muslim country. On the Israeli issues it would have to confront its existential ally, the US, publicly, or go along with that  many more where its domestic Wahabi base would be unhappy if the Saudi representative voted the foreign ministry’s head rather than the Imam’s heart. So perhaps the decision is not so shocking after all!

On balance, of course, the Security Council will benefit from a Saudi absence. It might be occasionally correct on Middle Eastern issues but on almost everything else it is solidly on the side of reaction with little to recommend it except oil and money.

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