Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Do the Saudis Have a Brezhnev Doctrine?

by Elliott Abrams
May 25, 2011

Saudi Arabia has reacted to the Arab Spring by pledging $4 billion in aid to Egypt, and it is expected to help Tunisia as well. Has it become enamored of youthful protests for democracy? The fact that Saudi troops remain in Bahrain, helping crush the movement for greater democracy there, suggests something else is going on. And the invitation from the Gulf Cooperation Council or GCC to Morocco and Jordan to join the group points in the same direction.

My theory is this: for the Saudis, it’s fine if citizens of a fake republic like Tunisia or Egypt demand a real republic with real elections and democracy. But they draw the line at monarchies: kings have to stay in charge. So they lecture the kings of Morocco and Jordan to be careful about too many reforms (if the rumors are correct), and invite them to join the Club of Kings that is the GCC. Presumably financial benefits will follow, so long as the kings don’t play around with any experiments that might give Saudi subjects ideas of their own. And in Bahrain, they put down a revolt that might have brought constitutional monarchy—though admittedly that situation appears far more complex in the eyes of  Saudi royals, as the Bahrainis who would be empowered are Shia whose success might give Saudi Shia unacceptable ideas about their own fate.

Brezhnev explained himself in 1968 as follows in answering claims that after the “Prague Spring,” Czechoslovakia should be allowed to determine its own fate: “the implementation of such ‘self-­determination,’ in other words Czechoslovakia’s detachment from the socialist community, would have come into conflict with its own vital interests and would have been detrimental to the other socialist states.”

The Saudi message may be similar: the implementation of excessive reforms by any king would conflict with his own vital interests and those of other monarchical states, so it will be resisted. Kings have to stick together. Foolish nations that long ago adopted republican forms can go right ahead with their experiments and their revolts.

Post a Comment 11 Comments

  • Posted by E I

    Very interesting point. I would say that Arab “monarchies” appeared to understand history very well, unlike “revolutionary republics” which are still struggling to make sense of the ME Apocalypse, they were better prepared with decision making mechanism that was tested more than once and since 1991.

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    It remains to be seen how comfortable Jordan and Morocco will be as members of “The Warsaw Pact of the Middle East” . The comparison between then and now is inescapable . The only question I have is how much longer can the GCC survive .

  • Posted by Lane Hamilton

    What? Brzezinski stole the Brezhnev doctrine for the Arab spring. The Saudis are using the “mess with us and end up with nuclear war with China via Pakistan” doctrine.

  • Posted by kathryn cameron porter

    The real Game of Thrones!

  • Posted by MichalG

    Brezhnev was right as history has shown. On the other hand the most successful European countries are monarchies, e.g. Luxembourg.

  • Posted by sam tajari

    indulgence and ignorance in saudi,crruption,mismanagement and the rule of the mediocres in Iran, decadance in other Persian Gulf states are giving the Islam if intelect and reason a bad name.Jordan and Morocco are cut from the same political cloth.these unwanted faces must go for the region to see some light and prosperity. in the meantime the people will suffer the resulting humiliation and poverty.

  • Posted by Dan Friedman

    This stuff doesn’t happen in a vacuum. But Mr. Abrams, for all his expertise in “foreign affairs,” refuses to even mention – or simply overlooks – the one motivating factor all these countries have in common: they are Islamic states. And the division between between Sunni and Shiite underlies much of the flux in the region.

  • Posted by Abraham Wagner

    This is good food for thought, and as Mr. Abrams knows well there is always considerable uncertainty where the Saudis are involved. What is clear is that Saudi Arabia is still a corrupt, 12th Century feudal monarchy lead by a king that most recognize has not been dealing with a full deck in years. Ultimately this government will implode as well, and the only question is when.

  • Posted by sam

    i cant see why my comment wasn’t released?

  • Posted by Dan

    El Salvador

    You, sir, are no peace and freedom-loving democrat.

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