Thursday, September 06, 2007

The perfect non-storm

Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz, a half-brother of the Saudi king, said in an AP interview that there should be a political party in Saudi Arabia that includes reformists now in Saudi jails, and he accused a small group within the royal family of monopolizing power. Political parties are illegal in Saudi Arabia. Such criticism from within the Saud family is unheard of in recent times, and there are signs this reflects an important split within the family.

Al-Quds al-Arabi, editorially a staunch opponent of the Saudi regime, offers some background in its lead story this morning. The "small group" that Talal was referring to is the so-called "Sudairi" group, the core of which are seven sons of Abdulaziz ibn Saud, by the same mother who belonged to the Sudairi clan, and these include: Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, Defence Minister and currently the crown prince; Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz, Interior Minister; and Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz. (The famous Prince Bandar bin Sultan is a son of Prince Sultan the Defence Minister). These three the Al-Quds writer refers to as the "Sudairi triangle", and sources told him that the Prince Talal's dispute with them reached a point of no return a couple of months ago when they excluded him from meetings of the family council. The source said they told Talman this was because he was too often out of the country, but they also told him it was because of his support for reforms and for the election of the Shura Council (the appointed group that is the Saudi version of a legislature).

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz is not a member of the Sudairi group. He has been described as a would-be reformer, and Prince Talal is said to be close to him. The Al-Quds writer says it isn't know whether or not the king was made aware beforehand that Talal was about to make these statements. Although as expected there are no public comments whatsoever from any other member of the royal family, the writer notes that Saudi officially-supported websites are full of invective against Talal, while reform-oriented sites support him.

The Al-Quds piece is limited to sorting through the domestic background to this, but it is also worth noting that key people in the anti-reform Sudairi group, including the Defence and Interior Ministers, in addition to Bandar, have been associated with the hawkish attitude to Iran.

But for Western media, this is the perfect non-storm. On the one hand, human rights and democratization preachers are focused on Iran, and nothing of any consequence is said about US ally Saudi Arabia. And on the other hand, Al-Quds al-Arabi, which has expertise in this area, is newspaper non grata because of its support for the resistance movements in Iraq and Palestine.