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TRNN Replay: Madawi Al-Rasheed: The Saudi dictatorship was the incubator of al-Qaeda

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. The country that gets talked about least and perhaps has had the most to do with the 2001 events is Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is a feudal monarchy. I often think of, if one tries to understand the ruling elite there, one must think about the television show The Tudors–contending feudal lords, a king trying to balance off the various interests of the competing interests of the royal family. But certain elements of the royal family were directly linked to the 9/11 plotters. This you can find in Bob Graham’s book, and also in the report by Bob Graham’s committee. He was the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee and issued a report after 2001. Now joining us from London to help us analyze the Saudi ruling elite is Madawi Al-Rasheed. She’s a professor of social anthropology at King’s College London. She’s originally from Saudi Arabia, and she’s the author of the books A History of Saudi Arabia and Contesting the Saudi State. Thanks for joining us again, Madawi. MADAWI AL-RASHEED, PROF. SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGY, KING’S COLLEGE: Thank you for asking me. JAY: So let’s start with some of the 9/11 connections, which we’ll explore in more detail in a future interview. Apparently, the Senate Intelligence Committee found a list of names of direct members of the Saudi government, the Saudi royal family, that were connected with 9/11. And certainly you have sections of the Saudi Royal family that are very close to various American families. Especially, we know Prince Bandar was called the honorary member of the Bush family. Deconstruct these alliances and who rules Saudi Arabia. AL-RASHEED: Well, we’ve got the Al Saud, and there are no exact figures about the size of this sort of dynasty, if you like. Some say that there are 7,000 of them. Now, not all of them are important, although all of them receive government salaries, monthly salaries from the purse. Now, there are probably, I would say, around 100 people from this family who rule Saudi Arabia, but the most important one are the king, the crown prince, minister of interior, minister of foreign affairs, the governor of the big urban cities–for example, governor of Riyadh–the governor of the eastern province, governor of the western part of the country. So we’re talking here about something like ten people who rule Saudi Arabia. One thing that has happened to the Saudi state is it’s no longer an absolute monarchy run by a king. It is almost like multiple fiefdoms. Each of those ten princes, if you like, have a ministry attached to him, and in a way he has his own budget. He employs a lot of people. And he rules as if he’s an independent fiefdom. And therefore the king, especially, King Abdullah, who is very frail now, is an honorary figure. He has his own–. JAY: He’s about 88 years old or something now. AL-RASHEED: Something like that. He is very old. And these various fiefdoms, a couple of them are attached to a military force. So, for example, the minister of defense, whose son is his deputy–Prince Sultan and his son Khalid run the ministry of defense. Then you have the king himself, who in addition to being king, he used to be the head of the National Guard. And this is another military force. Then you have Prince Nayef, who is the minister of interior, and his son Hamid bin Nayef. He runs this sort of internal security–the police force, the intelligence. And they control quite a lot. And they control also things inside Saudi Arabia. But at the same time, they have increased their power over the last ten years because of the war on terror. The war on terror allowed the Ministry of Interior to use that as a pretext in order to basically eliminate opposition, free speech, any kind of mobilization at the level of society. And they had an unlimited budget to train their forces, to purchase cameras, surveillance technology. And also, as a result of this, the Ministry of Interior became extremely powerful in Saudi society. Apparently, it employs something like 800,000 Saudis in various jobs. JAY: Just in the Ministry of Interior. AL-RASHEED: Just in the Ministry of Interior. JAY: Almost a million people. AL-RASHEED: Yes, almost. They are directly on the payroll of the Ministry of Interior in various jobs. So, basically, here we have these fiefdoms that exist, and each prince had made it clear that his son is going to inherit his position in that ministry. And the country therefore is run not as a single entity, and each prince is basically increasing and maximizing his income, maximizing his influence, while waiting to become king. And to just give you an example how this has made Saudi foreign policy completely chaotic, we know that Prince Saud al-Faisal is the minister of foreign affairs. But foreign affairs are not actually run by Saud Al Faisal alone. When Bandar bin Sultan was the ambassador in Washington, he was basically doing what he wanted to do in Washington regardless of what Saud Al Faisal thought. In terms of the regional–. JAY: And we should say it is Bandar who was in Washington who’s known as the honorary member of the Bush family. And, apparently, the day before 9/11, on the 10th, he was apparently in the White House having a toast with President Bush, it’s been described. AL-RASHEED: Yes. But the interesting thing is, even when he was removed from the office, from the ambassador’s office, and Turki Al Faisal became ambassador in Washington, it was so clear that Bandar was continuing to act like an ambassador. And Turki Al Faisal didn’t last long in the job, and he returned to Saudi Arabia. So in terms of what happens in the Arab world, it is very clear, also, that, for example, the minister of interior, Nayef, he runs the Tunisian file, and he used to have very close connections with the deposed Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who lost his job as a result of the Tunisian revolution. Yemen, Yemen, again, is not run by Saud Al Faisal as the foreign minister, but Prince Sultan, who is the minister of defense, used to have the Yemeni file as his file, and he would deal with Yemeni affairs. At the same time, Syria, it is well known that Syria was actually the domain of King Abdullah until very recently. And, therefore, this sort of multiple actors in the Saudi state influence the way foreign policy is conducted. Each one of these princes has his own interest. And this possibly had a severe impact on 9/11 and on the Afghan file. I think to go back even before 9/11, I mean, the Afghan issue, the al-Qaeda, the jihad in Afghanistan, was part of, in my view and according to the second resources that I have consulted on this, was dreamt by Washington, London, Saudi Arabia, and the Pakistani intelligence services. The file of Afghanistan, as it started in the 1980s, was dreamt and planned, I think, in Washington, London, Riyadh, and Pakistan. And al-Qaeda itself was part of the strategy to defeat the Soviet Union. But I think we hear in many Western capitals now that they have learned the hard way. Using religion as an instrument in foreign policy had backfired, I think. And what happened in 9/11 is part of that; it was part of this misguided policy of using Wahabbi Islam to defeat the Soviet Union. I mean, the jihadis were recruited in Saudi Arabia and around the world to go and travel to Afghanistan in order to liberate the land of Muslims from Soviet occupation, and religion was mobilized as an instrument in that strategy. But it backfired. And I think, you know, the lesson to learn from that episode for Western government, including in Washington, London, everywhere, is that what we have seen during this Arab spring is a revision of old foreign policy, Western foreign policy. In terms of sponsoring, supporting these Arab dictators, from Morocco all the way to Riyadh, and this kind of realism in foreign policy made the West the enemy of the people of the Arab world. Western governments that preached democracy and freedom and human right are actually supporting dictators. I mean, Mubarak, Mubarak was receiving money from Americans, taxpayers’ money, in order–for some reason they used the al-Qaeda, especially in the last ten years, in order to frighten the West and therefore blackmail the West. These dictators were using this game, and in a way trying to blackmail Western governments, and they benefited by this sort of silence against their excessive abuse of human rights and corruption. JAY: Let’s go back to this issue of the princes, their own fiefdoms, the kind of different foreign policy, who gets to control foreign policy. Which of these princes seems to have been linked to–and why–to al-Qaeda in around pre-9/11 and in what came out after 9/11, in terms of the funding of al-Qaeda, the connections to the Taliban, the funding of madrasahs in Pakistan, and then very specific, apparently, very specific information, if based on Bob Graham’s book, of actual funding of plotters in the United States? And then none of that ever seems to get followed up by anybody, including the investigation. I remember watching in the 9/11 Commission hearings. They were asking who authorized the plane that on September 12 picked up members of the bin Laden family and some other Saudi royals and flew them out of the country at a time when all the skies were closed down. And they kept asking, FBI, did you authorize it? No. White House, did you authorize it? No. CIA, did you authorize it? No. Nobody ever owned up to it, as far as I know. I mean, this is an enormous power of the Saudis to be able to do this. Drill into this for us. AL-RASHEED: Well, I think these are questions to be raised in Washington. I don’t think I can answer them. And this just reflects how these mutual interests are really embedded, and they’re long-term, and it’s very difficult to shift [incompr.] The interesting thing is that the al-Qaeda file, Saudi Arabia itself–and I wrote a book about that, that the regime itself was an incubator that produced this kind of violent jihadi forces. Saudi regime closed every single possibility for peaceful protest, as I said earlier, and as a result, anybody who have grievances against the regime would use force, would use force because the peaceful channels are closed. And for the internal politics of Saudi Arabia, this has tremendous consequences on society and on state-society relations. And, therefore, when the al-Qaeda file was opened and there was a serious rift between Washington and Riyadh at the time immediately after 9/11, suddenly, through some kind of magical force, the incubator of this kind of violence has turned into a victim, and everybody thought that, you know, we are all here together to fight the same evil. And they actually used that kind of language. But we forget that the problem was that the oppression of the Saudi regime, the fact that it doesn’t allow any kind of peaceful protest, it doesn’t open society to debate, has something to do with this violence. JAY: But is there also a kind of game going on? In Pakistan there’s a lot of talk in the American press about how the ISI and the Pakistani military play a kind of double game–you know, support for the Taliban on one side; on the other side they’re allies in the war against the Taliban. I mean, aren’t we seeing the same thing from Saudi Arabia, except it doesn’t seem to get talked about? AL-RASHEED: Well, exactly, we don’t. But we don’t hear about it. And the file–I mean, in fact, as I said, you know, the Saudis have moved from being an incubator of this violence to being victims of it. And the interesting thing is that the Saudis tried to convince the world that they actually have the cure for that violence. And they have run de-radicalization programs that the United Nations and people in London and Washington talk about as the ideal model to de-radicalize Muslims. And it’s very interesting how sort of, you know, a country that has produced those people has the cure. So, you know, it is basically using the same ideology that produced al-Qaeda to cure al-Qaeda, which is fascinating to observe as an academic. The question–but for those people who are making policy, they really have to take note here and revisit these kind of assumptions and open old files that are continuously being closed because of this sort of economic interest. And perhaps, you know, it is time to think seriously about how this violence came and what kind of forces led to [incompr.] I think it is time, in light of what’s happening in the Arab world at the moment, is to rethink policies that in the past supported these dictators without putting any conditions. I think it is time to rethink that relationship that has led to antagonizing millions of people in the Arab world. JAY: And perhaps it’s time to open up the files of 9/11 and follow up on all these Saudi connections. They came to light and disappeared. AL-RASHEED: Well, I mean, that’s something for Washington to do. I think it is–if it’s an urgent issue there, I’m sure it will be reopened. Whether we will get to know the truth about these kind of connections, I’m not sure. JAY: Yeah, I don’t think it’s an urgent issue here. I think everything’s been done to try to cover up everything to do with 9/11. It doesn’t even get talked about. AL-RASHEED: Well, I think oil has become mightier than the truth, and also the importance of military contracts. It’s amazing how that is actually so important. And it can override all sorts of other issues. JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Madawi. AL-RASHEED: Thank you for asking me. JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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Madawi Al-Rasheed is Visiting Professor at the Middle East Centre at The London School of Economics and Political Science. She is originally from Saudi Arabia and currently lives in London. Her research focuses on history, society, religion and politics in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. Her recent publications include A History of Saudi Arabia and A Most Masculine State .