Friday, November 9, 2007

Reforms Will Make Saudi Arabia A True Ally

by Shadi Hamid and Stephen McInerney from The New Republic

Policymakers should not mistake the difficulty of reform for the intractability of autocracy; America can leverage its support to shape Arab regimes' decisions on democratization. This is particularly true for the ruling al-Saud family, which is intimately tied to the U.S. and dependent on its military backing. The arms deal presents an opportunity for Washington to exert influence in Riyadh. This opening should be seized to push the Saudis along the path of reform, the only path that will lead to long-term security. We have leverage, and we should use it. First, all arms sales should be contingent on the implementation of the promised educational and judicial reforms. Second, the United States should require progress on political reform, beginning with greater freedoms of press and assembly, and allowing public dissent on policy matters. Beyond this, deadlines should be set for long-awaited Shura (Consultative) Council elections, followed by benchmarks for the steady evolution of the council from an advisory role to a genuine legislative body. Third, transparency and fairness in the justice system, even when dealing with terror suspects, should be required. Such measures can be enforced much as Saudi cooperation on counterterrorism efforts is maintained today - through a certification process mandated by law. Making assistance, and particularly large weapons deals, conditional upon clear, political reform benchmarks will not only offer hope for the beleaguered Saudi population, but also chip away at the repression that breeds the very terrorists whom we need the Saudis' help in fighting. Only then can Saudi Arabia be rightly considered a true ally in the fight against terror.

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