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February 24, 2003

The despicable submission of Saudi Arabia

Right from the camel's mouth and for me an unexpected but realistic piece of advice to fellow Arabs. But notice the title given the article.
CAIRO, Feb. 20 -- In a spacious fifth-floor conference room at Egypt's leading think tank, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States delivered a message that surprised some of Cairo's most prominent intellectuals and analysts.
The ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, said Arabs would blunder by actively backing French and German efforts to forestall a war against Iraq, according to two participants in Sunday's three-hour, off-the-record talk. The Bush administration's contentions that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction and has cultivated links with al Qaeda have substance, they recalled him saying, and Arabs should acknowledge that war is inevitable and begin jockeying for a role in shaping postwar Iraq.
"Once we join the club, then we can negotiate what Iraq will be like after the war," Bandar was quoted as saying. "But without being part of the club, then we have no role in the day after."

After months of impassioned opposition to a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and attempts to inspire President Saddam Hussein's exile or a coup d'etat by his military, Egypt, Jordan and other Arab states friendly to the United States have begun to privately endorse the gist of Bandar's views, although with less enthusiasm and candor. With war viewed as imminent, these Arab governments have begun taking steps to prepare for its aftermath.

While Syria remains ardently opposed to a U.S. war to destroy Hussein's government, Egypt has markedly softened its opposition and stated that the decision is out of its hands. Jordan's monarch, King Abdullah, concluded as long ago as July that war was inevitable and has moved to prepare his country for its outcome. Saudi Arabia's rulers remain divided but, as Bandar indicated, increasingly have turned their attention to what happens afterward.

Privately, officials acknowledge that a summit of the 22-member Arab League, now scheduled for March 1 in Cairo, is, in the words of an Egyptian analyst, "more an act of conscience than an act of policy."
"There is a substantial toning down of opposition to the war," said Mohamed Sayed Said, deputy director of the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, which hosted Bandar's talk. "The thinking is go ahead and let the inevitable unfold. There is an understanding that there is no way Arab countries can prevent it from taking place."
Added a senior Gulf official: "There is great understanding that war is inevitable."

The shift has been clearest in Egypt, which estimates that a war will cost it $8 billion in revenue, particularly in tourism. In Germany on Wednesday, President Hosni Mubarak continued to warn of "dreadful consequences" for the Middle East. But he rejected an open-ended mission for U.N. inspectors, saying their time should be limited, and diplomats said Egypt has made it clear it will grant overflight rights to U.S. forces. [more]