As the U.S.-Saudi alliance seems in peril over the death of Jamal Khashoggi and the war in Yemen, Ed Husain—a longtime critic of the House of Saud—urges the United Kingdom not to waver in its support for this troublesome ally. (Free registration may be required.)
In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, amidst the rise of al-Qaeda, it was clear who had the upper hand in the Middle East: extremists of all hues. The Saudis were funding the spread of Wahhabism; and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood was thriving. Yet today, for the first time since the 1960s, neither the Muslim Brotherhood nor Wahhabism can rely on Saudi financial support. Both are on the defensive, struggling for long-term survival. . . . But there are other, more entrenched enemies.
Iran champions the forces of theocracy, imposing a hardline religious interpretation through use of government force. . . . There is now a firm Iranian crescent in the Middle East surrounding Israel and the Sunni Arabs. This threat makes it vital that London doesn’t turn its back on the Saudis. So if Britons felt wronged when watching [the Saudi crown prince] Mohammad bin Salman (known as MBS) high-five Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit earlier this month, worse is yet to come if they lose the trust of our Gulf Arab allies. . . .
We now have a once-in-a-century opportunity to shape the future of a global shift toward peace and co-existence. MBS has weakened the extra-legal religious police in his country, removed extremist clerics from many mosques, and allowed for musical concerts. Yes, he is an authoritarian reformer. Conversations, therefore, with him in private should not be about the last skirmish, but the next reform: where are his female advisers? When will school textbooks be revised? After religious extremism is uprooted, how can secular Saudis engage in a parliament within a constitutional monarchy? When do Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs who live and work in Saudi Arabia worship with their own, new religious institutions? . . .
MBS needs the West, particularly Britain, to help win the war of ideas. By helping him triumph and reform toward modernization, we save our own country and civilization, too. Skirmishes and battles must not distract us from winning the long war.