At the end of February 2011, it looked as though the old order was crumbling across the Arab world. Inspired by the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor, massive popular demonstrations ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was not long to follow. Similar uprisings began to swell in Algeria, Jordan, Bahrain, and Yemen, and the anciens regimes appeared helpless against the rising tide of popular anger and nonviolent resistance.
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, actively worked to encourage the forces of counter-revolution throughout the region. From Morocco to Bahrain, Saudi financing, support, and intelligence has sought to prevent political turmoil, reinforce existing dynasties, and crush nascent democratic movements before they could reach critical mass. This reactionary tide has been supported by some ideologues in Washington, who worry that Arab democratization would be detrimental to U.S. policy objectives.
Though allowing Saudi Arabia to stifle change and suffocate democratic aspirations within the region may appear to serve U.S. interests in the short term, it will certainly have blowback down the road. At a watershed political moment, the United States has failed to act in accordance with its stated principles, and as a result, popular anger towards Saudi Arabia’s counter-revolutionary campaigns is causing increasing numbers of Arabs to turn against the United States as well. The fallout from Washington’s support for the Arab counter-revolution could haunt U.S. policy for decades to come.
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