Ever since Western powers sided with pro-democracy demonstrators in Egypt’s Tahrir Square and backed the removal of President Mubarak in 2011, there has been a growing sense among the Saudi ruling family that they can no longer trust their allies to protect their interests. If Washington would not support a friend like Mr Mubarak, who had backed America through thick and thin – from the first Gulf War to the September 11 attacks – then what chance would others have of withstanding internal calls for reform?
Anxious to head off any possible hint of anti-government dissent in their own country, the Saudis have embarked on a carefully orchestrated campaign to shore up the Arab world’s anciens régimes, rather than allowing revolution to flourish. They helped to overthrow the short-lived Islamist government of Mohammed Morsi in Egypt, and are working hard to ensure that other monarchies in Bahrain, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates survive the tremors sweeping the region.
The mastermind of this strategy is Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former darling of Washington’s cocktail party circuit, where he served for many years as Saudi ambassador before becoming the country’s intelligence chief. By alienating long-standing allies such as the US, he and his colleagues are clearly taking a huge gamble, since it is unlikely that the likes of China and Russia would ever give them the same level of protection. But with the entire Arab world in such a state of flux, the Saudis are taking the fight to protect their interests very seriously indeed.