A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Saudi Visit

I haven't blogged yet about the decision by President Obama to add a visit to Saudi Arabia to his forthcoming trip. The last-minute addition has provoked a lot of regional commentary, and Marc Lynch has a good roundup of the commentary plus his own take. I'm not sure I can add much to his judicious assessment, but here are some thoughts:
  • I'm not sure why the trip was added at the last minute, but as Marc Lynch and many Arab editorialists have noted, it may not sit well with the Egyptians, who have been making a lot of the fact that Obama's choice of Cairo shows the centrality of Egypt in the Arab world. The fact that he is going to Riyadh first probably exacerbates any perceived offense.
  • Those who have criticized the choice of Egypt for the speech to the Islamic world have claimed that it shows the US is still clinging to authoritarian regimes rather than advocating reform. Needless to say those who feel that way will feel the same way about a visit to Riyadh.
  • Republicans made a lot of comments when Obama seemed to bow to King ‘Abdullah during the G-20 summit in London. I imagine they'll be quick to criticize the Riyadh visit as well.
  • On the other hand, if the purpose of the visit is to revive/endorse the Arab Peace Initiative, as some have suggested, it could be a major element in a shifting policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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