Democracy coming to Saudi Arabia?
Saudi King Abdullah promised Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a series of reforms that could give the desert kingdom an elected government within 10 to 15 years, says a senior U.S. official who was present when the two met in June.
“He professed to transform his country and talked about having a representative government within a decade or a decade and a half,” said the official, who asked not to be named.
The 82-year-old king made the pledge during a June 20 visit by Miss Rice to the capital, Riyadh, when he was still crown prince and the kingdom’s de facto ruler.
It is thought to be the first time a Saudi ruler has attached a timeline to moving toward a democratic process.
The Saudi Embassy in Washington did not respond to attempts to verify the U.S. official’s account.
King Abdullah took over one of the world’s few remaining absolute monarchies after his brother, King Fahd, who suffered a debilitating stroke a decade ago, died on Aug. 1.
When Miss Rice visited Riyadh, she and the future king agreed to maintain a “strategic dialogue” in four main areas: regional security; counterterrorism; the economy, including energy; and bilateral issues, including political reforms.
Pressing the Saudis on democracy, as well as the overall U.S. relationship with the oil-rich kingdom, has been one of the biggest challenges for the Bush administration since the September 11 terrorist attacks, in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi.
The administration often has argued that freedom and democracy in the Middle East will result in fewer people turning to extremism to achieve their political goals. …