November 13, 2006, 9:00 am - May 19, 2019, 4:42 am


1761 N Street NW
Washington, 20036 (Map)

The panel discussion "America's Partnership with the Gulf" took place at the 60th annual conference in November, 2006.

America's Partnership with the Gulf



Rachel Bronson, Jamal Khashoggi, Marcelle Wahba

Moderator, Marcelle Wahba

I think I would probably be speaking on behalf of the other ambassadors who served with me in the region, where we felt that the military and the security cooperation really kind of led the partnership that we enjoyed with those countries.

I think one of the positive impacts of 9/11 has been that there's been more attention paid to the other aspects of the relationship, whether it's institutional linkages, people-to-people linkages – I certainly in the UAE saw that development take place. I found that when I arrived in the UAE the relationships between the United Arab Emirates, for example, and the United States were really strictly in lanes of personal relationships between key policymakers on both sides and it did not go down beyond that. People in their Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not know people at the State Department. Universities did not speak to one another. Certainly they had many students studying in the United States but there were no institutional linkages between our societies, where you would find that more in Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan and other countries in the Middle East. I found that really a worrying factor in the Gulf, because how deep can a relationship be if it's strictly limited to government-to-government relationships? And even when it's government-to-government, it's restricted to a very small number of people? It is not institutional at all in terms of either professional or even personal friendships.

So I hope our two panelists will spend some time on that today. I would like to just throw out a couple points on this issue because I think it's important for us to recognize that things have changed, not only from the US government side but also from the region itself, where we have seen an overwhelming opening in many ways over the last ten years in the fields of education and culture. If you've been to Qatar and you've seen the Qatar Foundation with the university campuses they're trying to put forth, or if you've been to Dubai and you've seen the vibrancy of the business sector that has welcomed not only American but private sector education, trade and commerce – those are areas that I think have seen huge boosts in the last ten years, and maybe even more so in the last six years.

I have to give some credit to the Middle East Partnership Initiative and to the Middle East Free Trade Initiative, because they have encouraged those kind of contacts in ways that they had not in the past. But also the impetus has come from the region itself, and I really have to give a lot of credit to the leadership and also the growing NGO community that is reaching out not just to the United States but more broadly to the West and trying to build relationships.

We don't have a whole lot of time so I will restrict my comments for the time being and pass it on to Rachel Bronson. I will give each one of you ten to twelve minutes and then we will take questions.

First Panelist
Rachel Bronson

Thank you. I am delighted to be here today and to be speaking with you. Thanks to David Mack and Clay Swisher for extending the invitation for me to speak, and for Ambassador Wahba for agreeing to chair this session.

I was asked to talk about US-Gulf relations and in particular Saudi Arabia, the focus of my recent book. I thought since we were coming to the end of the day, what I would structure my few minutes that I have is to talk about the belief that I think is out there that oil will see us through. What I mean by that is a sense that because the US is the largest consumer of oil and the region is the largest producer of oil, we don't have to tend at all to this relationship. In fact, it will continue to chug along only because it has to, and since it always has to some extent we don't have to spend much time focused on that.

So what I'd like to talk about is that the nature of oil and oil markets are changing a bit and so our complacency should be questioned. It's never just been all about oil – that's sort of a simplistic way of thinking about the relationship. The partnerships that have been built over time are not simply just about oil, although that's what we hear all the time in the press and of course it actually makes a lot of sense, right? Saudi Arabia alone sits on one-quarter of the world's proven resources. Add all the natural gas coming out of Qatar and other places and you could very easily say that's all you need to know about the story. But I'd like to suggest to you that it's not nor has it been and it won't be. So if we don't tend to this relationship, I believe the United States as well as others stand to lose a considerable amount. That's not to say that we should forge these relations with the Gulf partners at all costs. Obviously we have to think about what our interests are. But I'd like to suggest that our interests will be better served if we can find a way of accommodating ourselves to each other and moving forward.

Let's just start with oil and how the oil market is changing, how players are very different than they were from some years back. We've heard quite a bit obviously about the growing role of China and India. I think that's worth keeping in mind, that even if it was just about oil – and it wasn't, I'll get to that – but even if it was, it won't necessarily be in the future. You have new actors coming onstage that aren't new to the game but their strength and interests are growing and growing voraciously. Because of that, new dynamics are forming and new relationships are forming. That does have some consequences for the US role in the region.

What do I mean by that? If you look at some recent investment, for instance, US investment in the Gulf, the business-to-business partnerships that oil helped fuel have always been very important. Now less than 20 percent of the revenue going into the region is coming from the US. That's a significant decline from where it had been in the past. If you look at where the Gulf countries are investing their new oil profits and windfalls, they're not all going back into the United States as they had after the 1970s. In fact, after the 1970s more petrodollars were recycled back into the United States than ever left it in terms of oil going out. The markets are now more robust and it's a healthier environment for investment, and Gulf States, the oil states, with their newfound money are doing a couple of things. Sure they're investing in the US but a good portion of that money is staying at home. The infrastructure at home can support more investment than was true in the past, but also they're looking to Europe and Asia for that money as well.

So the money that used to come and would go straight back to the US and the money that would go from the US into the Gulf to build these personal ties that we talk about as being so important, they're more diversified. You can argue certainly that there's a healthier aspect to it, but it is more diversified and the future will not look like the past just because of oil.

If you also look at the strength of the euro, for instance, more investment is being switched over into euros. That's not to put out the alarm bells but just point out that these kind of ties that have helped to keep the relationship moving when political issues have gotten the region and the US into some challenges, those won't be there in the future to the same extent as they were in the past. Of course you have these other actors, the Chinese and the Indians. If you're in the Gulf and you spend some time there, you start hearing a lot more Chinese chattered about in the hotels than used to be in the past.

So even if it was just all about oil, I think things are changing.

Let me turn to the second part of my talk to suggest it hasn't always been about oil. This notion is sort of led by Thomas Friedman but certainly others. When Thomas Friedman says in relation to Saudi Arabia that all we cared about was that their gas pumps were open – we just treated Saudi Arabia like "a big, dumb gas station" (quoted in the New York Time) – it's not true. Oil has always been important but there's two other pillars of the relationship that bears mentioning.

Saudi Arabia's geographic proximity, where it physically sat, has been important since World War II in getting us to bases in the Far East. Certainly during the Cold War the place where it sat was very important in trying to push back communism. We partnered with the Saudis, for instance, in Africa. We were very concerned about what was going on in Afghanistan. We partnered with the Saudis and the Pakistanis in Afghanistan and elsewhere. These things would have happened whether or not oil was there. Certainly Saudi had money because of oil, but their interests overlapped with ours and physically where they sat geographically had been very important and will continue to be so in the future. So I would argue again that the fact it sits so close to Pakistan, that it sits so close to Iran, that it sits so close to Iraq, will give us reason to try to find ways to work easily with the Saudis and other Gulf countries.

What I believe has been one of the most important parts of this relationship – and again I'm going to limit my comments to Saudi Arabia on this, because I think they are one of the more important actors that we're talking about – is the fact that Mecca and Medina sit inside Saudi Arabia. It needs to be said. It's very obvious but it often doesn't come up in simplistic conversations of oil for security. The fact that Mecca and Medina are in Saudi Arabia gives it an importance independent, I would argue, of oil. That has been important in the past. In fact, in fighting the godless communists it was very useful. But in fighting the war on terror, to have Saudi Arabia on our side will be very important to make sure that this does not devolve into a clash of civilizations. That is a cliché at this point – we're not in a clash of civilizations – but I would argue one of the ways you get to a clash of civilizations is when Saudi Arabia and the United States are standing head to head against each other. We have to be very careful, which we weren't after 9/11, about being reckless about this relationship.

For good or ill, and there are many around the world who may say ill and some who will say good, Saudi Arabia does influence to a considerable extent the conversations around global Islam. We need to care a whole lot about where Saudi Arabia is going and shaping that, and trying to help our friends in the region who may want it to go in one direction versus another.

Just as it wasn't all about oil in the past, let me suggest that in the post-9/11 era, when we're worried about terrorism, Islamic radicalism, that we must be concerned about US partnerships in the Gulf. We can't be reckless about it. There's recklessness on both sides, but since we're here in the States I would say on our side. In particular we have to be careful that we're cautious about how to move forward. If Saudi Arabia was clearly an enemy in that battle, I would say it's not a relationship worth pursuing. I think certainly since 2003, when Saudi Arabia experienced its own terrorist attacks at home repeatedly – starting in May and then November 2003, and then January 2004, on and on until just a month or so ago – that there are those inside the Kingdom who we can and should work with.

Let me wrap up by saying there's good news. There's good news in that students are beginning to return to the United States from the region. There was a recent Washington Post article that some of you might have seen, that the numbers are back up. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and President Bush had agreed to try to find ways to build back that relationship and I think that's some of the good news.

The bad news is investment is still down. We still have real differences over Iraq. We have real differences over Israeli-Palestinian issues. Those will continue to challenge the relationship and I would say the most important thing is to make sure that if we're about to undertake some sort of major change in Iraq – and I'm not suggesting that we are; I don't think actually we are, despite a lot of the talk – but if we were, it's very important we make sure our partners in the region know in advance about what's going on. The Saudi ambassador to the US made a very important statement a week or so ago when he said those who entered a country uninvited should not leave a country uninvited. It's worth thinking about how important it will be for us to make sure we work in concert with those in the region.

Finally, just because I can't resist – because Assistant Secretary Hillen was sort of tying himself up in knots trying to get around stability versus democratization – let me just offer maybe a way to think about it, and we can talk about it in questions and answers. I think the way the administration can get out of this knot that they've tied themselves in and that future US administrations should be thinking about it – stability and democratization are not necessarily incompatible if done slowly and correctly. The problem is that if you move very quickly to elections without laying any sort of foundation for public participation, you do get radical outcomes. I think the interesting part right now is that the region itself is in part taking the lead on trying to find ways for increased participation, because they recognize that without it their stability is threatened.

So if we can indeed work with partners – throwing one idea out there about how this might be done – think about, for instance, municipal elections in Saudi Arabia. Here in the States we all sort of pooh-poohed it – women couldn't vote, there were all these technical problems, it seemed sort of silly. Then once they had these municipal elections, nothing was done with them. It's not even clear that the people who won were those that we or the Saudis wanted to win.

What I would suggest though is rather than sitting and talking about how ridiculous and what a sham those elections were, it might have made good sense for the United States to start, through NDI or other organizations, thinking about how we can develop regional conferences where those who win in whatever local elections they have can meet their counterparts to talk about how to strengthen their abilities to participate and get some views across to US officials who are also there. That in my mind would be an incredibly useful way to build on an election that happened. We wouldn't be cherry-picking those who we're talking to, because they were elected, and it wouldn't threaten unduly those who were in power since they were the ones who let the elections happen. It's a small thing but it's a way that you can move both the ideals of democratization and stability.

Second Panelist

Jamal Khashoggi

Thank you, Rachel. Thank you, Ambassador Mack and Ambassador Wahba. You made my job easier, I will not address oil. I prepared a long talk about the relationship between the Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia, my country, and the United States, but I'll skip that too because I'm sure everybody here knows how close Saudi Arabia and the United States were. We were so close together we even did cynical things together, such as the Contra Affair. That shows you only do those kind of things with somebody whom you trust, somebody who is very close to you. We also did great things together, such as bringing down the evil empire, the mujahiddiin, etc. Again, part of that maybe was cynical but it was a good success story. But also the relationship developed in education. Saudi Arabia would not be where it is today, the infrastructure, without the United States' participation and help.

But even when both countries thought of breaking away from each other – when Osama bin Laden tried to do that and break both countries away – we failed to do that. We were not able to break away. We realized that we really need each other for various reasons. One reason the United States is so important for Saudi Arabia, it is our number-one trade partner. Very much involved with us in foreign politics. And Saudi Arabia is so important to the United States because it is the most stable country in the Middle East, the country which the United States, every time there's a problem in the Middle East – whether it's Lebanon, maybe Syria, or now Iraq and Iran – Saudi Arabia is there, has to take part in trying to either fix or work on that problem.

So I will skip to those problems which will test the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States. I'll speak about Iraq. I'll give you a very gloomy scenario of how things could become, particularly with the news we heard today that shows the kind of Iraq we are afraid to see in the future.

Just imagine the following. Iraq does break into three different countries, that the unity of Iraq is down. A civil war starts between the Iraqis, Shi'a militias fighting Sunni militias, ethnic cleansing taking place throughout Iraq, the Shi'a are driving the Sunnis out of the south, out of Baghdad. What do countries like Jordan and Saudi Arabia do in a situation like that? Eventually somehow they will be dragged into Iraq. Eventually we will find ourselves, the Saudis, fighting shoulder to shoulder next to Al Qaeda. That will be a very ugly scenario. Nobody wants that. But this could happen, because we see the complexity of Iraq – Al Qaeda is the one who is leading or partly leading the resistance. But again, neither Saudi Arabia nor Jordan – who see Al Qaeda as their arch-enemy – they will never want to see themselves aligned with Al Qaeda, so we must opt for much more acceptable options rather than this.

To be more ironic, the United States itself might find the need to ally and empower the same nationalist Sunni militias who are fighting the United States forces, in order to counter the Shi'a militias. That is also ironic.

I presented those two bleak scenarios just in order to say that we really need this close cooperation, the close partnership we had with the United States, in order to fix the situation in Iraq. I don't think we are doing that right now. Maybe with the change right now in the Pentagon, there might be more receptive individuals for those kinds of cooperation. The same operations we had in Afghanistan in the 1980s – the Pakistanis, the Saudis and the Americans fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan – we need to do the same thing in Iraq. We need to create some kind of operating room between the Saudis, the Jordanians and the Americans in order to put Iraq back in order before the situation gets uglier than it is.

Another issue which requires Saudi-American partnership is the issue of Iran. But in Iran, Saudi Arabia will never be allowed to be dragged into a confrontation with Iran. We tried open dialogue and engagement with Iran and it worked well for us. Relations between both countries deteriorated in the 1980s to the brink of war. We managed to get out of that deterioration and we have very good cooperation now with the Iranians. It's working for us and we think it could work with the United States if they do try to engage with the Iranians, to involve the Iranians, keeping in mind the differences we have with them. We have our worries of Iranian ambitions, whether in Iraq or Lebanon. But the only way to handle them is through engagement and open dialogue, because we know each other, we are close supporters, we have historical relations together. I'm sure Saudi Arabia would much prefer the United States to join it in this approach. Of course this doesn't rule out Saudi Arabian worries of Iran's nuclear ambitions. Prince Turki put it clearly, that it is a nightmare for Saudi Arabia to see Iran acquiring nuclear power but it is more of a nightmare to see the Americans attacking Iran to prevent them from acquiring that nuclear power.

Where we need cooperation and partnership with the Americans is the Palestinian issue, because the Palestinian issue is one of the issues that hurts the partnership between Saudi Arabia and the United States. But how can we fix this issue in the coming two years of President Bush, as many are describing and suggesting? The only way possible right now is to do an imposed peace. I know this idea might sound ironic, but the Palestinians and Israelis are so far away from each other. The world cannot wait for them until they reach an agreement among themselves internally and reach a peaceful formula. That's where the role of the United States comes, to impose some kind of a solution on the Palestinians and Israelis. Here I can see Saudi Arabia and the United States cooperating together.

I think I'll stop here and we'll leave it for questions and answers.

Question & Answer:

Question: The first question is humorous, I'll share it with you. With all the Gulf expertise in this room, how come we only have a panel of two people? The intention was to have more than two people but a couple people had to drop out and we had to accommodate Assistant Secretary Hillen's schedule and allow him to leave at two o'clock. So I hope the expertise on the current panel will be sufficient to answer your questions. If not, we always invite the expertise in the audience to participate.

First question, let me throw this at you, Jamal. I've gotten a couple of these questions on the influence of Wahhabism, not only in Saudi Arabia but also on the pilgrims who travel to Saudi Arabia every year for the hajj, and also in terms of the outreach by Wahhabis from Saudi Arabia into areas like Pakistan. Can you give us your thoughts on that?

Khashoggi: There is more than one version of Wahhabism. Our mufti is a Wahhabi and so is Osama bin Laden – he claimed to be a Wahhabi. There is no way you can see our mufti and Osama bin Laden sitting in the same room. Our mufti despises bin Laden and bin Laden despises the mufti.

So who is the true Wahhabi? I think Wahhabism, just like any other concept, will evolve and change. It went through serious changes, particularly in the time of King Abdul Aziz. King Abdul Aziz clashed with hardcore Wahhabis and it was a bitter clash, a very bitter and brutal clash with those who were not able to evolve and accept modernization. I hope this will not happen again but anybody in a future Saudi Arabia who refuses modernization has to step away from the wagon and keep it moving.

So Saudi Arabia is optioning Islam, not Wahhabism. It should choose Islam in its entirety, not a certain understanding of Islam. As Rachel put it, among other things we've got Mecca and Medina. Mecca and Medina can never be identified with only one sect or one understanding of Islam. It is for all Muslims. So I think that is our only option. Why should we limit our options? When we have the whole of Islam, why should we limit ourselves to only one understanding?

On the issue of Wahhabi influence in Pakistan, there is a misconception here. Many experts speak about Saudi Arabia supporting and financing madrassahs in the subcontinent. Saudi money will not go – even Saudi, let's say, ideologically motivated money, by Salafi Saudis, will not go to the subcontinent to support most of the madrassahs there. Most of the madrassahs there are either Barelvis or Deobandis. Deobandis and Barelvis do not see eye to eye with the Wahhabis. So the Saudi ideologically motivated money will go to Ahl al-Hadith. Ahl al-Hadith is a very small minority in the subcontinent. These are not the people who are mainly active in the tribal areas which most of this publicity is coming from, the madrassahs that are graduating the Taliban. The Taliban are Hanafis, the Wahhabis are Hanbalis. So there needs to be more explanation about that.

Salafis of Saudi Arabia, they do support their brand, their understanding of Islam, throughout the world. But this is going to the Salafi movement, the Ahl al-Hadith movement, but not to the majority Deobandis and Barelvis of Pakistan and India.

Question: Many questions on the peace process, Israel-Palestinian issues, and the role of Saudi Arabia. Let me ask the questions more broadly and ask both panelists to comment. Rachel, you mentioned King Abdullah's proposal on Israel-Palestine and one of the questions is, what are the differences between Saudi Arabia's proposal on Israel-Palestine and what is currently being discussed? What role can the Saudi government play, Jamal, in terms of "imposing" a solution on Israel and the Palestinians?

Bronson: I think in general Saudi Arabia has often been considered a moderate when you think about the actors in the Middle East vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It's been viewed as a moderate for a number of reasons. One is because we have seen different proposals, whether it was from King Fahd in the 1980s or then Crown Prince Abdullah just a few years ago. So a willingness never to go as far as the US would like it to go but certainly leave out possibilities of moving the Arab world into some sort of recognition of Israel as a state or at least dealing with it as a state. I think if you look at the statements even recently by the foreign minister but others, a sense that there is a reality out there that has to be acknowledged.

That's not to say that Saudi Arabia across the board has been entirely helpful. Money has gone back and forth between grassroots organizations to Hamas and other groups. So there is a bit of schizophrenia, I would say, in terms of high politics/low politics.

That being said, it's been the immediate neighbors quite frankly that have been the most vocal, if you will, in terms of opposing any forward movement on the policy. I was struck by comments that were made by Saudi Arabia right after the beginning of the fighting in Lebanon, where the Saudi government came out and basically pointed its finger at Hizbollah as starting the fight. There's obvious reasons why they would do that. The Saudis, it should be very clear, are very concerned about Iran and the growing muscle and role of Iran in the region. So there's reasons it would be concerned. But the fact that it came out very vocally was notable.

I thought somewhat unfortunately Washington was unable to do much with that. In Washington we always want the Saudis to do more – once they put forward a statement like that, then to help. But that being said, we did get that statement which was bold and out there and we were unable to use that to really do much to build an international coalition to sort of push back Hizbollah.

Khashoggi: On the issue of imposed peace, I know it's a radical thought, to impose peace, because peace cannot really be imposed. But everybody agrees that the Palestinian question is the mother of all problems in the Middle East. Tony Blair, the prime minister of England, just yesterday said that in order to fix Iraq we have to fix the Middle East problem. This is becoming an acceptable notion throughout among experts and politicians, that we must put an end to the Middle East problem.

Every time the United States tries to negotiate peace with the Israelis and Palestinians, it proves very difficult because it is very difficult to negotiate with the Israelis, because the Israelis never come under serious pressure. The only time they come to an agreement is when they come under American pressure. So eventually there will not be peace in the Middle East without American pressure on the Israelis.

So what about the role of Egypt and Saudi Arabia with the Palestinians? The same thing. The Saudis and Egyptians can apply pressure on the Palestinians.

Now we have a problem with Hamas. Hamas comes to Saudi Arabia, and we had an argument last year about why [they] are always being asked to do things, to restrain [their] fighters. Why is nobody demanding any actions from the Israelis? They had an argument at that time and it was acceptable. But that was over the tactics of reaching a situation for negotiations. Mahmoud Zahar, the foreign minister of Hamas, came out two days ago and said that the Arab peace initiatives have failed or are abolished. Then Saudi Arabia cannot accept that, because this is like the minimum requirement – not by the Europeans, not by the Americans, [but] by all the Arabs.

So with this kind of understanding, it requires some kind of pressure. If the Palestinians want true support from their fellow Arab brothers, they need to agree with the minimum Arab requirements. That's what will bring probably – this is me speaking – that will push Saudi Arabia and Egypt eventually to exercise some kind of pressure in order to reach some peaceful agreement that will end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Question: I've received many questions about the whole issue of political participation in the Gulf. One of the key questions is: do you believe there is popular support within the Gulf States and particularly Saudi Arabia for increased political participation, or are people happy with the systems they have? A related question is the role of women in political participation and what can the US do to be more effective in our pursuit of encouraging women's participation. If I could ask also a relevant question, what is the Saudi government's official position on the question of political liberalization in the Kingdom?

Khashoggi: There isn't a popular movement for democratization in Saudi Arabia. It is still more among the intellectual elites who are pushing for democratization, people's participation. It's not yet a grassroots movement. It might get to that one day but it will get there after we fix the stock market. If you ask Saudis what is the main concern, it is the Saudi stock market, not really people's participation or democratization.

The economy is the number-one issue among the Saudi population right now. But ideas of democratization are being very much debated in Saudi Arabia. I cannot compare it to any other time. It is like an everyday routine to discuss that in Saudi papers, in Saudi majlises. Again, what is making a setback for the democratization movement, that we don't have success stories around us. Iraq has failed. If somebody assumed that one day Iraq will be the minaret which will guide the area into democracy, it has failed as that model. When a Saudi Arabian compares himself to the rest of the region, he sees himself as better off compared to his neighbors. So there's not an urgency for this political liberalization in Saudi Arabia. So we will just need until we see a success story somewhere. That will take some time. I predict it will be in Egypt before Iraq, and that will have an influence throughout the region.

Bronson: In terms of the role of women in the Gulf, I actually think this is a very interesting time to be watching what's going on with the role of women. I think there's enormous change going on. If you look at some of the statistics, there has to be. In Saudi Arabia in the 1970s, two percent of women were literate and now it's in the low nineties a generation later. This is true throughout the Gulf. It's not the same picture of the princesses who we sort of thought about in the 1970s, sitting around doing nothing. Now they are out there, or some of them anyway, across the region. It's really quite fascinating.

When I was in the Kingdom two years ago, when I was doing some of my initial research for the book, I'd sit down and talk to women to get a feel for what's going on. They said: all you're going to want to talk to me about is driving and the veil. Actually, it's not all that I wanted to talk about, but we started there – you ridiculous Americans, that's not what our concern is. Our concern is about greater access to education and greater access to job opportunities and things that affect day-to-day life, not these other things. What I thought was comical was last year I went back and suddenly all the Saudis who had convinced me with such vehemence that it wasn't about driving were now talking about driving and how some day they may get to drive. I was telling them that I didn't think it was coming anytime soon and they were arguing back with me. It's just quite dynamic, what's going on.

I saw when I was in the Eastern Province and women were running for the chamber of commerce – I was at a dinner party and some women had been campaigning for a position there, and when they came in the back of their abayas – the black cloaks that they wore over their clothes – had in green their campaign slogans, like t-shirts. It's a very interesting time. It bears watching.

That's not to say it's a good situation or that there's freedoms. I don't want people to walk away saying I think everything's fine. I don't. I just think that right now it's actually one of the points of dynamism.

In terms of what the US can do, I think in large part we're doing it. Things like when Duke University partners with Effat College in Jeddah, a women's college, and supports the education of women in the sciences. That's the kind of thing that is easy. America is still viewed – one thing that's viewed positively in the region is our education system, our higher education system. Those kind of partnerships and working with girls' colleges, which is often easier than working with the male colleges, are very helpful and have long-term positive consequences. That kind of support was recognized in Jeddah when it came through and it was talked about, how Duke University is doing that, and it prompted the other girls' colleges to go out and build other partnerships.

So in my mind, that's the way you promote reform and that's some of the things you do. I think it bears saying that it's a very interesting and exciting time and it bears watching.

Wahba: Let me add a couple comments if I may on the earlier question of whether there's popular support for political participation in the Gulf. While I certainly would agree with Jamal that there isn't this bubbling grassroots movement to change the leadership in most of the countries, at the same time I would argue that people are anxious to participate. There's no doubt about it. Even in the UAE, where you have a very small population, very wealthy, very tolerant leadership in terms of allowing informal participation, I felt that people were anxious and looking forward to the day when they would have the opportunity to make their voices heard in a more formal fashion. While they felt they had access to their leaders through the traditional majlises and so on, certainly the younger and even the older generation – I don't want to make it sound as though only the younger people are anxious for a change. I think people are looking for ways to make their voices heard.

I would agree with Rachel's point earlier that you don't necessarily want everyone to go out and vote for a president the next day, but you do want to encourage some form of political participation. I think the same is true in Bahrain. Certainly the same is true in Qatar. There is a desire to become more involved in the process.

On the women's issue, and I've seen this firsthand in many of my assignments overseas and also in the Gulf, the women are doing amazing things and we just don't hear about them over here. It doesn’t mean they're not happening. I would really caution people to think that way. When you go to the businesswomen's summits held in Abu Dhabi or Jeddah or Dubai, you see women from throughout the Gulf who are running their own businesses, who are full participants in their society in terms of making decisions and moving vast amounts of capital. I was stunned in the UAE to find out 70 percent of the students in higher education are women. Actually it's kind of creating a new kind of problem where you have a very large majority of women who are so well-educated, they're not finding the suitable husbands. So that's a different kind of impact it may have.

Question: A question for Rachel. If the popular resistance to the Saudi government is highly critical of the government's relationship with the United States, then how can the US continue to maintain a strong relationship with Saudi Arabia without empowering the resistance to the government of Saudi Arabia?

Bronson: I think the current king is helping us do that. It's an excellent question because a few years ago there was a poll taken across Muslim countries and it asked what you thought of US policies and what you thought about the US. Saudi Arabia was the only country where a majority – a slim majority, 51 percent, but a majority nonetheless – thought that there were real problems with Americans, not just American policy. There's a real divide between the elite, which is probably one of the most pro-American elites in the entire region – really second to none – whereas in other Arab countries the elites would go to Britain, for instance, or they'd go up to Moscow at times to study, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, because of oil and then business relations, they all came to the United States. So there's this very pro-American elite. Then you get this 51 percent.

I think the current king is helping the situation some and things are changing a bit, but Jamal can correct me if I'm wrong. In the 1990s and really right up to 2001, there was a sense of anti-Americanism and Osama bin Laden had a lot of resonance. There was no cost to being anti-American. There was no cost to supporting Al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden. There was no cost to focusing on the corruption of the royal family. Then a new king came along that had, I would say, a lot more legitimacy, a deeper legitimacy, a sense that he was more pious and he was less corrupt. That sort of eased some of the pressure. But also that that sort of knee-jerk anger was wrecking Saudi Arabia from within, that it was producing or tolerating or allowing a certain kind of radicalism that would come back and haunt the Kingdom itself. I think that is changing the dynamics of how anger is expressed. I think there's still anti-Americanism. You're not going to go from 51 to something small very quickly. But I think it is dissipating a little bit and the current king is helping us on that, and to the extent we can help him, I think that is the way to actually move forward. It's a tough question though. I don't know satisfactory that answer is.

Question: Many of our allies in the Gulf argue correctly that we should be talking directly with Iran and Syria. Wouldn't the same logic hold true then in terms of the Gulf States, shouldn't they be talking to Israel?

Khashoggi: Somehow, indirectly, we have talked to Israel, through King Abdullah's peace proposal. That is talking to the Israelis. That is a message to the Israelis and we haven't heard back from them.

Marcelle Wahba: On that note, let me thank our panelists for today's discussion.