Good ol' Saudi Arabia. If you're a corrupt and fleeing Sunni despot, you'll always have a home in Saudi. Just ask their latest refugee, the very recently former President of Tunisia, Mr. Zine El Abedine Ben Ali.
In the hours after he fled Tunisia yesterday, nearly 24 years after he first obtained the presidency, the joke amongst watchers was where he would show up. France? No. Reports indicated Sarcozy wasn't about to agitate the already-on-edge Tunisian and Arab immigrant population. Italy. Nope. With Berlusconi's latest legal troubles rather ironically entwined with Arab issues (the 17-year-old dancer he is said to have "dirty danced" with, is Moroccan immigrant, Karima El Mahroug), even a landing by Ben Ali could have been a firestarter.
Ben Ali is just the latest in an ever growing line of his sort who have turned to Saudi Arabia once they've lost hold of the people. There was Uganda's Idi Amin (class of 2003), and two of Pakistan's leaders -- former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (class of 2007) and former President Pervez Musharraf (class of 2008). Others have popped in for a medical visit when times were looking a bit tough, but eventually returned home.
It is certainly not ever their first choice (that's always Paris or London) but Saudi is where they end up (when Egypt isn't available), because fair-weather allies, especially of the Western sort, don't need immigrant uprisings or retaliatory ripostes hot on the heels of the mass demonstrations that drove these men to Saudi in the first place.
The Americans were perhaps the most famous students of this lesson. It was just under two weeks after the U.S. government allowed their good friend the deposed Shah of Iran into the U.S. when the infamous hostage-taking commenced. Turns out, the Iranians weren't very pleased to hear that the man they led a revolution to discard was gifted a visit to the country they blamed for his greatest failures.
Speaking of the Americans, it does smack of hypocrisy that one of the U.S. government's most prominent allies in the Middle East is currently housing a deposed dictator. What is the White House thinking? Or do they still believe it is the old days -- those pre-Internet days when ordinary people had to grumble at home about the dictator who ruled their livelihoods, knowing there were many others outside who agreed, but not having the means to reach out to them.
The world is watching Tunisia, make no mistake of it. Especially the Arab world -- that massive group of people that are somehow tied together because they speak the same language. Saudi Arabia isn't exactly known for concerning itself with a reputation, but if the U.S. government thinks people have brushed off the U.S. connection with Saudi, they will find they were mistaken.
Housing a dictator is not a good look -- having your good friend house one, isn't either.
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