Where would you live?
You've got to choose between one of two.
- Saudi or North Korea
- Saudi or Iran
- Iran or North Korea
I've been to all three.
And here are my choices in this little thought experiment of "which favourite dictatorship?"
Saudi Arabia or North Korea: North Korea. They have pubs and clubs. They like a drink and live to sing. Women are uncovered and as free (that is, as unfree) as men. Saudi has not a single theatre, no pubs no clubs, women are wrapped in body bags and the only fun you can have is to be a prince in which case you can consume scotch indoors and poke young boys.
So, get that. I'd rather live in the benighted country of boy brutal Kim Jong-un, than king Salman's sand kingdom, America's best ally in the Middle East.
Saudi or Iran: no question. Iran. (See clip below)
Iran or North Korea: Iran.
So there it is, Iran wins the "best of the dictatorships" contest hands down, at least in my mind.
Which is rather the point of Philip Stephens' article article in the Financial Times.
That is, How to handle a major transition for US relations in the Middle East:
• From Saudi, an ally which shouldn't be.
• To Iran, an enemy which shouldn't be.
The insights of the Israeli diplomat Stephens quotes are interesting. Amongst which:
Take away the mullahs, the [Israeli] diplomat observed, and Iran had civilisational depth, a flourishing, western-leaning middle class, and, by the standards of the region, an open, pluralist society. Any nation in this part of the world that allocated 60 per cent of its university places to women had to have something going for it. Compare this with Saudi Arabia, where the medievalism of the House of Saud has been married to the dangerously extreme Wahhabi brand of Sunni Islam.
Many have wondered over the years why it is that the US allied with Saudi when they finance wahhabi mosques and schools around the world, training grounds for violent jihadism.
Answer was: oil.
Answer is: better the devil you know than Isis.
Even so: the US could have/should have been much much more robust in its criticism of Saudis financing terror breeding grounds. Even as we understand that the mullahs may have taken no notice.
Once again it's worth noting that the blogosphere knew and wrote about Saudi perfidy for much longer than the mainstream press which is only recently starting to report on Saudi's malignant Wahhabist funding of terror: via funding of Madrasa schools and mosques in the west.
• As a by-the-by: why can't western countries do what Lee Kwan Yew did in Singapore? He said no foreign funding of mosques. That's it. Full stop. Singapore has managed to keep its very multicultural society, with its substantial Muslim minority, safe and satisfied with that simple policy. No foreign funding for mosques.
• As another by-the-by: I haven't included China in this "my best favourite dictatorship" thought experiment. Because it would win by a country mile. China has it all. All that we have in the west and more. As long as you're not about criticising the leadership then anything goes, and anything does. I know because lived there for many years and now visit often from my home in Hong Kong. You can live a fun and fruitful life in China. It ain't nothin' like the three above.