Why the Saudis' Downfall Could Impact America

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WASHINGTON -- The so-called Arab Spring just passed the 15-month mark and continues to leave chaos in its wake. Dictators are falling and radical Islamists are filling the gap across the Middle East and North Africa.

Now Islamists have their sights on a bigger prize, and it could send shock waves through the United States.

Saudis in Brotherhood's Crosshairs?

The power gained by the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies throughout the Muslim world during the past year has also led to a growth in confidence.

They call 2011 the year the dictators fell, in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen. In 2012, the Brotherhood is targeting the monarchies.

Jordan and Saudi Arabia sit on top of the list, and the Saudi royal family has wasted no time getting ahead of the game.

When anti-government protests broke out in neighboring Bahrain last year, Saudi tanks rolled in to keep unrest from spilling over the border.

Then, after governments fell in Tunisia and Egypt, the Saudi royals moved to appease their own restless subjects with billions of dollars in new welfare and housing programs.

"It is absolutely bribery. That's what it is. When this uprising started, they started getting nervous," said Dr. Ali Alyami, of the Washington-based Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia.

Alyami believes the Royal Family's days are numbered.

"The Saudi people suffer from corruption, lack of political freedom, lack of religious freedom, lack of press freedom, injustice, no accountability, no transparency," he told CBN News.

"So the same problems that led all of these Arabs to take to the streets are in Saudi Arabia," Alyami said. "So regardless of all the bribes -- they know it, actually -- they are not going to be spared the wrath of the people."

Cost of Oil Dependence

So what would that mean for the United States? For decades, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have maintained an uneasy alliance based on oil.

On February 14, 1945, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt met with the Saudi King Abdulaziz on the U.S.S. Quincy and struck a deal.

"We Americans had fallen in love with our automobiles, and they were impoverished and needed a source of revenue, and they had oil under their earth," explained Sarah Stern, author of Saudi Arabia and the Global Islamic Terrorist Network.

Since then, America's reliance on Middle East oil has only grown. And from hand-holding to bows, successive administrations have shown deference to the Saudi monarchs. Stern said that deference has come with a high price.

In her book, she argues that from spawning 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers, to spending billions to build radical mosques and Islamic schools worldwide, the Saudis have been willing accomplices to the global jihad.

"Any time anybody wants to open a mosque all they have to do is call Mecca or Medina and the Saudis will send an imam or they certainly send all their material," Stern told CBN News.

"So here we have within the United States, the same kind of extraordinary anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, anti-Israeli, anti-America, and certainly anti-humane materials that are being studied judiciously and religiously by young American Muslims," she said.

That includes the Islamic Saudi Academy outside Washington, D.C. Controlled by the Saudi Ministry of Education, the K-12 school has been investigated for using textbooks that teach students to hate non-Muslims.

"They're saying that Christians and Jews are the enemy, that Christians and Jews are infidel - that the struggle with Christians and Jews will continue and that Jihad can be used to spread the faith of Islam," Nina Shea, of Freedom House, told CBN News.

Although the Saudis build mosques and schools throughout the West, churches, synagogues, Bibles, and Torahs are all banned in Saudi Arabia: the birthplace of Islam.

The most recent example of Christians' suppression occurred in December, when 35 Ethiopian guest workers were arrested after Saudi authorities raided their house church.

Saudis Meet Their Match

In the Muslim Brotherhood, however, the Saudis may have met their match.

Brotherhood leaders received a warm welcome when they fled to Saudi Arabia after facing persecution in Egypt in the 1960s.

As the Brotherhood's influence spread, however, it threatened the House of Saud.

"What they did was the opposite of what the Saudis wanted them to do or expected them to do," Alyami explained. "They've started some organizations for themselves in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf."

Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups have also had a strong presence in Saudi Arabia.

Days Numbered?

Yet the most immediate threat is Iran and the fear the Islamic Republic could instigate rebellion in eastern Saudi Arabia, where most of the country's oil is located.

"The vast majority of the population in the oil region of Saudi Arabia are Shiites, and they could be directed by the Iranians," former Israeli Ambassador Yoram Ettinger told CBN News.

Leaked diplomatic cables show the Saudis want the West to take out Iran's nuclear program by any means necessary.

But Alyami said they face an even greater fear than a nuclear Iran.

"Their biggest fear is to see the United States energy-independent - or the West," Alyami said.

For now, a mixture of bribes, internal repression, and the West's oil needs has enabled the House of Saud to hold on to power. But as dominoes continue to fall across the Middle East, the question could be, for how long?

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CBN News
Erick Stakelbeck

Erick Stakelbeck

CBN News Correspondent

Erick Stakelbeck is a sought after authority on terrorism and national security issues with extensive experience in television, radio, and print media. Stakelbeck is a correspondent and terrorism analyst for CBN News.  Follow Erick on Twitter @Staks33.