Iran's President Ahmadinejad walks hand-in-hand with Saudi Arabia King Abdullah as they arrive for the opening of GCC summit in Doha
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (R) walks hand with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah as they arrive for the opening of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Doha December 3, 2007.

The National Transitional Council in Libya is slowly trying to establish itself as the legitimate successor to Gaddafi. The West has helped the rebel movement by widely promoting it and calling for countries throughout the world to officially back the new regime. However while the U.S , the U.K, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Canada have officially recognised the political organisation as the new legitimate representative body of the Libyan people, countries in Africa and in the Middle East have been so far less inclined to do so.

While the Arab league officially supports the Nato-led operation in Libya, only Qatar and Kuwait have formally recognized the council, a move followed by only two African countries, which are Senegal and The Gambia. Given the fact that Gaddafi was highly criticised by numerous Arab states and has been increasingly ostracised in the last few years (thanks to his own actions), it seems surprising that countries such as Saudi Arabia have not taken a much stronger stand in support of the Libyan rebels. Looking at the reactions emanating from the Middle East it seems that the Libyan conflict has put more than one country in an awkward position.

Saudi Arabia

Its no understantement to say that there never was any love lost between Gaddafi and King Abdullah of Saudi. For years the two have been locked in an incessant circle of accusations and public spats.

Indeed, over the years, Libya has been accused of subversion by several Arab countries, including Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. For example, Libyan agents reportedly planned on several occasions to disrupt the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. In addition, for many years Libya supported the mostly Christian rebels in southern Sudan, against the central government in Khartoum. Libya was considered to be so unfriendly and untrustworthy, as Gaddafi was known to change alliances rather quickly, that when the United States bombed its cities in April 1986, only a few countries condemned the action strongly.

Also, in 2003, Saudi Arabia claimed they had unveiled a Libyan plot aiming at the assassination of the then Crown Prince Abdullah. The men arrested included, according to Saudi investigative documents, eight Saudis and five Libyans, four of whom were Libyan intelligence agents

The Libyans were caught delivering more than $1 million in cash at a hotel in Mecca to Saudi dissidents hired to assassinate Crown Prince Abdullah. The Libyan agents had allegedly recruited the Saudis to launch grenades and other explosives into Abdullah's apartment in Mecca, the documents show.

At the time, Saudi, U.S. and British officials maintained they had traced the origins of the plot to a public exchange of insults between Abdullah and Col. Moammar Gaddafi, Libya's long time ruler, at an Arab League summit in March 2003.

During the summit, held shortly before the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Gaddafi accused the Saudi prince of "making a pact with the devil" by supporting U.S. military forces in the region. Abdullah, who has long had a testy relationship with the Libyan leader, responded: "Your lies precede you and your grave is in front of you."

Of course the Libyan authorities denied any involvement in the plot, but the relationship between the two leaders did not ease as in 2009 Gaddafi famously told King Abdullah: "You are propelled by fibs towards the grave and you were made by Britain and protected by the US."

When the uprising started in Libya many expected the Saudi King to seize the occasion and support the rebel movement to punish Gaddafi. Obama was quick to ask for the support of Saudi Arabia in arming the rebels. However so almost nothing has been heard on the subject from Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi regime has gone quiet and has stood clear of the rebels. Four weeks ago it even prevented the new Libyan leaders from reaching Qatar, where they had meetings planned, by forbidding them to cross their airspace. When asked about the reasons behind their decision, the authorities refused to comment.

Unfortunately it seems that the U.S. demand came at a time where the regime was itself trying to suppress a nascent protest movement in Saudi, as they banned all street protests to try and supress the uprising. The Saudi monarchy knows that its position is fragile as in the region people see its demise as just a question of time. Moreover, the U.S. involvement in getting European countries and Nato involved in the conflict bared an uncomfortable truth to Saudi King Abdullah and many of his counter-part in the region: Washington will help to push you out of power if it finds it politically advantageous.

As much as siding with the rebels to get to Gaddafi might sound attractive, Saudi it seems has for now decided to follow the lead of most Arab countries, that is not breaking with their tradition of doing absolutely nothing when controversial conflicts arise.


Saudi Arabia is not the only country that the Libyan conflict has put in an awkward position. Tehran has tried to balance support for the Libyan opposition, which it views as part of a region-wide "Islamic awakening," with rejection of the Nato-led military strikes.

Keeping in with their anti-Western outlook, Iranian officials still insist that the U.N.-endorsed military intervention on humanitarian grounds is hypocritical and part of a secret Western agenda. Tehran has made no secret of the fact that it opposes any military intervention in the Middle East, even if in Iran's interest, and had also opposed the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, despite the fact Saddam Hussein was Iran's main adversary in the region.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad confirmed Iran's anti-intervention attitude and said: "The intervention of some European countries and America in the regional nations increases concern and makes circumstances more complicated."

"The double standard action of the Western countries in Bahrain and Libya and their silence towards the atrocities of the Zionist regime against the innocent Palestinians shows their contradictory performance in the world."

However its seems that the person who illustrates the best Iran's dichotomist position is the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who explained, "Iran utterly condemns the behaviour of the Libyan government against its people, the killings and pressure on people, and the bombing of its cities... but it (also) condemns the military action in Libya."

Additionally to their similar awkward reaction to the Libyan conflict, it is important to point out that the two countries are also both oil exporters. Could they see the Libyan Transitional Council as a potential business competitor, and is the Council already warning them that a new player is in the game by attempting to seek diplomatic ties with Israel, who currently have to look very far afield for their oil, a move that is set to particularly upset Iran?