Saudi Arabia: A Player in Middle East Elections

It is a contradiction to mention Saudi Arabia (an absolute monarchy) and elections in the same sentence; however, no country in the Middle East, as of late, has been more invested in this democratic process than Saudi Arabia. For the record, election is part of the democratic process; Saudi Arabia is not.

According to some reports which have been circulating in the Arab media, the Saudis poured more money into the Lebanese parliamentary race that propelled the coalition of Sa'ad el-Hariri into victory than what was spent on Barack Obama's U.S. presidential bid. Lebanon, however, is a country of only four million.

While one cannot quantify the exact amount of money the Saudis spent or substantiate these reports, the Saudi influence is evident through the many media outlets the Kingdom owns or backs.

Saudi Arabia controls an impressive share of the Arab world's most influential media outlets ranging from top distribution newspapers such the London-based Asharq Alawsat, to the second most viewed television satellite station in the region Al Arabiya, which was founded by the brother-in-law of the late King Fahd. Saudi control of many Arab media outlets, directly and indirectly, has prompted a journalist friend of mine based in Egypt to refer to the Saudi monarch as his editor-in chief.

During the Lebanese Parliamentary Elections, the Saudi-controlled media focused its efforts on painting the Lebanese opposition lead by Hezbollah as an Iranian "proxy". The Kingdom dispatched a group of "experts" from one station to the other to warn about the spread of Iran's influence in the Arab world. The same sentiment was also disseminated through editorials in the various newspapers Saudi Arabia owned or had an interest in.

This past week, while still savoring the election victory in Lebanon of the March 14 alliance, the Saudi-controlled media has been concentrating its efforts on the Iranian Presidential Election. Al Arabiya, for example, has been constantly airing segments from the television debates by the presidential candidates and sound bites critical of incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Saudi-run media has been favoring Mir Hossein Mousavi, the reformist candidate, and has given him the edge in Tehran but neglected other provinces where it is a totally different story. In many instances, anchors on Saudi-controlled Arab media outlets could hardly restrain their glee whenever Ahmadinejad was criticized by his challengers.

In case you're wondering who the Saudis have been targeting through Arab satellite stations in Iran where Farsi is the official language -- approximately 6% of Iran's population are Arabic-speakers, the majority of whom live in Khuzestan. Saudi Arabia is hoping that they, along with other minority groups, will make the difference to deliver them another victory... this time against Ahmadinejad in Iran.

Update: The Iranian government has recently shut down Al Arabiya's offices in Tehran.

Jamal Dajani produces the Mosaic Intelligence Report on Link TV.