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02/06/2013

America's drone base in Saudi Arabia is bad news for its rulers

News that the CIA is running a secret airbase for unmanned drones in Saudi Arabia is very awkward for the kingdom.

As the birthplace of Islam and home to the two holy sites of Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia carries enormous political and social clout in the Muslim world.

It has been riding particularly high on the back of the Arab uprisings because it has provided money and arms to many rebels. 

Never mind that the rulers have not tolerated much dissent in their own backyard. Support of the Arab revolutions meant Saudi Arabia could shake off some of the lingering bad feelings in the Arab world left from the 1991 Gulf War when up to 10,000 American soldiers were stationed in the kingdom. Indeed, the presence of U.S. troops on holy soil was one of Osama bin Laden’s reasons for fighting Americans. 

The drone airbase may be a setback.

America’s drones are widely hated in nearly every Muslim-majority country because the perception is that they kill many more innocent Muslims than militants.

The Pew Research Center carried out a survey last year showing opposition to these weapons in countries that are not targets. In Egypt, 89 per cent of respondents were against it, in Jordan that figure was 85 per cent, Turkey 81 per cent and Tunisia 72 per cent.   

That Americans are launching strikes against Muslims with complicity of the Saudi Arabia’s rulers will not be easy for them to live down.  

You can read The Toronto Star's new, in-depth series on drones here

Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at The Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is the author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour

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