By Bernhard Zand
The Saudi Arabia which German Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit this weekend sees itself as a force for order in the Middle East. Not only is the country trying to stem conflicts in Iraq and Lebanon, but it has also taken a tough stand against Iran.
The world quickly reached its verdict after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001: Much of the blame, many agreed, could be laid at the feet of Saudi Arabia. It was seen as the dark power behind the attacks, with 15 of the 19 attackers coming from the kingdom along with their fanatical ideology and, most of all, al-Qaida boss Osama bin Laden himself. This peculiar country — ruled by a high-handed group of princes, oil-rich yet inspired by a backward-looking form of Islam, highly modern and yet practically calcified — suddenly found itself facing tough questions, particularly from the United States, its traditional ally and protector.
Saudi Arabia, and King Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz (center), are playing a greater role in the Gulf these days.