As Syrians Flee To Turkey, Saudis Stay Silent

June 11, 2011

NPR Staff

Anonymous
Syrian refugees seen in a camp set up by the Turkish Red Crescent in Turkish town of Yayladagi in Hatay province, Turkey.(AP Photo)

Thousands of Syrians have fled to Turkey as security forces continue to patrol villages, breaking down the doors of houses and burning private crops in the northern town of Jisr al-Shoughour and neighboring communities, witnesses said.

One Syrian farmer just over the Turkish border said the violence is very real.

"Today I see soldiers go into the homes," he said. "They broke the doors. They burned all the crops. I have some pictures that show it is true."

The farmer is one of nearly 4,300 refugees now living in the camps that run along the Turkey-Syria border. But BBC reporter Owen Bennett Jones tells NPR's Rachel Martin this is just the number of refugees registered with the Turkish army.

"There will be many more who've managed to get in without the army knowing," Bennett Jones said. "They are staying with relatives and friends in the communities here."

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he will keep the country's doors open to fleeing Syrians and has been increasingly critical of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

'Purchasing Consent'

In the midst of the unrest and uprisings in the Middle East, one country has remained relatively quiet. Saudi Arabia, one of the most restrictive societies in the region, is surrounded by the tumultuous Arab Spring, yet there are no mass protests, no calls for their leaders step down. Money seems to be the key to the country's perceived harmony.

"The monarchy ... has so much wealth that they can always offer various rewards and inducements for popular consent," Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations tells Martin. "In a country that has a small population base, profound level of oil wealth, $500 billion or so in reserve, they may be able to actually continue with their practice of purchasing consent."

Still, the House of Saud is concerned about the instability around it, especially with traditional alliances like fallen Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak gone and their other key ally, the United States, having such a vast difference of opinion of this Arab Spring.

"We're at potentially a turning point in the 60-year relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia," Takeyh says. "For the United States as the president's speech indicated, the emergence of these revolutions is viewed as beneficial. Saudis, on the other hand, see these as nearly an existential threat."

While the United States is supporting the waves of democracy moving through the region, Saudi Arabia is offering aid to some countries to help them not reform. "We are essentially in cross purposes from our alliance," says Takeyh.

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