It has become a commonplace of much Western commentary on whatever latest misfortune has befallen the Middle East that the great stumbling block to any form of political progress in the region is the extreme social and religious conservatism – and the extreme wealth – of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In this version of events the Saudi government and the multitudinous royal family are funding everything from Islamist school governors in Birmingham to the putative Islamic caliphate in Syria and Iraq as part of an ambition to create a powerful Sunni Islamic bloc under Saudi leadership. Of course, like most such commonplaces, it isn’t actually true.
Perhaps the most damaging element of this myth is the idea that the Saudi establishment has a much closer and more ambivalent relationship with al-Qaeda than it ought to; that in reality Saudi Arabia sponsors the international jihadist movement. It’s attractive to have a state actor to blame for the