DHAHRAN, SAUDI ARABIA, AUG. 22 -- Furious with King Hussein of Jordan over his support for Iraq in the current Persian Gulf crisis, the Saudi royal family and nonroyal officialdom have abandoned some of their usual discretion in commenting on other Arab leaders -- particularly the few remaining royal ones -- in order to let outsiders know just how bitter they feel.
"We have been very shocked by the ambivalence and dirty play of some Arab leaders who have proved to be political prostitutes," said one senior family member, who did not want to be identified, referring to Hussein in language seldom heard by a Westerner from the Saudi royalty.
"We worked with Hussein over so many years and saved his economy so many times," he continued, referring to the hundreds of millions of dollars the Saudis have given Jordan since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war to bolster the king's political longevity both as a steadfast "front-line state" against Israel and a moderate pro-Western monarchy.
Only last year, the Saudis provided Jordan with $600 million in loans and cash to help Hussein cope with an economic depression.
"It's not what he said and did but the way he did it," the Saudi official said. "He went out of his way making excuses for supporting Saddam. If he had come and said, 'Look, this is my problem, help me get this and this,' we would have understood."
Similar remarks came from two other royal family members, neither of whom wanted to be quoted by name but both of whom clearly wanted it known just how bitterly angry, or disappointed, they feel.
The Saudis chose to vent their frustrations with their enemies of the moment in this way, without speaking officially, so as not to cause irreparable damage. Nobody knows better than the Saudis, who have traditionally resorted to diplomacy and mediation rather than confrontation, that in the constantly shifting Arab politics, today's enemy may well be tomorrow morning's ally.
In Jiddah, a nonroyal government official said Saudis in general were furious with what they assumed were Jordanian government-inspired demonstrators who were hailing Hussein's support for Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait, calling the Jordanian king "sherif."
This was the title Hussein's great-grandfather, Sherif Hussein, carried when his family, the Hashemites, ruled Saudi Arabia's western region, called Hejaz, after World War I. The Saudis defeated his army and chased him out of Hejaz in the mid-1920s, after which the region was incorporated into the kingdom.
The Saudis immediately assumed that use of the title "sherif" indicated some dark scheme by Hussein, in league with Saddam, to try to lay claim to the Hejaz if Iraq defeated the Saudis in a war. Many seem convinced Hussein knew in advance that Saddam intended to seize Kuwait and that he was part of Saddam's conspiracy.
Whether the Saudi political pique will endure for long will be seen shortly. According to a British Broadcasting Corp. report today, Jordan is about to ask the Saudis to provide it with 1 million barrels of oil in September to replace supplies they were obtaining from Iraq.
This would represent half or more of Jordan's monthly consumption of 1.5 million to 2 million barrels.
The report, if true, will offer the Saudis a golden opportunity to wean Hussein away from Saddam and over to their side through financial incentives, the kind of diplomacy the kingdom normally uses to pacify enemies and consolidate friendships with other Arab leaders.
The incentive in this case would be not only the oil itself but the price at which it is sold to the Jordanians, who are in no financial shape to pay current world prices -- $10 a barrel or more higher than they were before Iraq's seizure of Kuwait.
Thus Hussein, so reviled for the moment here today, may soon be invited again to the court of Saudi King Fahd and embraced once again as the "brother" he used to be.