Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit is just back from an official visit to Saudi Arabia. It's just one of many, many visits to Arab dictatorships conducted by European politicians in the past few weeks.
It's hard not to see something sinister in this. Saudi Arabia, the most repressive and repressed state in the Arab world -- is this week teetering closer towards open protest than in many years. Activists and protesters are starting to whisper about the possibility of open protests against the rulers. This is a situation which a year ago -- even a month ago -- would have seemed incredible.
Instability in Saudi Arabia means a leap in the oil price, already inflated by the rebellion in Libya and the general uncertainty in the Arab world. Democracy, protest, freedom are all varieties of instability, as far as this perspective is concerned. Thus they need to be stopped -- not from any malice towards the people of Saudi Arabia, of course, but simply because their interests conflict with those of the world economy.
I've no idea whether Wowereit is part of that -- it's possible that a long-planned trip just happened to fall at a tense moment in Saudi history. Doubtless he's benefitting from it though -- I'd be willing to bet that the Germans signed better deals (for them) than they would have done without the current wave of revolutions. Presumably the Kingdom is currently willing to burn cash to keep its friends close.
With or without Wowereit, a huge amount of quiet diplomacy is surely in progress, aimed at securing the House of Saud against popular protest. Maybe not enough to make it into the political pages of the newspapers, but probably enough to appear in the business pages. After all, speculators must be reassured that the price of oil won't rise. So if you have some free time this week, try scanning Handelsblatt for news from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
PS I'm not suggesting that any politician will be consciously weighing democracy against the oil price in her mind. More that there's a clamour of fear from energy-heavy industries, and no strong counter-weight demanding that we support democracy at all costs.