King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia died last Friday. He’s to be succeeded by the new king, Salman. Like all Saudi monarchs, Abdullah was a despicable, repressive reactionary. Like all Saudi monarchs, Salman’s accession to the throne promises to be a classic case of “meet the new king, same as the old king.”
Here’s a link to Human Rights Watch’s page on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. Here is Amnesty’s. Here is the State Department’s 2013 Human Rights Report on Saudi Arabia. Here’s more. Here’s an article on the Raif Badawi case. Let’s never forget this case, by the way. Together, what the two preceding articles show is that Saudi Arabia is a country where people get flogged for defending human rights, but where government officials go unpunished when they deliberately cause mass death. The late Pakistani journalist Tashbih Sayyid, editor of Pakistan Today, put the point to me in this way: “Muslims complain so loudly about the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem and the West Bank. What about the Saudi occupation of Mecca and Medina?” It sounds like a joke, but it really isn’t one. He might well have added: What about the Saudi occupation of the Arabian peninsula?
Here’s an article on Saudi Arabia’s criticizing Norway’s human rights record. This criticism comes from a country where it’s illegal for women to drive. Of course, to be fair, Saudi Arabia is making progress. It abolished slavery in 1962.
I don’t agree with defenders of Israel who insist that the movement to divest from Israel is “anti-Semitic,” but I do think there is a double standard in the way activists think about and deal with Israel by contrast with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has all the features that members of BDS find objectionable in Israel. Like Israel, Saudi Arabia is guilty of systematic human rights abuses. Like Israel, Saudi Arabia gets massive and systematic U.S. support. Like Israel, Saudi Arabia exerts enormous influence over the U.S. government. The difference is just that Saudi Arabia is a lot worse than Israel on every relevant dimension.
Unfortunately, there is no BDS-like movement to push back on Saudi policy in the way that there is in the Israeli case. There really ought to be: an anti-Saudi BDS would probably command more widespread popular support than does BDS against Israel. (Apparently, the Hillel organization at U Cal Riverside promoted an anti-Saudi divestment policy at one time, but I can’t seem to find it.) At a bare minimum, the time has come to start questioning the corrupting role of Saudi money in American universities. This phenomenon deserves scrutiny and challenge as well.
Though it’s now a bit dated, and I have some disagreements with it, I would highly recommend the late Said K. Aburish’s The Rise, Corruption, and Coming Fall of the House of Saud (Bloomsbury, 1995) as relief from the (cautious) accolades that are now being showered on Abdullah. A choice excerpt:
Like a rotting carcass, the House of Saud is beginning to decompose. This reality is ignored by its members and, except for perfunctory and infrequent mentions of their human rights record, by their friends. As usual, the people who have precipitated the decay are the last to admit their inability to halt it. In the case of the House of Saud’s Western friends, the creeping awareness that a crisis is approaching is balanced by a selfish desire in the governments concerned to conceal it and in the process shirk responsibility for it. (p. 303)
I would just add the proviso that the “selfish desire” flouts our actual interests. Though I don’t agree with the letter of his proposals, as long as we find ourselves involved with the Saudis, I have to agree with the spirit of this passage:
Enforcing these measures is a tall order. Above all, it calls for massive interference in Saudi internal affairs. But this is not as novel as it sounds: the West is already telling Saddam Hussein how to behave towards Shias and Kurds and it tells Egypt and other countries how to manage their financial affairs. In addition, it is totally manageable, for the House of Saud cannot survive without help. Furthermore, it cannot punish the West by withholding its oil because that would hasten the financial crisis and expedite the royal family’s demise. Last but not least, taking a chance with a corrective programme is a better long-term defence of the supply of oil than the present policy of securing it through a regime which threatens to self-destruct, and the prospect of having to fight the Arab and Muslim worlds for it. (p. 314).
The book opens with this dedication:
In memory of my friend Saud Ibrahim Al Muammer, who was tortured to death by the House of Saud, and of my mother, who mourned him as much as I did.
That one sentence conveys the bare essence of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. As an allegory, so does the trailer below for the film “Syriana.”
We ought to be able and willing to assert the truth out loud: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has no right to exist. If any regime should be “erased from the pages of time,” Saudi Arabia is it. It’s good news that the King is dead. It will be better news when the Kingdom follows him.
Postscript: More multi-media dancing on the monarch’s grave:
Postscript 2, February 6, 2015: I guess this article proves that Saudi malfeasance can elicit the attention of our legislators and government, but only if packaged within an implausible conspiracy theory that links the Saudis to 9/11. Memo to our political representatives: it doesn’t take a conspiracy theory to prove that the Saudi regime is repressive, and that our support for the Saudis is abetting that repression. (President Obama may not have gone to Paris after the Charlie Hebdo affair, but he made sure to to go Riyadh after Salman’s accession to the throne.) The work of Said Aburish and Robert Baer (among others) has been out there for decades, but doesn’t seem to have gotten commensurate attention or changed anything–not our gas-guzzling habits, not our support for the Saudis, and not our wide-eyed amazement when people from the regime complain about our baleful influence on it. I’d like to think that if we can get exercised about the implausible, the patently obvious should have its day.