The West’s reliance on Saudi Arabia is ill-judged

Mar 17, 2016 by

By Valerie Yule –

Saudi money builds mosques and schools throughout the Western world.

My home town of Melbourne has beautiful mosques and flourishing Islamic schools financed with Saudi money. I visited one school. The girls are dressed beautifully in clothes and headscarves that prevent them exercising like the boys, but otherwise, it seemed a good school, with progressive teachers. But the two religious teachers told me I was doomed as a non-Muslim, and that the Wahhabi version was the only valid version of Islam. Possibly most Saudi-financed schools in the West are similar.

Saudi encouragement and financing of a fundamentalist form of Islam is a threat to stability everywhere.

Saudi Arabia can be compared with the lslamic State, with its extreme religious ideology and cruel sharia-based justice but its influence in the West is hardly questioned. Yet the perpetrators of many acts of terror, from the Twin Towers events of September 11 to many other episodes of extremist carnage, as well as nearly all members of extremist groups like Al Qaeda and the Nusra Front, have been either Saudi nationals or brainwashed by petrodollar-financed demagogues.

For many years, USA and UK have sold armaments to ruling dictatorship. The arms have been used for evil purposes. US and UK supported Saudi Arabia, because the Sauds would give them oil in return for Western armaments, a double benefit economically for the Western powers. They have relied on it for stability in the Middle East. Today there is a joint arming and training program between the C.I.A. and Saudi Arabia. The Obama administration silently supports the Saudi-led war in Yemen,

The history of the ruling Saud family has been one of the worst in the Middle East.. Its version of Islam is extreme Salafist Wahhabism which has also inspired the Islamic State and other jihadis.

In 2015, Saudi Arabia has sought the presidency of the United Nations Human Rights Council (a move that was blocked through diplomatic means) but its judiciary is controlled by conservative clerics applying Shariah law, and is getting worse.

UN independent experts criticize its torture and ill-treatment, racism and xenophobia, arbitrary detention, and freedoms of belief and of expression. Inhumane punishments for exercising basic rights and death sentences based on dubious evidence still continue. More than 150 people were executed in 2014, some whose only crime was protesting against the government. Saudi Arabia’s medieval criminal justice system also executes “witches,” and flogs and imprisons gay people.

Saudi Arabia inflames the Sunni-Shiite divide and sets an example of intolerance by banning churches and other religions.

Saudi Arabia is a global threat with its active sponsorship of violent extremism. Abroad, Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses are many. At home, torture, mal-treatment, the death penalty and rough corporal punishment are routine. Access to justice, fair trials and due process are denied, with many convictions based on confessions extracted under duress. There is lack of a penal code defining specific crimes and punishments, so that judges have complete discretion.

Discrimination against minorities is common. Migrant workers face serious abuse. Human rights defenders are harassed and prevented from undertaking their work. Freedoms of expression, assembly and belief are regularly violated by law enforcement agencies and by government agents.

Saudi Arabia is keen to wield its influence on the world, especially in the wake of the Iranian nuclear deal, which is a serious security threat. But there is little international criticism, although using lucrative international contracts as a tool could effect significant change.

Saudi Arabia is protected by its Sunni Muslim Gulf neighbours, and by its political allies within the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation. Its oil reserves, wealth,and its ties with the US protect it. Diplomatic trouble over Yemen and Syria are statements of opposition, but the Saudi regime is still not being held to account. It shields itself from global scrutiny by keeping many violations secret.

Oppression of women is supposedly supported by the Qu’ran. Saudi women can’t drive, and are even told by some clerics that they mustn’t wear seatbelts for fear of showing the outlines of their bodies.

Municipal elections are the only kind that Saudi Arabia allows . His successor Salman has delivered on the late monarch’s promise.. Two thirds of the seats in 284 councils are up for grabs with the remaining officials being appointed by the ministry of municipal affairs. The councils have limited power to run things, such as cleaning the streets and looking after public parks.There are about 5,938 men and 978 women competing for the vacant offices, according to the BBC. The count of registered voters is similarly disproportionate – 1,360,000 men versus just 131,000 women – and is only a small fraction of Saudi Arabia’s 20-million population. Bureaucratic obstacles, a lack of awareness of the process and gender segregation laws all hinder female participation. Voters and candidates are put off by segregation and restrictions.

Meanwhile, despite its vast wealth, the country apparently failed to welcome refugees fleeing conflicts in the region. Rights to adequate housing, food, water, healthcare and a livelihood are neither protected nor upheld.

Saudi strategy is to derail the nuclear agreement and perpetuate and exacerbate tensions in the region. It does this by pressuring the West, promoting regional instability through waging war in Yemen, sponsoring extremism, and directly provoking Iran.

Saudi military campaign in Yemen and its support for extremists are known. Its provocations against Iran are less publicized but are real nevertheless. A coalition of mostly Gulf Arab states led by Saudi Arabia has launched air-strikes against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The Saudi government or its satellites have over the past three years directly targeted Iranian diplomatic facilities in Yemen, Lebanon and Pakistan – killing Iranian diplomats and locals. There have been other provocations, too. Iranian pilgrims in Saudi Arabia have endured systematic harassment. Saudi negligence has been blamed for the stampede during the recent hajj, which left hundreds of pilgrims dead. Moreover, for days, Saudi authorities refused to respond to requests from grieving families to access and repatriate the bodies.

Saudi Arabia’s government-appointed preachers routinely practice hate against all Shiite Muslims.

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies are committed to resisting Iranian expansion and responding forcefully to Iran’s aggression.

The United States government has largely averted its eyes from all this, at least in public, merely expressing deep concern about atrocities even as it provides weaponry to enable the Saudi assault on Yemen.

That’s realpolitik. Saudi Arabia has oil and influence, and the Obama administration needed to side it to win the Iranian nuclear deal.

There’s also an underlying hypocrisy in Saudi behavior. This is a country that sentenced a 74-year-oldBritish man to 350 lashes for possessing alcohol but alcohol is plentiful at Riyadh parties attended by government officials. A Saudi prince, Majed Abdulaziz al-Saud, was arrested in Los Angeles in a $37 million mansion he had rented, after allegedly drinking heavily, hiring escorts, using cocaine, terrorizing women and threatening to kill people.”I am a prince,” he declared, according to The Los Angeles Times. “And I do what I want.”

There are many obvious shared interests of Saudi Arabia and USA. It has recently helped keep oil prices down, which helps to weaken the economies of Russia and Iran. Saudi Arabia and the U.S. agree that Bashar al-Assad not continue as president of Syria; and they both support President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi of Egypt – the U.S. despite Sisi’s autocratic tendencies, Saudi Arabia because of them. Saudis support and facilitate the American military presence in the Middle East. U.S. relies heavily on Saudi money to support Syrian rebels.

Saudi Arabia’s security depends on the United States. This gives the USA leverage in the kingdom it should be ready to use. Saudi Arabia may yet be persuaded to end encouragement of a fundamentalist form of Islam that, in the end, poses a threat to the kingdom itself; to allow for greater political and religious freedom inside the kingdom; to heal the growing Sunni-Shiite breach; and to exercise its regional power more wisely. But Saudi Arabia is no longer a reliable ally for the United States.

Saudi Arabia has supported Wahhabi madrasas in poor countries in Africa and Asia, exporting extremism and intolerance. Saudi Arabia also exports instability with its brutal war in Yemen, intended to check what it sees as Iranian influence. Saudi airstrikes and the blockading of ports has been devastating. Eighty per cent of Yemenis now need assistance.

Saudi Arabia is today in world headlines for being in trouble. Its population is increasing rapidly. In 1995 it was under 19 million; in 2015 it was over 27 million. A quarter of the population is under the age of 25. Sustaining it will become a crisis, along with other countries of the Middle East.

Source: The West’s reliance on Saudi Arabia is ill-judged – On Line Opinion – 18/3/2016

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