Saudi Arabia’s Appalling Human Rights Record

Posted on July 3, 2015 by 

By Belén Fernández

Saudi Arabia’s status as an oil-fueled U.S. ally is a major reason why the dire human rights situation in the country is of little concern to Washington.

Two decades ago, a Palestinian relative of a friend of mine attended an execution in a public square in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. As it turned out, the executed man was not the only casualty of the day; my friend’s relative, already in poor health, suffered a fatal heart attack upon witnessing the event. Most members of the international community are of course spared the potentially adverse side effects of contact with Saudi reality, for a variety of reasons.

For starters, the kingdom’s oil-fueled status as U.S. ally extraordinaire means that the general absence of human rights in the country is less of a superpower obsession than it would be were the Saudis to declare themselves, say, a Bolivarian republic. As the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman put it in 2007: “Of course, we must protect the Saudis”—which was four years after he confessed that, “[f]rankly, I have a soft spot for the de facto Saudi ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah, who is a man of decency and moderation.”

The June publication by WikiLeaks of a deluge of cables from the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs meanwhile also helps to explain the subdued global reaction to a country that behaves quite similarly to the Islamic State group. The accompanying press release begins by noting that, as of June, the Kingdom had already carried out 100 beheadings this year: “The story was nowhere to be seen on Arab media despite the story’s circulation on wire services. Even international media was relatively mute about this milestone compared to what it might have been if it had concerned a different country. How does a story like this go unnoticed?”

Short answer: money. Why bother cleaning up your act when you can simply clean up your image by disbursing gargantuan sums to international media outlets and other opinion-shaping entities?

As is revealed in the cables, recent Saudi gifts to the media have ranged from meager donations of $2,000 per year to the Guinean News Agency to millions of dollars for the Lebanese television station MTV. Other co-opting tactics have included the mass purchase of subscriptions to publications that are then indebted to their Saudi subscribers.

According to WikiLeaks, the documents “form an indictment of both the Kingdom and the state of the media globally.” They also serve to showcase the impressive hypocrisy of which human beings are capable. In his coverage of the cables, Lebanese blogger Joey Ayoub comments on the revelation that right-wing Lebanese political leader Samir Geagea sought his own personal financial bailout from Saudi Arabia:

“Funny how one of the most popular leaders of the Lebanese Christian Right is so keen on forging an alliance with one of the most brutally anti-Christian governments in the world (here’s a leak related to Saudi Arabia forbidding Ethiopian Christians from praying at home).” As for other Saudi alliances, the Wall Street Journal ran the following headline on June 28: “Saudi Officials Linked to Jihadist Group in WikiLeaks Cables.” Although claiming the documents couldn’t be independently verified, the article notes that they indicate “high-level contacts” between Saudi Arabia and “America’s most deadly adversary in Afghanistan”—the Haqqani network.

But in what might also be referred to as an example of high-level contact, the piece goes on to specify that said network “traces its origins to the 1980s, when the U.S. and Saudi Arabia backed Afghan mujahideen factions fighting the Soviets.” Indeed, America’s established tradition of creating its own enemies in Afghanistan means the Saudis can hardly be singled out for rebuke. And while the anti-Soviet campaign helped make the world safe for capitalism, the current proliferation of enemies across the Middle Eastern landscape also conveniently offers plenty of opportunities for profit; for one thing, the Saudis’ freneticmilitarization has spelled happiness for the U.S. arms industry.

Shortly before the release of the Saudi cables, Bloomberg View columnist Eli Lake reported on another, non-WikiLeaks-based revelation that should have been obvious to anyone not engaged in willful self-delusion: that Saudi Arabia was in cahoots with none other than the state of Israel over their “common foe,” Iran. Describing the joint Saudi-Israeli fear that U.S. President Barack Obama’s alleged “efforts to make peace with Iran will embolden that regime’s aggression against them,” Lake speculates that “it may end up that [the president’s] greatest diplomatic accomplishment will be that his outreach to Iran helped create the conditions for a Saudi-Israeli alliance against it.”

Never mind that an alliance between two spectacularly oppressive regimes backed by the world’s foremost imperial aggressor is not exactly something to celebrate. Meanwhile, the Saudi Ministry of Civil Service recently advertised eight positions for public executioners, which seems to suggest that oppression isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

But if there’s anything to say in the Kingdom’s defense, the death of justice is far from a Saudi crime alone.

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian  


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