King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia – An Acceptable Tyrant

KingAbdullah If Saudi Arabia did not sit upon such vast oil reserves it would be a pariah state.  Instead we have the unedifying spectacle of Western powers rushing to pay their respects to the deceased despot.  In Britain the Union flag was flown at half-mast in honour of Abdullah (this is slightly ironic as the Saudi Arabian flag is the one national flag that can’t be lowered to half mast). The British government has a confused relationship with Saudi Arabia, on the one hand it is critical of Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses (including the torture of at least three British citizens) whilst on the other hand tolerating corruption to secure British arms deals with Prince Charles acting as a glorified salesman.  An investigation by the Serious Fraud Office into corruption surroundimg an arms deal between BAE Systems and Saudi Arabia was dropped following political pressure.  It was decided that exposing corruption in deals with Saudi Arabia were not in Britain’s national interest.  Obviously the damage to the functioning of the rule of law in a democracy was seen as a relatively minor issue. Perhaps most laughably we have heard Abdullah being praised as a champion of women’s rights.  Christine Lagarde and Tony Blair, among others have praised the dead king’s virulent feminism.  There is evidence that four of Abdullah’s daughters live under house arrest.  Abduallah also ordered the execution of his granddaughter Princess Misha’al bint Fahd for having the temerity to fall in love.  The princess and her young lover were beheaded in a car park in Jeddah in 1977.  The documentary Death of a Princess told the story of this brutal act.  The Saudi government then tried to prevent the broadcast of the documentary in Britain and the USA (and some stations in the US didn’t broadcast the programme including South Carolina, the home state of the US ambassador to Saudi Arabia).  Saudi Arabia expelled the British ambassador and threatened economic sanctions.  Saudi Arabia’s rulers take it for granted that freedom of speech is not a human right but a threat to their existence.  The recent sentencing of a blogger to 10 years’ imprisonment and 10,000 lashes shows how much they despise free speech. Iran is rightly an international pariah for its sponsorship of international terrorism (including supporting the Assad regime in Syria) and its anti-Semitism but on most counts it is a far more liberal country than Saudi Arabia.  In Iran women can drive cars, women can vote in elections, and people of the opposite sex mingle far more freely.  In Saudi Arabia you can still be executed for sorcery (yes witchcraft is still an offense in Saudi Arabia in 2015).  Saudi Arabia only outlawed slavery in 1962.  Although the appalling treatment of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia is, in many cases, a form of modern slavery.   Some Filipino and Hindu workers have suffered appalling abuse (physical and sexual) at the hands of their Saudi employers.  There are numerous cases of foreign workers being publicly beheaded (still the standard form of execution in Saudi Arabia) for murdering abusive employees. Saudi Arabia rightly champions the rights of Muslims to practice their faith freely in countries without a Muslim majority.  But Saudi Arabia’s appalling hypocrisy in this regard is breathtaking.  Any religion other than Islam is effectively banned in Saudi Arabia.  Non-Muslim places of worship are illegal.  Christians must go to Mass in foreign embassies or meet secretly in private houses.  The wearing of a crucifix or cross is banned.  Even the humble Christmas tree is forbidden!  Religious police patrol the streets to enforce their interpretation of Islamic law. Saudi Arabia’s version of Islam is Wahhabism. The vast majority of Muslims do not follow Wahhabism and its extremely strict interpretation of Islam.  Wahhabism (and the closely related Salafism) are extreme puritanical versions of Islam that are suspicious of, and at times engage in violence against, other forms of Islam such as Sufism, Shiism, and Ahmadiyya Islam.  Saudi Arabia’s vast oil wealth and its role as guardians of Mecca and Medina have enabled it to control Muslim media across the globe.  Virtually all of the Arabic newspapers published in London are published with Saudi money.  The Al-Arabiya satellite news channel was set up to counter the influence of the more liberal Al-Jazeera channel.  The English language Arab News is a Saudi organ.  Saudi money finances madrassas and its teachers, mosques and their preachers, copies of the Qur’an and the Hadiths with a Wahhabi slant.  The ideology which Saudi Arabia has spread, with relative success, is virtually the same ideology of Islamic extremists such as Al-Qaeda, the Taliban (Saudi Arabia was one of only three countries to recognise the Taliban regime), and ISIS.  Saudi Arabia’s preaching of misogyny, intolerance, and extremism at home and abroad has resulted in the creation of an even greater extremism that threatens even the Saudi regime itself.  Unfortunately the hypocrisy of the Western powers (we can expect little of the Arab dictatorships) in their attitude to Saudi Arabia has directly aided the rise of Islamic extremism.  The only hope for this to change seems to be when Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth begins to decline and the West starts to become more energy self-sufficient. The Saudi royal family are corrupt on such a massive scale that it seems like the world has failed to notice their corruption.  The oil that welled up from the Arabian desert does not belong to the Saudi royal family, it belongs to all of the Saudi people.  The Al Saud family’s purchase of lavish palaces, private Boeing 747 airplanes, and gold-plated bathrooms makes a mockery of their self-appointed role as exemplars of Islam.  The Al Saud family could have used the oil wealth to benefit every Saudi citizen, to help their less well off Arab and Muslim neighbours and help create a renaissance of Islamic learning and culture.  Despite spending billions on foreign weapons the Saudi’s failed to educate their own citizens how to use them.  Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army manged to briefly seize Saudi towns before the impotent Saudi rulers had to call upon the United States to protect them (and it was this stationing of US troops in Saudi Arabia that provoked Osama Bin Laden into condoning attacks within his homeland).  Instead we have the sham modesty of an obese tyrant who lived all his life at the expense of others being buried in an unmarked grave.  We shouldn’t expect much of the tyrants of this world but we should expect more of our democratic leaders.

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