To judge from the response of world leaders, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, who passed away last week, was one of the world’s finest democrats. The British Prime Minister, the French President, and the American Vice-President are heading to commemorative ceremonies. Politicians across the political spectrum in the U.S.—Joe Biden, John McCain, John Kerry—offered fulsome praise for the Saudi leader.
But as Murtaza Hussain pointed out, to remember King Abdullah as a “vocal advocate for peace”, “a man of wisdom and vision”, and as a leader worthy of such praise, is to cruelly distort reality. Hussain reminded readers that Abdullah was a monarch, not a democrat, who “ruled as an absolute monarch of a country which protected American interests, but also sowed strife and extremism throughout the Middle East and the world”.
“It’s not often”, Hussain wrote, “that the unelected leader of a country which publicly flogs dissidents and beheads people for sorcery wins such glowing praise from American officials”.
At the same time that world leaders condemned the brutal murder of French journalists in Paris, and the attack on freedom of expression that it represented, the same leaders remained comparatively mute when the Saudi regime savagely flogged a blogger who offended the country’s autocrats. It was left to civil society and human rights groups to point out the hypocrisy of the world’s approach to the regime in Riyadh.
In seeking to understand the persistence of non-state terrorism, and its fluorescence in the Middle East, the flocking of world leaders to the capital of this morally-moribund monarchy is of some use.
The Saudi regime stands for everything our own country was founded in reaction against. It is a despotic monarchy. Its citizens have no representation. Large numbers of those citizens have few if any rights or protections, and suffer from grievous discrimination. It suppresses statistics about the poverty of its subjects. Those citizens suffer from arbitrary arrests and a justice system conspicuous for the absence of real justice. Sectors of the economy rely on imported labourers who function like indentured servants.
This is a style of rule calculated to breed righteous dissent and frustration, and if the regime refuses to yield to such dissent, the inevitable result is some form of armed resistance or terrorism directed in this case not only at the state, but also at its powerful international clients and protectors who prop it up and shed waterfalls of tears at the death of an iron-fisted dictator while remaining studiously dry-eyed at the plight of his beleaguered subjects.
So long as regimes like the one in Riyadh survive, the leaders of non-state terrorist organizations—whose have their own aims and ambitions—will have no difficulty in securing recruits who feel that they have no other hopes and no other options. The Saudi regime and others like it create the desperation, inequality, cynicism, and violence that have generated the waves of violence that rock so much fo the world today.
And so long as the kleptocratic court in Riyadh can draw the U.S. Vice-President, and bring the U.S. President scuttling from a visit to India to pay his respects, and as long as it has neoconservative defenders like Dick Cheney and the Bush dynasty, the United States will be seen as part of the evil that is one of the world’s remaining dictatorships.
It is not only Saudi subjects who suffer from this travesty of a government. During the Arab Spring, with the support of neocons like Hillary Clinton, the Saudi regime not only squeezed the life out of internal pro-democracy protests, but deployed military force to crush democratic uprisings in neighbouring Bahrain.
And the noxious regime has a corrosive effect on all who come in contact with it. BAE, a British arms company, was accused of corruption over the infamous Al-Yamamah arms sale to Saudi Arabia. While the company was forced to pay nearly half a billion in fines in U.S. courts for corruption, the Saudi government blackmailed the British government, bringing to a halt the investigation by the Serious Fraud Office into the company when the regime threatened to cut off intelligence sharing with the Blair government.
At the end of the day it is perhaps fitting that state terrorists in the United States—who have waged wars of aggression and launched depraved campaigns of torture, abduction, and murder—would find common cause with the state terrorists in Saudi Arabia, who rule as monarchs and use violence and brutality to keep their subjects quiescent.
But our public should not be complicit in this toxic relationship, and we should demand that our leadership not only reform its own illegal and immoral activities, but that it divorce itself from association with undemocratic regimes the world over, instead of selling them arms and rubbing shoulders at every opportunity.