Whenever a tyrant dies the response you’d anticipate from governments who are ostensibly democratic is a scathing condemnation of their role in perpetuating injustice or a display of consolation and compassion to the victims of their tyranny. Contrary to that expectation America & the UK both abdicated their commitment to peace and expressed effusive praise of King Abdullah in their eulogies.
The Saudi Arabia monarchy are notorious for their regressive and tyrannical laws and consistently rank as one of the worst countries in the world in terms of human rights.
Saudi Arabia which adopts a draconian form of Sharia Law inflicts unwarranted and heinous punishment onto not just legitimate criminals but people accused of apostasy, sorcery, witchcraft and adultery. The punishment for these crimes can often be corporal or capital punishment which is a major component of the Saudi justice system. To compound matters they subjugate women and inhibit their freedom in numerous ways, most notably the lack of laws prohibiting spousal or statutory rape, the obligation of having to have a male guardian irrespective of age, and the prohibition of driving. Furthermore the Saudi government are a major contributor to the sectarianism which afflicts the country due to their financing of exponents of Wahabbism which is a puritanical form of Sunni Islam, and which demonises the Shia sect of Islam. Consequently Shias are marginalised and subjected to discrimination on a large scale. Recently there have been attempts at reform but they’ve been criticised as being merely symbolic and not substantive.
America established an alliance with Saudi Arabia prior to the second World War; Following the discovery of oil reservoirs in the region the American government developed an interest in forging a durable relationship with Saudi. There were a number of obstacles in actualising that goal, one being the US’s support of the imposition of a Jewish state on Palestinian land, but Roosevelt, the incumbent president managed to mollify the hostility emanating from Saudi by sending a letter assuring them that while America supported the conception of a Jewish state they weren’t responsible for it. During the second World War the relationship was demoted as America was prioritising the defeat of the Nazis, but as the war progressed America began to believe that the oil was strategically valuable to them. Following the second World War, America reinforced its loyalty to the Saudi’s by strengthening its relationship, this was pivotal in preventing the spread of communism in Arabia. Military aid increased exponentially with Saudi emerging as a significant military power. The relationship has not been devoid of hostility though, the aforementioned dispute regarding the support of Israel rose to prominence again in 1973 when King Fasiel participated in an oil embargo against America and Europe but eventually the embargo was ended and relations resumed. After the deadly terror attack on September 11th 2001 there was criticism directed at Saudi Arabia considering the hijackers were predominately Saudis, it mainly focused on the funding of wahhibism by the Saudi government. But the relationship remained intact because of the mutual benefits reaped from it, and in 2010 the US announced the largest arms deal in history intending to supply Saudi Arabia with $60bn worth of weaponry.
Following the death of King Abdullah, leaders payed homage to his service and praised his tenure, others including the American president brazenly attended a service commemorating the life of a despot. It behoves any president who purports to stand for human rights to confront the salient encroachment of human rights. By disregarding the crimes of Saudi Arabia it completely undermines the American government’s moral authority in the world, not that they had much in the first place. Eulogising a tyrant is tacit approval of the odious crimes committed because the victims of their tyranny are swept under the rug and forgotten. While glorifying death is obscene the crimes committed should not be whitewashed, it should be a moment where we remember the lives of those killed and oppressed by a regime, and it’s an opportunity to show solidarity to current victims. Thankfully some citizens have been doing that and participated in protests against the flogging of a Saudi journalist.
The mourning and praise of the King also underscores the blatant hypocrisy of Western governments. Just weeks prior to his death, satirists from Charlie Hebdo were murdered by Jihadists. Many of the same leaders who are now praising King Abdullah were extolling freedom of speech and purporting to stand with Charlie Hebdo. In Saudi Arabia the notion of a publication like Charlie Hebdo existing is a mere fantasy, and if it were ever to exist the punishment for its creators and members would very likely be death. How can these governments reconcile their apparent disgust for the murdering of Charlie Hebdo satirists while openly and unapologetically supporting a regime which makes no secret of its willingness to execute people for blasphemy?
Suffice to say allying with an odious regime like this amounts to complicity. Saudi’s depravity could not be more at odds with America’s purported principles and the continuance of support and aid is tantamount to support of those crimes. Of course America’s values are very malleable and liable to change at any moment depending on the circumstances of the situation. They embrace the odious ‘end justifies the means’ mentality and will do what’s in their interest financially despite the moral obstacles or unintended consequences. The profuseness of oil in the region should have been rationed out fairly, with the profit being distributed to societal benefits like education, healthcare, and eradicating poverty. But the presence of oil has primarily been to the advantage of Western countries, and the Saudi monarchy at the expense of the citizens of the country. Not difficult to see then why many in that region harbour animosity towards Western governments who have continued to finance the oppression while acquiring rewards from it.
Equality and social justice are not just frivolous concepts which can be selectively espoused and rejected on a whim. They’re profound principles which require consistent commitment and unwavering support. The regular betrayal of these values from the American government just underscores the masquerade of them valuing peace and liberty for all.