Saudi Arabia: Friend or Foe?
“Where in the world is the worst place to be a Christian?” — The Guardian Newspaper had asked in a 2018 article on Christian persecution. It goes without say it listed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as one of the most hostile countries for Christians to live as they literally have to put their lives on the line for their faith. Aside that there is not even a single church in the Kingdom, many Christians are continually arrested, including women and children for the crime of “conducting Christian prayers” and being “in possession of Bibles.” And yet Western oil interests, regrettably, and a quest “stability” in the Gulf region mean Saudi Arabia is embraced as an ally of the so-called Christian West — a profound contradiction that ignores the country’s treatment of Christians and non-Christians alike and direct involvement in jihadist violence around the globe.
The largely unquestioning support of Western governments for the Saudi Arabia tends to ignore altogether not just Christ’s followers who live in the shadow of death, but any individual who raises his or her voice in defense of human rights. According to Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Arab human rights organizations, the Saudi regime has jailed hundreds, if not thousands, of peaceful activists, bloggers, lawyers, judges, journalists, and religious scholars since the Arab Spring of 2011. If someone criticizes the Royal family or any of its policies in the press or on Twitter, for example, it is considered a criminal act and can land that person in jail. Establishing a political party, signing a petition calling for political reform, writing or even reading something deemed subversive: all are criminal acts.
This fourth-century church in Jubail, Saudi Arabia, lay buried in sand until it was discovered in the 1980s. It is all that remains of the indigenous Christian communities that flourished for centuries before being wiped out after the region’s conquest by Islam. Saudi authorities do not permit visitors to the site. (Photo: “Western hypocrisy, Saudi Arabia and the persecution of Christians,” October 30, 2018 in Barnabas Fund.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was formed by Ibn Saud in the 1920s, gaining recognition from the United Kingdom in 1927, even though that British politicians were well aware of the true nature of the regime. Internationally, Saudi Arabia has cultivated an Islamic-Arab national identity for themselves and for others. As custodian of the two Holy Mosques in Mecca and Medina, the ruling Royal family of Saud has cunningly used its unique position within Islam to leverage strategic influence, obeisance, and power over the global Islamic community. Their foreign policy has been governed almost exclusively by the goal of protecting a wealthy but small and vulnerable state from regional dangers. The Saudis, in addition to funding the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a permanent observer to the United Nations which has structured Islam into an effective proselytizing global entity, have also created the Muslim World League, an NGO with the aim of forming preachers and imams according to the teachings of Wahhabism.
Wahhabism, named after Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703–1792), is classified as the most fundamental, the most militant, and the most fanatical version of Islam. One of the main beliefs promoted by al-Wahhab was the takfir doctrine, which compels all Muslims to a strict observance of the sharia. Any act of disobedience immediately calls for penal sanctions, such as amputations and public floggings. Wahhabism essentially provides the theological groundwork for almost every violent jihadist group. It is the catalyst to replace our democratic institutions with fundamental Islamic ones, in addition to being and is the main driving force behind the radicalization of young Muslims in the world today.
Despite some setbacks in the 1920s, it remained the state doctrine and got a new life as a political movement in 1932, when oil was discovered in the Arabian Peninsula. Given that the Saudis needed the support of a united people to develop a more sophisticated diplomatic stance with the West, Wahhabism was forcefully transformed from a movement of revolutionary jihad to an institutional organization of conservative social, political, theological, and religious outreach. In this move, then-King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud was able to sustain his subjects’ fidelity and consolidate his rule. With the subsequent opportune seizing of the petrodollar spigot in the 1970s, the Saudis channeled the Wahhabi current away from Saudi Arabia toward export, thereby diffusing not a violent revolution throughout the Muslim world but a “cultural one.”
In October 2017 the present Saudi Defense Minister (and effective ruler) Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud (MBS) stated,: “We are returning to what we were before — a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world … We will end extremism very soon.” The prince’s plan is built upon Vision 2030, an economic project to harness natural resources, outside of oil, “intended to confirm the kingdom’s status as ‘the heart of the Arab and Islamic worlds, the investment power house, and the hub connecting three continents’.” It is supposed to build infrastructure and create business opportunities for Saudi citizens. Yet MBS has yet to have provided a transparent outline to achieve this. According to skeptics, Vision 2030 seems to be an austerity project that will continue the same pacts made by the royal family with the same constituencies (the rest of the royal family, religious clerics, business elites, tribal leaders, and different social groups) instead of one-on-one deals with its citizens.
Vision 2030, also, does not mention human rights, nor does it outline any kind of meaningful political reform. While the government has recently introduced limited changes, including lifting the driving ban for women—congratulations ladies—the male guardianship system, the main impediment to the realization of women’s rights, remains largely intact. Not to mention, MBS has arrested the women’s rights activists who campaigned for the right to drive and an end to the kingdom’s male guardianship system. Let us also not forget that he initiated the war in Yemen, a four-year-campaign that has killed an estimated 50,000 civilians, in addition, nearly 12 million are reported to be on the verge of starvation.
Saudi Arabia arrests two women’s rights activists (Photo: pixabay.com)
Last August, a Saudi-led coalition warplane bombed a school bus in northern Yemen, killing 51 people, 40 of them children. The regime covered this up blaming “mistakes in compliance to the rules of engagement.” If there is going to be any meaningful change in the Kingdom, America has to take the leading role. President Donald Trump, speaking to the New York Times last year, claimed that, without U.S. support and protection, “Saudi Arabia wouldn’t exist for very long.” The real problem, he continued, was that the Saudis are “a money machine … and yet they don’t reimburse us the way we should be reimbursed.” If he were to pressure them into recognizing and fostering human rights, just as he has given the necessary momentum to the Pro-Life movement in the U.S. to save the unborn, then perhaps Saudi Arabia can become a friend.
N.B. This article was originally published on April 14, 2019 on https://thegreatarchitect.blog.
Mario Alexis Portella is author of Islam: Religion of Peace? – The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up
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