With the timely passing of Saudi Arabia’s ruling monarch – King Abdullah ibn-Abdulaziz al-Saud – at the age of 90, Western leaders and politicians of all stripes have been falling all over each other to express their condolences. Following is a quick sample of some of the lavish praise being heaped on the dead king. One can be forgiven, if all they have to go by are these statements, for mistakenly believing that Abdullah’s Saudi Arabia is truly one of the world’s greatest contributors to the cause and promotion of human rights and in particular women’s rights, setting an example for all the world’s nations to aspire to:
President Barack Obama (USA) –
“At home, King Abdullah’s vision was dedicated to the education of his people and to greater engagement with the world.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey (USA) –
“His Majesty King Abdullah… contributed generously to humanitarian relief and anti-hunger programs and was devoted to promoting inter-faith dialogue.
[He was] a man of remarkable character and courage.”
Prime Minister David Cameron (UK) –
Abdullah “will be remembered for long years of service to the Kingdom, for his commitment to peace and for strengthening understanding between faiths…
I sincerely hope that the long and deep ties between our two Kingdoms will continue and that we can continue to work together to strengthen peace and prosperity in the world.”
Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Christine Lagarde –
“[King Abdullah] was a great leader. He implemented lots of reforms, at home, and in a very discreet way, he was a great advocate for women.“
“King Abdullah was an important voice for reform in Saudi Arabia. He pushed for the modernization of the education system, curbed the authority of the religious police, and extended women the right to vote and run in municipal elections. He was also a vocal advocate for peace, speaking out against violence in the Middle East and standing as a critical partner in the war on terror.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry –
“…the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Middle East, and the world has lost a revered leader. King Abdullah was a man of wisdom and vision… He was so proud of the Kingdom’s journey, a brave partner in fighting violent extremism who proved just as important as a proponent of peace.”
Wow! Where do we even begin dissecting all the extreme absurdities presented as part of every one of these gushing tributes? First of all, the reaction to the Saudi King’s death by so-called proponents of “peace” and “democracy” (i.e. the “West”) is so strikingly hypocritical even by their own measure. That a sitting President of the United States feels the urge to pen a letter to honor an absolute monarch who ruled over a kingdom notorious for cracking down on all forms of political dissent, treating women as inferior beings, and thoroughly repressing its religious minorities (be they followers of Roman Catholicism or Shi’ite Islam) should put an end to the question of whether or not the United States and its Western allies truly support the “spread of democracy” to every corner of the earth. Just compare the heartwarming rhetoric of President Obama’s above letter with the official statement the White House released upon the death of a leader who actually was democratically elected, not once, but four times. In the immediate aftermath of the death of Venezuela’s beloved socialist President Hugo Chavez in 2013, the White House’s official press statement offered no condolences to the people of Venezuela nor did it acknowledge the fact that under his leadership the lives of ordinary Venezuelans improved dramatically. The statement merely expressed the possibilities of beginning “a new chapter in [Venezuela’s] history“; in other words, another chance for the minions of the U.S.’s oil oligarchs to achieve the coup they’ve been plotting to orchestrate since at least 2002. No matter which way one chooses to look at it, there can be only one explanation for the polar opposite treatment meted out by the United States in its dealings with Venezuela, a socialist democracy controlled by its people, as opposed to Saudi Arabia, a ruthless monarchy that regularly beheads its political opponents. Under the leadership of Chavez and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, the Latin American nation’s immense oil wealth was finally allocated in a way that benefited the vast majority of people. In contrast, for the past 100 years the European-backed House of Saud has ensured that wealth obtained from the country’s vast oil resources is monopolized by a wealthy class of elite oligarchs and their European and American benefactors who in turn supply them with military security. It truly is a match made in hell.
Despite Secretary Kerry and Senator John McCain’s assertions that the Saudi regime’s ruler was an “advocate for peace” in a region beset by violence, the Saudi monarchy has often been the prime instigator of such violence and the ideologies that fuel it. Despite completely justified fury over the many atrocities currently being committed by the I.S.I.L. in Syria and Iraq (a group which rose to prominence consequently because of U.S. interventions in Iraq and Syria), they are not the prime beheaders in the southwest Asian region. That dubious distinction belongs to none other than the regime of Saudi Arabia, where recently authorities publicly beheaded a woman in the streets of the Holy City of Mecca in what VICE News reports as the tenth execution in just the first two weeks of 2015 [report from Jan. 15]. Lest one get the impression that this was some rouge act not sanctioned from the highest quarters of state institutional power, the Saudi Interior Minister referred to this woman’s beheading as her “rightful punishment” necessary to “restore justice”.
As for claims that Abdullah “promoted inter-faith dialogue” and “curbed the authority of the religious police”, liberal blogger Raif Badawi is tragically finding out the hard way just how empty such promises are. The blogger, after allegedly “insulting Islam” on his blog (more appropriately criticizing its Wahhabi clerics), was sentenced last year to spend an entire decade in prison, forced to pay a $266,600 fine, and made to suffer through the most antiquated form of punishment possible: 1,000 whip-lashings in a public square.
As if this horrendous display of brutality weren’t enough to make any person with a conscience’s skin crawl, Badawi’s lawyer’s, Waleed Abu al-Khair, is being forced to spend the next fifteen years in a Saudi prison for “offending the judiciary” and “breaking allegiance to the ruler”; that ruler being the West’s darling King Abdullah.
As far as being a “partner in the war on terror”, perhaps there is some truth to that, being as the so-called “war on terror” has never been about eliminating terror at all. As is true of both the U.S. and Israel, Saudi Arabia has been at times directly and indirectly involved in attempts to destabilize countries such as Syria and Iran while also opposing legitimate armed resistance movements (i.e. the Shi’ite Hezbollah). King Abdullah himself, as revealed in a cable leaked by Wikileaks in 2010, was privately urging the United States to launch a military strike on Iran. (In his word’s: “to cut the head off the snake”.) This places Abdullah on the same side as the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who’s been pushing for such a strike for decades now. On top of that, Saudi Arabia plays host to at least one U.S. CIA drone base from which murderous strikes are conducted from the air against targets in Yemen and Somalia. The monarchy has also played a huge role in propping up the insidious regime in the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain and the brutal repression of its population. Only among the shameless and morally corrupt politicians of Europe and the U.S. could such brutal and undemocratic tactics be seen as legitimate means of “strengthening peace and prosperity in the world.”
The truth about the relationship the U.S. shares with the fundamentalist rulers of Saudi Arabia and with regimes in the larger “Middle East” in general are to be found in a time 100 years ago in the aftermath of the 1st World War when Britain, not the United States, was the world’s preeminent superpower. The British empire declined to honor the pact it had earlier made with the Arab tribes, who in exchange for guaranteed recognition of an independent Arab kingdom had taken up arms on the side of the Allies against the Ottomans in WWI. When they instead tried to colonize Arab lands, the Brits found themselves with an all-out revolt on their hands. One of the ways in which British imperialists sought to pacify the revolts was described in the writings of the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs at the time, Lord George Curzon. In the words of Lord Curzon, the plan was for the British to
“construct a state with an ‘Arab Façade,’ruled and administered under British guidance and controlled by a native Mohammedan and as far as possible an Arab staff… There should be no actual incorporation of the conquered territory in the dominions of the conqueror, but the absorption may be veiled by such constitutional fictions as a protectorate, a sphere of influence, a buffer state and so on.”
What Curzon described was essentially the framework for modern-day neocolonialism, a framework from which the entire basis of U.S. global hegemony is derived. It should be of little surprise then that, as the influence and reach of the once-mighty British empire began to severely wane as a result of the fight with Germany during WWII, the empire-in-waiting – the United States of America – emerged to fill the void the declining empires of Europe left. Soon the U.S. was taking on the roles left dormant by the British in nations like Iraq and Syria, and most notably the role previously played by France in the southern Asian nation of Vietnam. The U.S. role of essentially taking up where the British left off was replicated in Saudi Arabia, where as early as 1945 President Franklin Roosevelt was forming existential ties with the House of Saud. (In FDR’s own words: “I find the defense of Saudi Arabia is vital to the defense of the United States.”) The ties that bind the U.S. and Saudi Arabia grew only stronger with age, as both countries found themselves collaborating in an effort to undermine the pan-Arabist and anti-imperialist Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser in the subsequent decades. And from there? As the old saying goes, the rest is history.