In 2016, not a week has passed without Saudi-Arabia making it to the headlines. Not only because they lately allowed women to vote or because they offered to send ground troops to Syria, but mostly because of a major disagreement with Iran and them joining the United Nation’s “human rights council” despite torture and mass executions being a regular thing in the country. Lately the French President gave the “Legion d’honneur” to a Prince of the El-Saud dynasty. No other country in the world earns such contrasted reactions by the general opinion than Saudi-Arabia. Some see the country as our only stable ally in the Middle East, but others see it as a disloyal friend who’s just there for his own profit. So, let’s talk Saudi-Arabia!
Not everything is bad about Saudi-Arabia. Even though he country is ranked number 127 of 136 countries in parity, as women cannot drive a car and are still widely dependent from their fathers and husbands. The country has lately made a big step into the right direction, by allowing women to vote. Even if only 130.000 women had been registered as voters (mostly because it was tremendously complicated to do so) and there were only 979 female candidates, compared to 5.938 male candidates, it is a good beginning of what could be the true emancipation of the Arab women. As any other process, this one will take some time to get through because many people are opposed to it, but no one will be able to stop. In addition, it would be a thing those countries could benefit from, as their women are often more educated, because there are now more women who go to universities than men.
The country is also one of the leading allies against Daesh (ISIS). They assisted both the US and French led coalitions against the so called “Islamic state”. In December 2015 they declared that they would form an Islamic-coalition with most other Muslim countries. This alliance, who has it’s headquarter in the Saudi-Arabian capital Riyadh, could make a huge difference as some of the countries involved are militarily very strong. The countries of the United Arab Emirates for instance, possess some of the worlds most advanced weapons. Another advantage of that coalition is that they are, culturally speaking, closer to the Syrian and Iraqi inhabitants. They know how to behave in an Islamic country and the cohabiting between their soldiers and the population, as well as the pacification process after the war, will thus be easier.
Last but not least, the Saudi-Arabian government is strongly opposed to the Syrian dictator Bachar Al-Assad. Their first goal is to get rid of ISIS and the second one is go get rid of Al-Assad. That’s why they plan to give the Syrian rebels missiles to fight the regime that gasified its citizens. Their only concern is that those weapons might eventually fall into the wrong hands and make more harm than good.
Those are some of the many points were the West agrees with the Saudi-Arabian government and shares common interests. The country is undeniably one of the most powerful actors in that part of the world and are therefore seen as valuable allies. But let’s not forget that we get a lot of oil and investors from them to, which helps our economy. It somehow makes the West not speak up too loud against the El-Saud regime. They simply don’t want to scare the investors away.
Unfortunately there are other illustrations why the Saudi-Arabian government is not an example to follow. Public executions, torture, absence of freedom of speech a monarchy that possess most of the country’s wealth… Those are things that should not so lightly be accepted by the “Enlighted” western countries.
Since the beginning of 2016, 70people have been executed by the El-Saud regime. But it did not happen in a humane way, if the death penalty can even be seen as humane, but very brutally as the convicts have been decapitated by sword. The western media has openly criticized it, but the governments have been surprisingly quiet. There are numerous examples for the regime’s cruelty. There is Raif Badawi who has been sentenced to prison and several public whippings for criticizing the regime on his Blog, but whose sentence has luckily not yet been completely executed, even though he is in prison and has been whipped once. There is Ali Mohammed Al-Nimr who has been sentenced to death by decapitation and his dead body will then be crucified and publicly displayed. This, only because he participated in a rally against the regime in 2012 when he was 17. Apparently, when ISIS decapitates people and burns them in cages it’s horrible, but when the business partner Saudi-Arabia does similar cruel things, it’s more or less acceptable.
The Saudi-Arabian minister for foreign affairs Abel Al-Jubeir explains those sentences, to the journalists of the German Magazine “Der Spiegel”, by saying that “We have a judicial system, and we have criminal law. We have the death penalty in Saudi-Arabia, and this should be respected. (…) It is a part of a legal system, and it is not something that happens every day. The united States also have the death penalty. Iran has the death penalty. Iran hangs convicts from car cranes.” So one should accept decapitations by sword, public whippings, crucifixions and so one, because it is part of their legal system and because they accept it? A few month ago, Amnesty International has placed powerful stereo unit in front of the Saudi-Arabian Embassy in Brussels and loudly played the sound of a man getting whipped. After some time, the people from the embassy made the police put a stop to it, because the sound was too horrible and they couldn’t bear it. So all in all, they cannot even accept their judicial system themselves, why should we?
Sadly, it seems like most governments and politicians seem to more or less accept it. Sometimes they say that they don’t like it, but none has ever really stood up against it. The united nations have even made Saudi-Arabia a member of the “human rights council”. Although the country does not strike as being a leader in human rights… On the 4th of March 2016, the French president awarded the Prince Mohammed bin Nayef Al-Saud the “legion d’honneur”, the highest honour the French state can give. But the fact that the French government didn’t tell the media until 2 days later, shows that they are at least aware of the fact that it may not have been the best thing they ever did. But they couldn’t refuse that honour and “diplomatic tradition” as they say, to one of their biggest investor and oil provider.
There is also the disagreement between Iran and Saudi-Arabia which, if it escalates into a war would be devastating, or the military intervention in Yemen to get rid of rebels, which did not only kill 6.000 civilians but also helped local Islamic extremists. Not to forget that the country has many extremely wealthy people who do not always spend their money in a very transparent way. Only the future will tell us if they have really given money to Al-Qaida or other terrorist organisations.
It becomes clear that Saudi-Arabia is not the perfect ally and friend in the mid-west, as some governments tend to believe. And even if the country execute less people than ISIS and less innocent civilians, it is still hypocrisy to be shocked by what Daesh does it and not say a word when Saudi-Arabia does the same thing. Also the support they show in conflicts is first of all for their own good. For now they fight on our side, but they will probably not hesitate to change sides if it is useful to them. They are currently helping us and are, undeniably, a precious ally in the fight against ISIS. Sometimes, one has to work together with people one does not like, for the greater good. It is also obvious that we need their oil, the money they put into our economy and their military force. Nevertheless, that should not make us blindly accept everything they do. They will not respect us more, just because we never speak up against them. It is probably the other way around. So, even if they are, for now, a powerful ally in a part of the world where we need one, we should still not acquiesce everything they do. It does not help us, neither does it help the Saudi-Arabian population.