"Superstition, idolatry, and hypocrisy have ample wages, but truth goes a-begging." (Martin Luther)
|Great democrats meet: |
Abdullah and the Queen
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is occupying the headlines of many newspapers. On an official state visit to the UK, Abdullah has raised quite a few eyebrows with his claims that Britain failed to act on intelligence that could have stopped the 7/7 London bombings. Despite the controversy, today he received a ceremonial welcome from the Queen, including a state banquet at Buckingham Palace, where the king and his entourage are staying.
Rather than merely repeating the obvious outrage of the British media at the king's claims - which are a real joke, considering that Saudi Arabia is the biggest source of individual terrorism on earth - we would like to take the opportunity to look a bit closer at the crucial relationship between the West and Saudi Arabia. For whatever the diplomatic rows, this four day state visit highlights the stinking hypocrisy and cynicism with which the major powers - be they British, American or Saudi - approach politics.
Firstly, let us see what kind of country and government we are talking about here. The fact is that the Saudi monarchy is one of the most horrible, corrupt and vicious (in all senses of the word) regimes on this planet. Apart from the tried and tested methods of torturing political and religious minorities, the Saudi regime maintains barbaric relics such as public executions by beheading and stoning. While some are also executed in private by firing squad, many executions are popular public attractions. Beheading is the punishment for murderers, rapists, drug traffickers and armed robbers, according to strict interpretation of Islamic law. According to the Telegraph newspaper, in 2005 there were 191 executions, in 2006 there were 38 and as of July 2007 there were already 102.
The situation for Saudi women is not much better as they are openly regarded as inferior to men. They face severe discrimination in many aspects of their lives, including education and employment. Although they make up 70% of those enrolled in universities, women make up just 5% of the workforce in Saudi Arabia, the lowest proportion in the world. Male dominated government institutions claim that according to Sharia law, a woman's place is in the home caring for her husband and family. Even driving a car is not permitted for women.
Contrast that to the decadent behaviour of the Saudi princes, who act like wealthy playboys in their casinos full of whisky and prostitutes. Underlying this cynical hypocrisy are the mutual interests of the Saudi monarchy and the official clergy of the country. Saudi Arabia is in effect dominated by a powerful religious police in the form of the Wahabi clergy, the Islamic sect that came to a deal with the monarchy years ago. As long as the Saudi monarchy was allowed to indulge in their binge drinking, whoring and gambling, the Wahabi clergy would turn a blind eye to these rather un-Islamic practices. In return, the Wahabi clergy gained complete control over religion and education to implement their extreme variant of Islam, and they received billions from the government to fund their madrasas, those breeding schools of Islamic fundamentalism.
With a little help from our friends
However, it must be said that these extremists were not only the product of the Saudi monarchy. During the Cold War, the Islamists were particularly useful to the United States, who feared the influence of the Soviet Union, which was particularly strong in Iraq and Syria. In that respect, the Saudis were very useful in the fight against so-called "communism". The United States in effect promoted the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as a bulwark against the Soviet Union. This was the case with the Islamic Brotherhood in Egypt, but also in Afghanistan, where they created and supported a counterrevolutionary insurgency against the progressive governments in the late 1970s and 1980s. Backward, fanatical peasants were encouraged to ally themselves with the mullahs, the usurers and the landlords to combat some of the reforms that had been implemented in Afghanistan. In this process, Osama bin Laden was recruited by Turki Al Faisal, the Saudi intelligence chief in the late early 1980s, together with Gulbadin Hekmatyar, the CIA's favourite and a puppet of Pakistan's Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the main Islamic parties. Bin Laden became the CIA's chief organiser of the insurgency against the left-wing government of Afghanistan in the 1980s. This operation was coordinated through the ISI, the Pakistani secret service. However, when the Soviet Union collapsed, the balance of forces had shifted and the Taliban, who were trained by the CIA, turned against their former allies and got out of control, which in the end led to the tragic events of 9/11.
Thus, we see that the recent claims of the Saudi king on his country's record of combating terrorism amount to nothing more than hollow phrases. Osama bin Laden is of Saudi origin. Fifteen of the suicide bombers in the 9/11 bombings were Saudi nationals. Saudi money is still funding the madrasas, which supply the Taliban with a steady supply of fanatics willing to blow themselves up.
The House of Saud was traditionally a British puppet but with the steady decline of British imperialism and the rise of American imperialism, it has over the years turned into an even stauncher American ally. The reason for this dependency is clear. Apart from general strategic interests, the Americans have in Saudi Arabia a steady supply of black gold, that is, oil. The country is the second biggest crude oil exporter to the USA. Therefore, it is of crucial importance for American imperialism to have a compliant regime in the region. Any threat to the monarchy in Saudi Arabia would represent a direct and potentially devastating blow to oil supplies (and therefore to all other industrial and financial interests) in the USA, but would also jeopardise the overall strategic position of American imperialism, in the Middle East and on a world scale.
This wealth is not being used to benefit ordinary Saudi citizens but goes directly in the pockets of the monarchy, which can afford a disgustingly exuberant lifestyle. In fact, the living standards of the Saudi masses have been in decline since the 1980s and are now estimated to be 80% lower than 20 years ago, with unemployment on the rise again as well. The contrast between the fabulous natural resources and the poverty of ordinary people, has led to a ferment of discontent in Saudi Arabia. The tragedy is that as a result of the brutal repression of any dissent, there is at present no opposition that can form an alternative. The labour movement was crushed a long time ago, strikes and political parties are not allowed, and torture is common practice.
As a result of the growing internal opposition, the monarchy became increasingly dependant on the spiritual Islamic leaders as a means of legitimising its rule and as an instrument of social control. Paradoxically, however, for lack of any other organised structures through which opposition can express itself, it is precisely in the mosques that hostility to the ruling clique has been organised in the form of Islamic fundamentalism. Increasingly, the Wahabite priests questioned the legitimacy of the House of Saud, which they saw as undermining their own credibility and power. In order to maintain their hold over the population, they tended to distance themselves from the royal family.
As a result of this, the fundamentalists are now out of control in Saudi Arabia and they could overthrow the rotten monarchy at any time. The regime is extremely unstable and in the case of an overthrow the ensuing regime would certainly not be pro-American. This would obviously pose severe problems for US imperialism's interests in the region. They already got a bloody nose in Iraq, where all their calculations ended up in a shambles, but an unfriendly regime in Saudi Arabia would have the potential to become an even bigger catastrophe for the Americans. Therefore, US imperialism, together with its British lackey, has no choice but to prop up an extremely brutal regime that they can nevertheless "do business with". The moral lectures on democracy by these Christian sycophants disappear very quickly in the face of naked self-interest indeed! How else can you explain that these ladies and gentlemen condemn the lack of democracy in Burma and the abuse of human rights in Zimbabwe, but remain silent when it comes to the Saudi dictatorship?
Saudi Arabia is one of the main bases of US imperialism in the Middle East together with Israel and Turkey. In the language of markets and spheres of influence, that is all that counts. However, as in Iraq, the United States could very well be digging their own grave. By so blatantly tying their hands to a dying regime, they are inevitable being dragged into a conflict from which there is no elegant way out. Not having learnt any lessons from Vietnam and Iraq, the Americans would in the event of a collapse of the Saudi monarchy be compelled to intervene directly and at least occupy the oil fields near the Saudi coast (and leave the camels and sand to the Saudi people). This would only further destabilise the whole of the Middle East. As Greg Oxley and Layla Al Koureychi explained in their article The war in Iraq and the impending collapse of the Saudi Arabian monarchy:
"It would seem that, as with Afghanistan and as with Iraq, the "strategists" in the Pentagon have not thought out the situation they are likely to find themselves in after the initial attack. It should not be forgotten that this new aggression would be directed against the Muslim Holy Land - the land of Mecca and Medina. It would have an electrifying effect on the peoples of the entire Muslim world, and would never be accepted. Literally thousands of Muslim fighters would pour into Saudi Arabia from all over the world. The pro-American regime in Jordan could well be faced with immediate overthrow in the event of an invasion of Saudi Arabia. The regimes in the Lebanon and in Egypt would be further destabilised. In Israel, also, the repercussions of the crisis would lead to further attacks against the living standards of Israeli workers, forcing them into action against the ruling class. A military intervention against the land of Mecca would generate a worldwide army of self-sacrificing Islamic youth, willing and eager to strike American targets whenever and wherever possible."
Thus, we see that the cynical calculations of the people ruling our world are only leading to more wars and instability. In the end, however, something has to give, and sooner or later the immense frustration that has accumulated in the Middle East after years of economic decline, wars, mass unemployment, national and religious oppression, is bound to result in events that will shake the whole world. And whether this results in an even more barbarous society or a society cleansed of oppression, exploitation and religious bigotry, depends entirely on the leadership and the programme of that movement.
- The war in Iraq and the impending collapse of the Saudi Arabian monarchy by Greg Oxley and Layla Al Koureychi (July 15, 2004)