While there may be truth to the adage that “opposites attract,” a happy and long lasting relationship must be based on common values, respect and shared interests. Do America and the absolute rulers of Saudi Arabia share such a basis for a long-lasting relationship? How will Muslims judge our marriage to the Al-Sauds in the current climate of protests against autocratic rule in the Middle East and North Africa?
There is certainly little to be put in the win column when it comes to shared values.
Political Freedom : Saudi Arabia has no constitution, no representative government, no freedom of the press and no freedom of assembly. The Saudi foreign minister recently said that Saudi Arabia will "cut off any finger" raised in protest. Who are the rulers of Saudi Arabia? In 1932, Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud used his sword, deception and treachery to unite a number of warring tribes. So the Al-Saud family sees Saudi Arabia as their ranch; as one Saudi prince said, “my grandfather took it with the sword. Others could have done it. But they didn’t. It is ours.”
Religious Freedom : Churches and synagogues are banned in Saudi Arabia, only mosques are allowed; in fact, foreigners have gone to jail for holding Christmas services in their home. With about 85 percent of Saudis professing the Sunni sect, Shia Muslims are subjugated, economically deprived and treated as apostates. It is Saudi fundamentalists who have financed madrassasto spread radical Islam with a hatred for all things American. None of this bothers the Al-Sauds because the U.S. and the Vatican don’t publicize this religious discrimination for fear of ruffling Al-Saud feathers. In the face of such discrimination, it is ironic that Al-Saud kings, beginning with Fahd and now Abdullah, refer to themselves as “The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques,” while the Koran says, “Let there be no compunction in religion.” They claim legitimacy from Islam, while the unity of humankind and social and economic justice, the core of Islamic teachings, has been supplanted by its antithesis.
Economic Equality and Freedom : Contrary to everything in the Koran and from the example of the Prophet Mohammad, the Al-Sauds are the masters and have no equals. While the oil under the ground belongs to all Saudis of this and future generations, the Al-Sauds behave as if it was theirs and theirs alone. The king and senior princes take what they want from the treasury. All major government contracts have a Saudi prince as an agent, taking commissions that are at times obscene. In the case of at least one military contract that ran into the billions, the “add-ons” over a short span of time exceeded the original contract, something that dismayed the U.S. government military attaché in Saudi Arabia. As usual when senior Al-Sauds are involved, it was hushed up by the U.S. embassy. Are the Al-Sauds the best businessmen in the world or are they simply corrupt? While the Al-Sauds wallow in unbelievable opulence, some Shia don’t have running water and around 25 percent of the youth cannot find jobs. The Al-Sauds are wasting the heritage of all Saudis. What happened to the Islamic precept that rulers should live in the same manner as the poorest in their realm?
But perhaps America could stand to side with Saudi Arabia in the interests of national security. Try again.
The Saudi purchase of Chinese missilesmay provide the best example of Saudi Arabia’s unreliability as an ally and of U.S. reluctance to ruffle Al-Saud feathers no matter what the consequences. In the mid-1980s, two younger princes embarked on a secret mission to China, changing planes, etc., to evade U.S. detection. They bought long-range Chinese missiles that are designed for nuclear warheads. This was discovered by the U.S. in 1988. The U.S. was dismayed by what was seen as a new axis between Riyadh and Beijing. The U.S. State Department asked the U.S. ambassador to Riyadh, Hume Horan, to deliver a demarche (an official government representation) to the Saudi king. In the meantime, the Saudi ambassador in Washington (incidentally, one of the two princes who had travelled to China) had approached the administration unbeknownst to Ambassador Horan with some explanation of the incident and had in turn informed his uncle the king that the incident was being ironed out. When Ambassador Horan went to the palace and delivered the demarche the king went into a rage and referred to Horan as a Shia dog, telling him to leave his country. Horan left Saudi Arabia and was replaced. Why such kingly outrage? Horan’s biological father was a Shia and the king apparently had thought that Horan was delivering the demarche in contravention to State Department wishes. Ambassador Horan was told never to disclose this event as it might spark hostility against Saudi Arabia in the U.S. Horan’s career, the most accomplished Arabist in the State Department, was essentially destroyed. But not a peep from the State Department or the White House! Would the U.S. have accepted such treatment of its ambassador by any other country? Normally equipped to carry nuclear warheads, these missiles have a range of more than 1,000 miles, making them capable of reaching targets not only in Tehran but also in Israel. It is rumored that the Al-Sauds may have even purchased more accurate and reliable long-range models around 2005.