US backs Saudi crimes, at home and abroad

US President Barack Obama with Saudi Arabia's King Salman on January 27.

Washington DC was the converging point for some of the world’s most oppressive regimes on May 13 and 14, when President Barack Obama hosted a billionaire conglomerate known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The group consists of the Middle Eastern countries of Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE and Oman.

The cosy US-GCC relationship exemplifies the twisted nature of US foreign policy, especially in regards to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has been accused of human rights violations against its own citizens, including political activists, journalists, and women.

The Saudi king decided to skip the GCC summit, leaving the ministers of the interior and defence to take his place. The reason was the monarch opposes US efforts to reach a diplomatic solution to the nuclear program of its rival, Iran.

The Saudi monarchy has been using its military and financial might to impose its will throughout the Middle East. It is financially bolstering the repressive regime of Egyptian dictator Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt, who came to power in a coup.

Saudi tanks brutally crushed Shiite protests in Bahrain. Years after the first invasion, Saudi forces continue to dominate Bahrain.

The Saudi devotion to Wahhabism, a radical sect of Islam, has helped export extremism around the globe, including producing 15 of the 19 hijackers involved in 9/11.

The latest Saudi offence is the bombing of Yemen, where the death toll has reached the thousands. In late March, Saudi military forces intervened in an internal conflict in Yemen to oppose the rebel Houthi group, internationalising what was an internal struggle.

The Saudi king defended the air strikes in Yemen as a way to “save Yemen and its brotherly people from a group entrenched with the spirit of sectarianism”, in reference to the Houthis. In the process of “saving” Yemen, close to 1400 people have died, including hundreds of children.

Humanitarian groups have been calling for a ceasefire repeatedly since March, with no avail until early May. If salvation was the goal, the Saudis have failed miserably.

A recent development in this ongoing saga was the Houthi’s compliance with a five-day ceasefire, starting on May 12.

In preparation for this ceasefire, Saudi forces terrorised the Yemeni border with an onslaught of air strikes in a bid to “inflict as much damage as possible” before the mandatory pause.

To put things in perspective, the Saudis significantly heightened the harm and destruction in a struggle that has killed thousands of civilians, just two days before meeting with US officials to discuss safety and security in the region. The irony is glaring.

You do not have to go beyond Saudi Arabia’s border to see its abuses. Groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have condemned the jailing of political and human rights activists convicted for expressing dissent against the government, as well as the limited rights provided to women.

In January, Saudi Arabia received worldwide condemnation for sentencing a political blogger to 10 years in jail and 1000 lashes in public. Raif Badawi, husband and father of three, did nothing more than use his freedom of expression, a crime apparently punishable by a medieval form of torture. While the Saudi ambassador attended free speech rallies in Paris after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, Badawi was subjected to his second round of lashings.

Hundreds of political prisoners remain jailed, including Badawi’s lawyer Waleed Abulkhair, who was sentenced to 15 years jail for his role as a reform activist.

Women are also the targets of political repression — driving is still viewed as a criminal offence. Legally, women are not permitted to be in public without adhering to a strict dress code that requires head covering.

They are required to have a male guardian at all times, whether it be their brother, father, or husband, and must ask permission to travel freely.

One could rattle off a plethora of Saudi abuses, yet the biggest question remains: Why does the US, the alleged beacon of liberty and freedom, maintain such close ties with such an oppressive regime?

More than anything else, US-Saudi relations and the GCC summit are the materialisation of a business agreement that turns a blind eye to the basic human rights of Saudi citizens in favour of lucrative political and military alliances.

The US-GCC summit calls into question the priorities of US foreign policy. The extensive Saudi human rights abuses and its ongoing bombing campaign in Yemen juxtaposed with a diplomatic meeting to promote the US-Saudi relationship further exposes the flaws in the system.

It is a system that condemned the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia, but lauded the leadership of the deceased Saudi king. It is a system that cites human rights abuses in Iran and North Korea as reasons why normalisation is not possible, but provided Saudi Arabia with US$90 billion worth of weapons contracts in four years — many of which are being used against civilians in Yemen.

Ultimately, it is a system that remains silent amid human rights horrors and air strike terrors, all to preserve a delicate partnership that fills US corporate bank accounts and arms Saudi monarchs.

The pattern is predictable: ignore the oppression, discuss more pressing issues of security in the Middle East, shake hands, smile, repeat.

If only the US government chose to be on the side of Raif Badawi, Yemeni civilians, and the repressed citizens of Saudi Arabia, then the US-GCC goals of enhanced partnership and security would be more than just empty words.

[Reprinted from CommonDreams.org.]

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