Saudi Arabia: ‘Defenders of democracy’ mourn despot’s death

Atrocious human rights records no concern for Western powers

On 11 January David Cameron, together with 40 other world leaders, marched arm-in-arm through Paris after the Charlie Hebdo events proclaiming the values of free speech and other democratic rights.

Two weeks later these same politicians jetted to Saudi Arabia and attended the funeral of absolute monarch King Abdullah and endorsed the succession of his half-brother Prince Salman to the throne.

The fact that this oil-rich state has one of the worst human rights records of any country on the planet clearly doesn’t register on Obama’s and Cameron’s democratic radar.

So repressive is the Saudi regime that political opponents, ’non-believers’, and hapless foreign workers are routinely put to the sword or given long prison sentences. And in the case of the recently jailed liberal internet blogger Raif Badawi, subjected to 1,000 lashes.

But such repression is of little concern to western leaders compared to maintaining the Saudi regime given its geopolitical importance. As well as being a reliable large oil exporter and buyer of western armaments, the House of Saud is a useful counterweight to the regional influence of the Iranian regime.

Blind eye

That also means turning a blind eye to the Saudi regime’s decades-long sponsorship of reactionary Sunni jihadist groups which have spawned the various branches of al-Qa’ida and more recently Islamic State.

Only recently when these same groups turned their weapons on the Saudi regime was there a shift in strategy. Nonetheless, the Saudi leaders used this potential threat to their rule to further clamp down on its domestic opponents and minority Shia population.

But while ostensibly countering the region’s Sunni Jihadists, it has allowed its home grown imams of the Wahhabi sect of Islam to continue propagating a sectarian, ultra-conservative political agenda.

However, the regime remains fearful of being overthrown. Its vast oil wealth has not prevented high rates of unemployment among its overwhelming young population.

And the sharp fall in world oil prices could impact on the regime’s ability to buy social peace. Saudi rulers’ lavish, decadent western lifestyles also don’t sit well beside the pious Wahhabi zealots.

So Western governments fear that the Saudi succession could open up an irreconcilable chasm in the country.

That is why Obama, Cameron, et al, have all quickly signalled their support for the new Saudi king – and to hell with democracy!


Dear Socialist,

Simon Carter’s piece in last week’s Socialist went into the despicable hypocrisy of Cameron and Obama with their eulogies to the Saudi King, Abdullah. These world leaders marched in Paris to uphold the fundamental right to free speech and then jetted off to the funeral of Saudi Arabia’s ‘modernising’ despot.

As Simon wrote, for decades before its recent switch in strategy, the Saudi regime sponsored reactionary Sunni jihadist groups which “spawned the various branches of Al-Qa’ida and, more recently, Islamic State”.

This reminded me of a particularly stark statistic I read some time ago and then saw confirmed in an article by Gary Younge in the Guardian this week. Saudi Arabia, “where women can’t drive and atheists are treated as terrorists”, he states, “beheads more people than Isis”.

In October last year, Newsweek carried an article detailing how “America’s closest Arab ally” carries out “punishment by the sword” at a rate of nearly two a week. During Abdullah’s last years, the number of executions jumped from 27 in 2010 to around 80 each year after that.

Will anything change under the new king? On Tuesday this week the Daily Mail reported: “Saudi Arabia carried out the second, third and fourth beheadings under the reign of King Salman just days after he assumed the throne”.

By their friends shall ye know them!

Clare Doyle

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January 2015