Though there is nothing secret about the nature of Saudi Arabia and its relations with the west, particularly America, there is a remarkable lack of discussion and outrage. Saudi Arabia has the following unlovely and well known aspects (a random and very much incomplete list): Sharia law (that is Muslim religious law) is dominant; possession of the Bible is banned; women cannot drive cars; education and state ideology is based on extreme religious conservatism; Osama bin Laden was a product of that education and ideology; the Saudi authorities put very considerable effort into spreading their kind of state-religious ideology in the region and the broader Middle East; political power is passed between the increasingly aged and uncounted (seriously no one knows how many there are, it seems to be over 40) sons of King Abdulaziz, who founded the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and died in 1953; the regime rests on an alliance between religious fundamentalists and oil rich princes, many of whom (including Kings) have been known to indulge in behaviour that many non-believers would find depraved. That’s just a random selection of different kinds of obnoxious fact.
What is amazing is how little reaction this all gets. Angry ring wing pundits in America are willing to assault Barack Obama for any slight perceived weakness in relation to Iran, or Al Qaeda, never mention Saudi Arabia despite bin Laden’s well known origin in a rich and well connected family in that country. Friends of Israel always ready to denounce the Arabo-Muslim threat have little to say about Saudi Arabia, though no bigger support exist for fanatical anti-Semitic versions of Islam in the Middle East. Right now Salafist success post Arab Spring elections in Tunisia and Egypt comes from funding and general support from Saudi Arabia for this version of fundamentalism. Right now the revolt against Assad in Syria is being debased by Jihadist militias supported by Saudi Arabia, which is trying to create a region dominated by those who hate liberty and democracy. So the United States and its European allies hope for a secular democratic transformation in Syria while continuing close relations with the Saudi tyranny, which is working with all its strength for the triumph of theocratic authoritarianism. In Bahrain, the local version of the Arab Spring was terminated by state terror, which to large degree was imported from Saudi Arabia, which treats Bahrain as a protectorate where the Shi’ite majority can never be allowed to have influence, and where democracy cannot be allowed to prevent Shi’ite, amongst other reasons.
The western alliance with Saudi Arabia goes back to the 1920s, when British governments decided that the emergence of Saudi Arabia out of the fragmented political structures in the centre of the Arabian peninsula served colonial interests. America became the senior western power in the region during the 1950s, and before that the state of Israel was founded in 1948, making a major difference to the region ever since. Faced with Nasser’s pan-Arabism in Egypt, and movements influence by Nasserism and other strains of secular Pan-Arabism, Israel found it preferred Saudi Arabia. There appears to have been a de facto alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia to prevent a Nasserist model republic emerging in Yemen during a period of armed conflict between royalists and Nasserites. More recently there was a de facto alliance between the same two countries in relation to Hamas in Palestine, with both seeking to undermine Al Fatah, which is Nasserite Arab nationalist in origin. Evidently this had bad consequences for Israel when Hamas controlled Gaza became the base for attacks on Israel.
The other ideological motive for America treating Saudi Arabia as a favoured country was the idea that religion, including Islam, was the antidote to Communism. Another idea that backfired, again and again, in Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan etc. The relationship with Saudi Arabia is a large and ugly stain on the claims of America, and other western countries, to be spreading human rights and democracy. It is a relationship which is used haters of the west to denounce the west, the alliance with saudi Arabia is supposed to serve western interests to compensate for that resentment, and so on in a very nasty vicious circle.
In terms of economic interests, Saudi Arabia’s purchase of large amounts of military it from America, and other western countries, gives it lobbying power through the arms industry. Its production of oil creates links with an oil industry which is a pillar of the Republican Party in America, and generally has a lot of political weight.. That is the same Republican Party which is strongly influenced by conservative Evangelical Christians who are the major source of support for Israel in America (more than any ‘Jewish Lobby’).
The other major pillar of support for Israel in America is the neo-conservatives who want an American dominated world where the United States has the military force to invade at will and regime change any government it finds uncongenial .However, the Neo-Cons stand out from all the other lobbies and pressure groups, since they do at least sometimes argue for regime changing Saudi Arabia. Some were apparently arguing that Saudi Arabia should be next on the list after Iraq for the invasion and regime change package, before the failure of the Iraq invasion to win hearts and minds became too obvious to ignore. I congratulate the Neo-Cons on their consistency, though not their judgement about the use of America’s overwhelming strategic power disregarding negative consequences.
It seems there is nothing Saudi Arabia can do to disappoint its loyal allies in secular democracies (not disappointment of a kind that makes a difference to public policy anyway), so long as it remains opposed to secular nationalism in the Arab world and remains opposed to open attacks on the west and on democratic ideas. The fact that the regime in practice abuses human rights, tries to export fundamentalism, and is locked into a ghastly symbiosis with Wahabbite religious fanatics who promote fundamentalism in the region, and beyond, is apparently a small price to be paid. And American conservatives wonder why the rest of world hates Aö
When will this destructive policy end? How will future generations understand that western democracies could talk about spreading democracy while treating Saudi Arabia as a member of the home team?