Yassamine Mather can hardly believe the sickening tributes being paid to the Saudi tyrant
Last weekend’s eulogies for Saudi Arabia’s king, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, by leaders of the major powers and heads of international organisations were remarkable expressions of hypocrisy. It was amazing that news readers and commentators could repeat such utter nonsense with a straight face - unfortunately proof that ‘manufacturing consent’ has made great strides and we do live in a world where at least sections of the media believe you can fool most of the people, most of the time.
Let us start with the White House. According to the official statement issued on behalf of the US president,
He took bold steps in advancing the Arab peace initiative, an endeavour that will outlive him as an enduring contribution to the search for peace in the region. At home, king Abdullah’s vision was dedicated to the education of his people and to greater engagement with the world ... As a leader, he was always candid and had the courage of his convictions. One of those convictions was his steadfast and passionate belief in the importance of the US-Saudi relationship as a force for stability and security in the Middle East and beyond.
Let us be clear here: Obama, the leader of the ‘free world’, is talking about a man whose dynasty’s association with Wahhabism has fuelled wars and jihadism in the region. A man whose family has financed and supported Al Qa’eda and its many offshoots, including Islamic State. We are talking of the misogynist dictator of a conservative, religious state who was responsible for so many tragedies in the region.
How can anyone take the US’s alleged commitment to defeat IS seriously when one reads such statements? In the same week US secretary of state John Kerry claimed the war against IS will be a long one. Well, unless the US is ready to impose sanctions not just on the Wahhabi Saudi royals, but also the other supporters and funders of IS in the Persian Gulf, this will not be a long war: it will be an endless one. IS, plus Al Qa’eda in Yemen and Pakistan, etc will grow, and their barbarism will result in more victims in the Middle East and beyond.
One assumes the British prime minister, David Cameron, was speaking on behalf of the Conservative Party rather than ‘the nation’ when he said: “I sincerely hope that the long and deep ties between our two kingdoms will continue and that we can continue to work together to strengthen peace and prosperity in the world.” We all know the long-term association of the Tory Party with the House of Saud, going back to the Al Yamamah (the Dove) contracts, a series of a major arms sales to Saudi Arabia beginning in the 1980s. BAE Systems and its predecessor, British Aerospace, signed lucrative contracts with the Persian Gulf kingdom by bribing various members of the Saudi Royal family, aided by high-ranking Tory figures. BAe gained £43 billion in 20 years from the contracts, and there were allegations that Margaret Thatcher’s son, Mark, and other Tory grandees were involved in bribes to members of the Saudi royal family.
Probably one of the most ridiculous eulogies came from Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund: “In a very discreet way, he was a strong advocate of women. It was very gradual, appropriately so probably for the country. I discussed that issue with him several times and he was a strong believer.”
The most generous comment one can make about Abdullah’s reforms is to say they were ‘modest’, making little impact on the life of the majority of Saudi women. Yes, a few women will be allowed to vote and be elected to the municipal council, and King Abdullah University has a number of women undergraduates. However, systematic discrimination against women persists, and every aspect of a woman’s life is governed by male guardians, husband, sons, fathers, brothers … A Saudi woman cannot marry, travel or study without the permission of a male guardian. She cannot even undergo many surgical operations without his approval.
The ban on women driving has serious implications for middle class and lower-middle class women. Let us be clear: the kingdom’s working class are migrants, some treated worse than medieval slaves. In the current situation only women whose families can afford a full-time driver can work, socialise - indeed go out of their house. This “discreet” “advocate of women” had at least seven wives (according to some reports, he had more than 30), and four of his own daughters are allegedly under house arrest for defending women’s rights. A number of TV stations have managed to interview some of Abdullah’s daughters.
Channel 4 News showed a film allegedly taken by one of them describing their horrendous treatment at the hands of the Saudi authorities. In the video she asks: “Why are we, grown women, held against our will? I believe we are now hostages.” Her sister adds: “If he does that to his own children, how do you think the rest of the country is treated?”1
Saudi Arabia’s record on democratic rights is so appalling that they make religious autocracies such as Iran’s Islamic Republic look like progressive, liberal countries. Saudi authorities have no hesitation in using torture, corporal punishment, including the amputation of hands and feet for offences such as theft, flogging for the consumption of alcohol and “sexual deviance”. The country proudly boasts of beheading as its favourite form of capital punishment. It is ironic that when IS shows videos of beheadings the media rightly labels them as barbaric acts, but the same treatment meted out to those charged with rape, armed robbery, apostasy and adultery by the Saudi authorities is usually ignored.
How can anyone address the death of a Saudi royal without reference to Wahhabism as the ideological line of Iraqi, Yemeni and Syrian al Qa’eda, as well as IS?
We now know that king Abdullah opposed the US war on Iraq in 2003. His main concern as a Sunni Wahhabi was that it would give too much power to Shia Islam (a prediction that turned out to be true). That is why he wasted no time in the aftermath of the US occupation of Iraq in promoting a plethora of jihadi groups. He is quoted as being a supporter of military attacks against Iran, advocating air raids against the country’s nuclear facilities to “cut off the head of the snake” (his name for Iran’s Shia Islamic Republic).
According to Andrew Korybko, writing in Oriental Review,
the Saudis created [IS] and were absolutely instrumental in helping the world’s most dangerous terrorist organisation come to power. So important has IS been to achieving Saudi objectives in Syria and Iraq that it can even be said to function as the ‘hit man’, taking out the members of Abdullah’s ‘hit list’. However, just like with any mercenary gunman, the Wahhabist Frankenstein might finally be turning on its masters, which would present an ironic twist of fate for Abdullah’s lasting legacy.2
The origins of Wahhabism go back to an Arab scholar, Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, who advocated a return to the teachings of the Koran and Islamic traditions in opposition to what he considered heresy: Shia Islam and Sufism. According to some historians, the British ministry of commonwealth and its spies managed to broker a deal between Wahhab and Muhammad Ibn Saud, the founder of the Saudi dynasty: the Saudis would maintain political authority, while the Wahhabis would administer religion and culture.3
According to the Macrohistory website,
In 1802 an army of 12,000 Wahhabi warriors attacked Shia in the city of Karbala, slaying 4,000 of that city’s inhabitants and smashing Shia holy sites. In 1803 they attacked Mecca and, aware of the slaughter in Karbala, the Meccans opened their town to Saud rule. Opposed to images, the Wahhabi warriors smashed opulent graves, and they forbade smoking. In 1813, the Ottoman sultan sent expeditions against Wahhabism. The defeated head of the Saud family was taken in a cage to Istanbul and beheaded.4
Some followers of Ibn al-Wahhab claim he opposed the plunder and violence displayed by his new allies. So as early as the 18th century there were two distinct forms of Wahhabism, with Ibn Saud following a more aggressive, jihadist version. There are claims by some that Wahhab was a British spy, manipulated and managed by secret service agents to weaken the Ottoman empire. Author Stephen Schwartz writes: “Some say that during this vagabondage Ibn Abdul Wahhab came into contact with certain Englishmen, who encouraged him to personal ambition, as well as to a critical attitude about Islam.”5
There is no doubt that the Saud dynasty’s rebellion against the Ottoman empire and their attempts at establishing an independent kingdom under the rule of Ibn Saud’s son were marked by violence and jihad. Saud used takfir (excommunication, whereby a Muslim is declared an apostate) to justify the killing of his opponents. In 1801, his army sacked the holy Shia city of Karbala in what is now Iraq, plundered the tomb of Imam Husain, and slaughtered thousands of Shias, including women and children. In 1803, in fear and panic, the holy city of Mecca surrendered to the Saudi leader.
During World War I, the British government signed the treaty of Darin with Abdl Aziz. According to this treaty the lands of the House of Saud became a British protectorate, the borders of the Saudi state were clarified and, in return, Ibn Saud pledged to fight regional supporters of the Ottoman empire.
In the 1970s , as the price of oil soared and Saudi royals accumulated huge fortunes, the Saudi-based Muslim World League set up mosques, schools and offices in every region inhabited by Muslims, including major cities in the west, printing and distributing Wahhabi versions of Quranic texts. The Wahhabi version of Islam demanded rejection of all other forms.
This dominance of the Islamic world continued into the 1980s and was only challenged after the Iran-Iraq war, as Iran’s Islamic Republic started to set up mosques and religious schools worldwide, propagating Shia versions of Islam. So the rivalry between the two reactionary states started long before the US invasion of Iraq. However, there can be no doubt that Iran’s growing influence in Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut fuelled anger in Riyadh.
The cold war that ensued between Iran and Saudi Arabia meant both sides were financing and arming each other’s opponents. It turned into a hot war in Iraq and Syria, as Saudi and the Persian Gulf emirates armed and financed anyone who would oppose pro-Iran Shia governments, while Iran supported Shias in Bahrain and Yemen.
In addition, the Saudis have clearly funded a number of Iranian opposition groups in close collaboration with United States Republican and neoconservative plans for regime change in Iran. An obituary posted by the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK - an Iranian opposition group, which nowadays can only be classified as an Islamic version of the Moonies rather than a political organisation), as well as its leader’s message on the death of Abdullah, are good indications that the Saudi Royal family was engaged in funding the MEK. The Saudis were also involved in what became known as the Iran Tribunal, through the Gulf Cooperation Council, which was supposed to follow up criminal charges against Iran.
Of course, as we have said time and time again, current and former leaders of the Islamic Republic have committed horrendous crimes and the people of Iran have every right to try and punish them. However, a judicial process led by the infamous Gulf Cooperation Council can at best be considered a joke and at worst a calculated offence against those who gave their lives in the struggle for socialism in Iran and the Middle East.
Some of the most discredited sections of the Iranian opposition - groups that advocated regime change through US military intervention, in particular the Mujahedin - have in the past few years benefited from the support of various Republican luminaries, and have probably been indirectly funded by Saudi Arabia. The Mujahedin website acclaims Abdullah as “a patient reformer who battled hardliners”.
King Abdullah’s death comes at a time when the situation in the Middle East is extremely dangerous. In Syria and northern Iraq, Islamic State controls large areas of land. This week the Kurdish forces recaptured Kobanê, but IS continues to control major Iraqi cities and, according to some reports, is only a few kilometres away from Baghdad.
In Syria, Saudi Arabia is financing and supporting forces opposed to Bashar al-Assad, while Israel is doing its best (and is apparently succeeding), through air raids and assassination of Iranian and Hezbollah leaders, to start a war with Iran in Syria and Lebanon. In Yemen, Al Qa’eda is benefiting from the chaos of a failed state. The Houthis, a Shia group from north Yemen, have taken power through what can only be described as a military coup. Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of supporting and arming them.
The new Saudi king might be softer on Iran than his predecessor; he might be suffering from Alzheimer’s. But his country is unlikely to tolerate Shias taking power in yet another Middle Eastern country. So the war between Wahhabi/Salafi Islam and the ‘12th Imam’ Shias is set to continue.
2. http://oriental review.org/2015/01/24/a-royal-shame-abdullah-leaves-a-legacy-of-regional-militancy.
5. S Schwartz The two faces of Islam: the house of Saud from tradition to terror New York 2003.