The Deafening Silence: Has Saudi Arabia Gone Too Far?

Dira Square, central Riyadh. Known locally as "Chop-chop square", it is the location of public beheadings.


The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is perhaps ‘the most violent and abusive of all autocracies,’ because of its dependence on violence and oppression against the human rights of its population. According to Ali al-Ahmed from the Institute for Gulf Affairs, any person who attempts to challenge the ultra-conservative Islamic Monarchy is punishable by law and can be interpreted as treason against the king or domestic terrorism and could thereby, result in death.

Such cases have been countless.

In 2012, two arrests occurring within a few months of each other caught the international community’s attention and has since stimulated many organizations to appeal to Saudi courts. Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, a seventeen year old boy who participated in protests during the Arab Spring of 2011, was sentenced to death by execution and then crucifixion. His trial has been labelled unjust by many organizations including Amnesty International and the United Nations due to alleged torture tactics employed during his interrogation.

Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, was bought to Saudi courts on charges of ‘insulting Islam via electronic channels’. Badawi was sentenced to 600 lashes and 7 years in prison in 2013. The following year, his sentence was increased to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison. After having received the first 50 lashes, Badawi’s health deteriorated rapidly and the next round of floggings has been postponed 12 times already. There has been an international outcry for Badawi’s plight by Amnesty International, US Congress, Nobel Laureates and Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haider. Many leaders have also called for both the proceedings to be cancelled. Regardless, it hasn’t been enough for either of the sentences to be reversed.

Demonstration outside the Embassy of Saudi-Arabia, Helsinki, Finland.
Demonstration outside the Embassy of Saudi-Arabia, Helsinki, Finland.

Another story of harsh punishment disproportionate to the alleged crime…

The proceedings above prompt us to question why the US still keeps its’ long, troubling marriage to the House of Saudi? Over the years, US authorities have been able to hand pick when to rebuke such actions and when to condemn human rights violations. Often, these sing in tune with their own political agendas instead of objectively enforcing international law. Ironically –  as of 2013 – the Kingdom gained a seat at the UN Human Rights Council, despite being in the midst of sentencing political opposition in the most backward way possible.

So, does the decision to do nothing make the USA culpable?

Firstly, the Obama Administration has been preaching ‘tough love’ to Saudi Arabia and trying to minimise their presence in the Middle East. They threatened to stop resources to Iraq or Syria and hinting that the Kingdom should find a way to ‘share the neighbourhood’ with Iran. The administration has since authorised a record of $60billion in military sales since 2010 – amounting to a figure triple that of the military sales under George W Bush.

Logically, Iran’s security interests are closer to the USA’s and therefore they should be a natural ally. So, why is it Riyadh the USA fawns over? Washington’s ties with the kingdom has been described by Scott Bennett – former US Army Special Operations officer – ‘as not simply dysfunctional but inherently intractable due to a phenomenon of economic and military co-dependency.’ Bennett puts forward the argument that the US is ‘an economic hostage of al-Saud […] because they lack political courage.’ However, ‘if the US were to go against Arabia, it risks unleashing a potentially catastrophic oil war.’

Bilateral relations between the KSA and the USA were formally established in 1933. Have we then, as an international community appeased Saudi Arabia too much?

President Barack Obama shakes hands with King Salman of Saudi Arabia at the G-20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015.
President Barack Obama shakes hands with King Salman of Saudi Arabia at the G-20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015.

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