Tolerating Saudi Arabia’s Intolerance

The U.S. government insists that it abides by principles of international law, democracy and respect for national sovereignty, but its actions often belie its words, with the U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s monarchy a stark example of the hypocrisy, writes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson  

Saudi Arabia is one of a handful of Middle East anachronisms: a family-based monarchy that believes it sits at the right hand of God. The Saud clan that rules in Saudi Arabia is both insular and fanatic. It is devoted to the Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam, perhaps the most strict and intolerant manifestation of the religion.

Except for the religious details, there is really not much difference between the respective outlooks of a Wahhabi true believer, a hard-core Christian fundamentalist, and the Jewish extremists in Israel.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.


Like their Christian counterparts, the Saudis are proselytizers who spend huge sums every year supporting fanatical preachers pushing their message in far-flung parts of the world. And, like their Jewish counterparts, the Saudis have an army equipped with more advanced American weapons than they know what to do with. This, if you will, mechanizes their fanaticism.

Recently, there are suggestions that this is indeed the case. In 2011 the Saudi monarchy came to the rescue of another Middle East anachronism, the Sunni Al-Khalifa family monarchy in Bahrain. The Al-Khalifa were in trouble because for decades they had been systematically discriminating against the country’s Shiite Muslim majority until, in the atmosphere of the short-lived Arab Spring, the Bahraini Shias decided to stand up and demand a bit of democracy for their homeland.

When the Bahraini police, mostly imported from Pakistan, could not handle the evolving situation, the Al-Khalifa called in U.S.-armed Saudi troops to put an end to any hopes of a better, more democratic Bahrain. Even though the Saudi incursion violated the U.S. Arms Export Control Act, there was no protest from Washington.

In the meantime, the Saudis have also been busy funneling money and weapons to the Sunni opposition in places like Iraq and Syria. You might not like the governments in Baghdad and Damascus, but the groups the Saudis are underwriting are often worse.

Be they the suicide car-bombers of Iraq or the self-proclaimed Al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria, Saudi money, both private and government funds, along with the guns they buy, have been making their way into the hands of people who seemed to have the same callous disregard of non-combatant life and limb as do, well, the guys who operate U.S. drones in Yemen.

There have been repeated protests about this sort of Saudi behavior. The Russians have complained about it in relation to Syria, and the Iraqi government has directly accused the Saudis of sponsoring terrorism in their country. Has this given any pause to the zealots in Riyadh? No, it has not, because, like the Israelis, they know that they have God on their side and, ultimately, Washington D.C. as well.

Now the Saudis have turned their bullying ways toward their neighbor Qatar. In early March, the Saudi foreign minister declared that Riyadh would “blockade Qatar by land and sea” unless that country ceases its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, a mostly non-violent Muslim organization that the Saudis have illogically designated a “terrorist” group probably because the Brotherhood proselytizes a rival interpretation of Islam and has been outlawed by the Egyptian military dictatorship, which is an ally of Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis also want Qatar to close down Al Jazeera and evict several U.S.-based research organizations with offices in Doha because they have all been critical of Riyadh. Considering that most of Qatar’s fresh food comes across its only land border with Saudi Arabia, the threat must be taken seriously.

Lack of U.S. Response

There is no indication that the United States will stand by relatively liberal Qatar any more than it supported the democracy advocates in Bahrain. As far as Washington is concerned, the oil that comes out of Saudi Arabia to America’s trading partners (not much of it comes to the U.S.) is more important than the independent broadcasting of Al Jazeera, the American research centers and, without a doubt, the ideology of democracy.

And it is the Saudi monarchy that keeps the oil flowing. Thus, despite some complaining, the U.S. acquiesces in the behavior of the Saudi fanatics, just as it does with the Israelis.

This means that Washington can sanction the Russians for protecting their security interests and the Russian-speaking population in the Crimea. They can sanction the Iranians for developing nuclear energy. And, they can acquiesce in the utter destitution of 1.76 million Gazans. But you will hear no talk of sanctions due to Saudi aggression or its sponsorship of terrorism.

At present the Saudis and Israelis are acting in unlikely unison on a range of issues such as support for Egypt’s military dictatorship. This makes them strange bedfellows. What can they possibly have in common?

Well, besides adhering to arrogant and aggressive notions of manifest destiny, they both fear democracy in the Middle East. And, believe it or not, we can make the duo into a trio by adding the United States. Why should all three governments fear democracy? It’s really very simple.

What often happens when there are free and fair elections in that region of the world? One gets leaders and governments that are (1) almost by definition wary of monarchies and other forms of dictatorship, (2) anti-American, because Washington is an historic supporter of Middle East dictators, (3) pro-Muslim, but not receptive to the strict Wahhabi or Salafi versions of Islam, and (4 ) more active in their support for the Palestinian people.

At this point, these strange bedfellows are having their way. The Arab Spring and its aspirations of a more tolerant and democratic Middle East are, with the possible exception of Tunisia, rapidly fading memories. In its place we have the fanatics: the military style in Egypt, the religious style in Saudi Arabia, and an aggressive mixture of the two in Israel.

And what about the U.S.? Well, its style is to arm fanatics and dictators and then preach democracy. In Washington, the name of the game is hypocrisy.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

4 comments for “Tolerating Saudi Arabia’s Intolerance

    March 26, 2014 at 12:49

    The time and money we American tax-payers shell out for our crawling obeisance to the bloodthirsty state of Israel and the cheap tin horn state of Overbearing Saudi Arabia making those phonies feel royal is the most foolish vice where we waste our blood,sweat and tears money. We see no change in a parasitic policy that goes no where to these presumptive and voracious glut-gorgers! As Israel enjoys the biggest boom to her economy she does not politely and morally tell us to hold off the $8- $18 million per day we deliver like fools who need the fix no one can see and spend it on the hungry returning expeditionary forces that were once the National Guard and the Army Reserves that need food stamps for their orphaned and abandoned families who have paid a sacrifice no pool-side plutocrats have even shared.The Army Reserves and National Guard were created for defense of America against foreign invasion: not to turn it into a Pearl Harbor kind of Israeli- blest and initiated new way of victory kind of like that failed Spielberg film in which persons were arrested for computed crimes they were expected to commit in their future. The money that goes to Israel from a suffering and wounded America is not the right way to buy and influence friends. We send more $$$$$$$$ to our dear “democratic apartheid, neo-con, zionist theocratic arroganocracy” than we feed to our starving seniors, disabled ,middle class and indigent survivors in the USA. Any man who sumptuously feeds his neighbors across the street while short-changing his own family is an a$$hole and a BAD FATHER of his family. SOMETHING IS DEEPLY WRONG IN SUCH A FAMILY, ESPECIALLY WHEN THAT WELFARE FAMILY ACROSS THE STREET IS MAKING MORE $$$$$ PER FAMILY MEMBER THAN THE GENEROU$ JERK-OFFS WHO CONTINUE TO SHOWER THEM WITH $$$$$ BILLS. WE NEED TO FEED OUR OWN FAMILY FIRST AND THAT IS NO CRIME !!! . IT IS NATURAL TO THE HUMAN CONDITION. BUT IT IS UN-NATURAL TO IGNORE THE STICK PEOPLE OF AFRICA–IF AMERICAN TAX-PAYERS ARE GOING TO BE FEEDING EVERYBODY IN THE WORLD EXCEPT OUR OWN FAMILY. IF WE CAN AFFORD TO THROW MONEY AT STRANGERS, WHY NOT SEND SOME TO AFRICA. ISRAEL GETS MORE AMERICAN MONEY AND FREE GIFTS THAN THE WHOLE CONTINENT OF AFRICA WHILE THE CHINESE HAVE $WALLOWED AFRICA WITH SO MANY DEALS AND FREE TRADE ZONES AND BUYING LAND AND DOING WHAT AMERICA SHOULD BE DOING: MAKING FRIENDS WITH THE REST OF THE WHOLE WORLD AND STOP OUR VULGAR RELATIONS WITH SAUDI ARABIA AND ISRAEL. THEY DO NOT NEED OUR A$$KI$$ING FOREIGN POLICY. WHY DOES AMERICA SLEEP WHEN SHE SHOULD BE RE-ARRANGING THE DECK CHAIRS ON OUR OWN TITANIC????? TIME TO RE-ASSESS OUR FOREIGN POLICY SANTA CLAUS WHEN WE ARE SO HUNGRY AND IN NEED OF INFRASTRUCTURE ATTENTION AT HOME TO REWARD OUR RETURNING MILITARY HEROES WHO SHOULD HAVE A JOB$ BILL FROM THE OBSTRUCTIONIST AIPAC -OWNED CONGRE$$IONAL WHOREHOU$E THAT REFU$E$ TO TREAT OUR SOLDIERS LIKE FAMILY. WITH FOOD STAMPS AND A SPIRIT-LIFTING JOBS BILL!!!!! WE CANNOT MISTREAT OUR HEROES AND EXPECT TO SEND THEM OUT ON ANOTHER ISRAELI -INSPIRED WAR. ISRAEL IS MAKING A FORTUNE ON SOFT WARE EXPORTS AND TRILLIONS OF BARRELS OF PALESTINIAN OIL FOR WHICH I AM SURE THE OPPRESSED PALESTINIANS WILL SEE NOT A DROP OF OIL NOR A PENNY OF SHARING. I AM SO DISGUSTED WITH THE HIDEOUS LOUSE MY COUNTRY HAS BECOME BY OUR HYPOCRISY!

    • sam
      April 6, 2014 at 19:30

      So well said .

  2. F. G. Sanford
    March 25, 2014 at 17:22

    Now that Egypt has sentenced 529 people to be hanged for membership in the Muslim Brotherhood, I guess they’ll have to change from Arab Spring to “Arab Swing”. Hillary said, “For those of you struggling toward democracy, we stand with you”. If she really did, Bill might say, “I regret that I have but one wife to give for my country”. For a real “eat those famous last words” memory lane moment, go to YouTube and watch this:

    Freedom fighter Mona Eltahawy OWNS Zionist Bill Maher

    Sounds like Bill had the “inside dope” on what was really gonna happen. I just love the ironic moment when Mona says, “Quit going back to the death penalty”. Poor, delusional Mona. I bet she’s getting a taste of “reality” now.

  3. Joe Tedesky
    March 25, 2014 at 15:54

    America better soon wake up. Saudi Arabia and Israel may end up being the only two countries left who the US will be allied too, and that’s to bad.

    While the US talks sanctions against Russia the Russians are securing energy deals with the world’s two largest populated countries China and India. These deals that are being made will not involve exchanges using US dollars. My question is how long before Germany and maybe the rest of the EU change sides? There is more than enough good reason to suspect this could and may happen. Then what?

    Until the US decides to start growing and making things one can touch or eat then this trend will only get worst for the US. Russia on the other hand with their gas has something real to sell. The US seems to feel comfortable making up financial numbers and selling their schemes off to the rest of us and the world. Don’t you think people on this planet are finally waking up to our bankers tricks?

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