by Waseem Shehzad (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 6, Ramadan, 1433)
In the midst of an existential struggle for survival, Russian criticism of Saudi Arabia’s deplorable human rights record touched the kingdom’s raw nerve.
Russian Human Rights envoy Konstantin Dolgov had expressed “great concern” about the situation in eastern Saudi Arabia following what he described as clashes between law enforcement and peaceful demonstrators in which two people were killed and more than 20 were wounded, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry website. Russian criticism came in the wake of the arrest on July 8 of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in Qatif where he called upon the authorities to respect the rights of people and to end the policy of discrimination and oppression of the Shi‘i population of the region. Sheikh Nimr was not only arrested but eyewitnesses said he had been tortured. When tens of thousands of protesters came out into the streets of Qatif the following day defying police threats and brutality, two people were shot dead. Qatif has witnessed frequent mass protests even though the regime has been claiming it is dealing with “troublemakers” and “provocateurs.” Russia’s criticism clearly stung the regime badly as is evident from its reaction. On July 15, the Saudi Foreign Ministry issued the following statement attributed to an official source as quoted by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA): “The Kingdom learned with strong astonishment and surprise about the comment by the Russian Foreign Ministry’s representative on human rights which represents a blatant and unjustified intervention… in the internal affairs of the kingdom.” The SPA said the Saudi regime viewed such comments as “hostile” and condemned them. The Saudi interior ministry meanwhile offered its own twist on the killings in Qatif claiming that there were no clashes between the protesters and police but that “unknown assailants” killed two people after Sheikh Nimr’s arrest.
Saudi assertions that Russian criticism of its human rights violation is “a blatant and unjustified intervention” in its internal affairs would be hilarious were it not so serious. In March 2011, Saudi Arabia rushed troops toBahrain to crush the people’s aspirations for their rights and dignity. The minority ruling Khalifa family has been propped up in power through Saudi guns and tanks. The Saudis are also bankrolling and arming the rebels in Syria in an attempt to oust the regime of Bashar al-Asad. Who gave the Saudis the right to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries but take offence at being criticized for violating the fundamental rights of people in the kingdom?
The Saudi positions in Bahrain and Syria contradict each other. In Bahrain, the rights of the majority population are being violated and the Saudis are propping up a minority ruling family. The Saudis allege that the people of Bahrain receive support from Islamic Iran. There is no truth to this allegation. The only support Iran has extended is moral. All peace and justice loving people around the world should extend such support to the oppressed people of Bahrain. Besides, leaders of the Bahraini majority community, who happen to be Shi‘i, have repeatedly emphasized that theirs is not a sectarian struggle. They do not want to deprive the Sunni minority of its rights like the minority Khalifa family has deprived the Shi‘i majority of theirs. Instead, they want the rights of all the people, irrespective of any sectarian affiliation, to be respected.
In the case of Syria, the Saudi policy is the exact opposite of what it is in Bahrain. The Saudis are directly interfering in Syria. The plan to destabilize the Asad regime was made a long time ago in Washington but the Saudis signed on to it quickly. They are the principal financiers of the Syrian rebels giving them weapons and money. The tiny sheikhdom of Qatar has also joined the Western crusade.
The Saudis claim that they are supporting Syria’s majority population that is “Sunni.” Since when have the Saudis become the champions of Sunnis? Their extremist Wahhabi ideology does not recognize even most Sunnis as Muslims. For these primitive savages from the desert outposts of Najd, only their narrow interpretation of Islam is correct; everyone else is not only wrong, but outside the fold of Islam. These self-appointed champions of Islam insist everyone must follow their narrow interpretations or else.
Let us, however, examine the Saudis’ claims in light of their actions. Is their arming and financing of Syrian rebels not interference in the internal affairs of Syria? The Russians merely criticized the human rights violations of people in the kingdom; they have not armed or financed these people. Further, if the Saudis are really concerned about the well-being of Sunnis, why they have done nothing for the long-suffering Palestinians? According to UN reports, at least 44% of children in Gaza are food deficient. The tiny Gaza Strip has been under Zionist siege since 2006. Most homes, hospitals, schools and other infrastructure destroyed in the December 2008–January 2009 Israeli onslaught stand as piles of rubble because the Zionists refuse to allow cement and steel to be imported. Instead of helping these “Sunni” Palestinians, the Saudis have joined hands with the Zionists to bring down the government in Syria so that one component of the resistance front against Zionist aggression can be eliminated. The Saudis are, therefore, working in tandem with the enemies of Islam to undermine the interests of Muslims, especially in Palestine, Lebanonand Iran.
While appearing aggressive, the Saudis are in fact gripped by fear. Their actions betray such fears. The Islamic awakening sweeping the region has alarmed the Saudis. They know their rule is illegitimate; it is impossible to insulate the kingdom from the winds of change blowing in the region where several long time dictators have been driven from power. These winds are bound to shake the foundations of their kingdom as well. There is, however, an even greater fear gripping the Saudis. Most of the senior members of the ruling family have reached critical old age and are dropping dead one by one. Since October, at least three senior princes — Sultan bin Abdul Aziz (October 22, 2011), Nayef bin Abdul Aziz (June 16, 2012) andMuhammad bin Saud (July 3, 2012) — have died. King Abdullah, 88, is in intensive care unit and may die any day. The new crown prince, Salman, is also 76 or 77 and walks using a cane.
Senior members of the House of Saud rushing to their graves like lemmings heading over the cliff into the sea, do not bode well for the future of the family’s survival. With senior members gone from the scene, there is danger of an internal power struggle breaking out between the next generation of princes. Among them are such ruthlessly ambitious figures as Bandar bin Sultan, a self-confessed CIA and Zionist agent. He has just been elevated to the post of intelligence chief, no doubt because of his close links with the above-mentioned agencies. Bandar is also architect of the aggressive Saudi policy in Syria. Working in tandem with the US and Israel as well as the Hariri clan in Lebanon, Bandar has bankrolled the ragtag Syrian opposition groups. He has also facilitated the flow of weapons and mercenaries into Syria. Al-Qaeda, that has strong roots in the kingdom and enjoys support of the Saudi clerics, has been unleashed in Syria just as it was unleashed earlier in Iraq to create sectarian divisions. It is also interesting to note that US-al-Qaeda links have been fully exposed in Syria.
Saudi dual track policy of suppression of dissent at home and supporting terrorist groups abroad has not gone entirely unnoticed. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has released a stinging rebuke of Saudi policies that curtail the rights of people. In its 2012 report on Saudi Arabia, Human Rights Watch referring to events in 2011, wrote: “Saudi Arabia responded with unflinching repression to demands by citizens for greater democracy in the wake of the pro-democracy Arab Spring movements. King Abdullah bin ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Al Saud announced economic benefits worth over US$130 billion, but authorities continued to jail Saudis for peaceful dissent. New laws introduced or proposed in 2011 criminalize the exercise of basic human rights such as freedom of expression, assembly, and association.”
The report further stated: “Authorities continue to suppress or fail to protect the rights of 9 million Saudi women and girls, 8 million foreign workers, and some 2 million Shi‘i citizens. Each year thousands of people receive unfair trials or are subject to arbitrary detention.” Thus 19 million people in the kingdom, more than 60% of the total population, are deprived of fundamental rights. Women and girls suffer the most despite being citizens, as do the Shi‘is who live in the eastern part of the kingdom. The Human Rights Watch report details the horrible treatment meted out to foreign workers and the arbitrary manner in which they are punished or even killed. Further, their salaries remain unpaid for months. There is no recourse for foreign workers to seek restitution.
According to HRW, “UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navenathem Pillay criticized a spate of executions in October . Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in July  publicly criticized treatment of Indonesian workers in Saudi Arabia, as did a fact-finding delegation of Philippineslawmakers in a report issued in January .” Such criticism, especially from heads of states, is unprecedented since the House of Saud enjoys close links with the US and the Zionist regime, there has been no criticism of its atrocious behavior from President Barack Obama. As long as the Saudi regime continues to bankroll Uncle Sam’s rapacious appetite, there will be no criticism of its terrible human rights record. But the tide of history is unstoppable. The House of Saud, like other oppressive regimes in the region, is heading for oblivion. The Muslim world will only gain true freedom once these dinosaurs from Dar‘iyyah have been driven back into their caves.