Why the West will col­lab­o­rate with the Saudis

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE - ISHAAN THA­ROOR Wash­ing­ton

US SEC­RE­TARY of State John Kerry was in Saudi Ara­bia ear­lier this month, meet­ing del­e­ga­tions of Arab diplo­mats as Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion tried to cob­ble to­gether a coali­tion of al­lies to con­front the threat of Is­lamic State.

There were no il­lu­sions that the task ahead would be easy, and Obama stressed in his speech on Novem­ber 5 the vi­tal role Arab states have to play in break­ing the ter­ror or­gan­i­sa­tion’s in­sur­gency.

The ac­tive co-op­er­a­tion of Saudi Ara­bia, with its vast oil wealth, well-equipped mil­i­tary and broader in­flu­ence among the Mid­dle East’s Sunni states, is key to any ex­tended US war ef­fort in Iraq and Syria. Though long an in­cu­ba­tor of the Salafist ide­ol­ogy that now in­flames Is­lamic State and mil­i­tant groups of its ilk, the king­dom has grown in­creas­ingly con­cerned with the desta­bil­is­ing chaos Is­lamic State has wrought in the re­gion.

But that doesn’t mean its state ide­ol­ogy is chang­ing. The coun­try is no­to­ri­ous for its dra­co­nian laws de­rived from a strict Wah­habist in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Is­lamic doc- trine. In the space of two weeks last month, ac­cord­ing to the rights group Amnesty In­ter­na­tional, Saudi Ara­bia ex­e­cuted 22 peo­ple. At least eight of those ex­e­cuted were be­headed, UN ob­servers say.

It ap­pears that the majority of those ex­e­cuted in Au­gust were guilty of non­lethal crimes, in­clud­ing drug trafficking, adul­tery, apos­tasy and “sor­cery”. Four mem­bers of one fam­ily, Amnesty re­ports, were be­headed for “re­ceiv­ing drugs”.

Saudi Ara­bia is con­spic­u­ous in be­ing the sole coun­try to reg­u­larly carry out be­head­ings; last year, a re­ported short­age of trained swords­men led to some hope the prac­tice could wane, but re­cent ev­i­dence sug­gests oth­er­wise. It’s an un­com­fort­able irony given that the US’s cur­rent mil­i­tary mo­bil­i­sa­tion was trig­gered after Is­lamic State be­headed two Amer­i­can jour­nal­ists.

US politi­cians, in­clud­ing the out­spo­ken se­na­tor John McCain, rou­tinely hec­tor over the state of hu­man rights in Iran – Saudi Ara­bia’s main geopo­lit­i­cal ri­val in the Mid­dle East and a coun­try with a far more demo­cratic po­lit­i­cal sys­tem than that of the Saudis. But they are qui­eter and more tol­er­ant about the many abuses car­ried out in the king­dom. – Bloomberg

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