Why the West will collaborate with the Saudis
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