Our Saudi Allies

Too many know too little history. And too many care even less about history. “Those who will not learn from history” etc.

Take for example Saudi Arabia. When did the cradle of Islam and Keepers of the Holy Places become a state? How did it become the “Guardian of Islam?”

And its Arabic name is (transliterated from the Arabic) al-Mamlakah al-ʻArabīyah as-Suʻūdīyah. Although it is normally translated as The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia it literally means “The Arab Saudi Kingdom”.

“The word “Saudi” is derived from the element as-Suʻūdīyah in the Arabic name of the country, which is a type of adjective known as a nisbah, formed from the dynastic name of the Saudi royal family, the Al Saud. Its inclusion expresses the view that the country is the personal possession of the royal family. Al Saud is an Arabic name formed by adding the word Al, meaning “family of” or “House of”, to the personal name of an ancestor. In the case of the Al Saud this is the father of the dynasty’s 18th century founder, Muhammed bin Saud.”

Got that? The name of the country in Arabic infers it is the personal possession of the royal family. Those who do not recognize Saudi rule, particularly the Islamic State (ISIS) call the country the “land of Haramayn” (the two holy places referencing Mecca and Medina.

In a series of tribal conquests beginning in 1902, Abdul Aziz ibn Saud united the major regions comprising the country under a single ruler, finally taking Riyadh, the ancestral home of the al Saud in 1932. Since then the country has been an absolute monarchy, a hereditary dictatorship governed along Islamic lines. Wahabi Islam is the predominant feature of Saudi culture, though the Saudis prefer the term Salafism, considering Wahabism to be a derogatory term.

The country, as everyone knows, holds the world’s 2nd largest oil reserves and is considered a high income economy; the only Arab state to be listed in the top twenty of the world’s economies. It is also the least diversified, dependent on oil for 90% plus of its income.

It is also the world’s 4th largest importer of arms.

As an absolute theocratic monarchy it is ranked as “Not Free” by Freedom House. In September 2015, Faisal bin Hassan Trad, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva was elected Chairman of the United Nations Human Rights Council. What a joke.

While Arabia was the cradle of Islam and Arab armies swept over the middle east and north Africa all the way to Spain, it did not remain the center of Islam for very long. Within several hundred years it reverted to a backwater as the Damascus, Baghdad and Istanbul became the loci of Islamic power. Eventually the Sultan of the Ottoman Turks claimed the Caliphate. Arabia reverted to tribalism dependent on trade and the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

Mecca was ruled by the Hashemites, eponymous descendants of the family of the Prophet. They had ruled Mecca for a thousand years. Another major tribal power was the al Rashid family, sworn enemies of the al Saud. Each of the major tribal families were ruling parts of the modern Saudi state.

In 1744, Muhammed ibn Saud joined forces with Mohammad ibn al-Wahab, leader of a strict form of Sunni Islam in a “mutual agreement;” the Saud would run political affairs and the Wahab would be the ultimate religious authority. This alliance provided the ideological impetus to Saudi expansion and remains the basis of Saudi Arabian dynastic rule today. Over the next 150 years, the fortunes of the Saud family rose and fell several times as Saudi rulers contended with Egypt, the Ottoman Empire, and other Arabian families for control of the peninsula.

Today the descendants of Ibn Wahab still are the ultimate religious authority in the Saudi state. Sharia is the only constitution and law.

This first Saud state drew the attention of the Ottoman Sultan Mustapha IV, concerned with the rising power of the al-Saud and annoyed at being told he was not Islamic enough. He sent the Viceroy of Egypt to Arabia, crushed the fledgling Saudi state, took a Saud family member to Istanbul and put him to a hideous death. The rest of the Saud and the Wahabs were driven into the desert.

The Al Saud returned to power in 1824 but their area of control was mainly restricted to the Saudi heartland of the Najd region, known as the second Saudi state. However, their rule in Najd was soon contested by their rivals, the Rashids. Throughout the rest of the 19th century, the Al Saud and the Al Rashid fought for control of the interior of what was to become Saudi Arabia. By 1891, the Al Saud were conclusively defeated by the Al Rashid, who drove the Saudis into exile in Kuwait.

Al-Saud would return in 1902 and seize Riyadh from the Rashid; at this time most of Arabia was ruled by a patch work of tribal leaders under the suzerainity of the Ottomans. Chief among the local leaders was the Sharif of Mecca, the Hashemites under Hussein Ali.

Al-Saud’s weapon against the Rashids was the Ikhwan, a wahabist bedoin army; by 1906 the al-Saud had driven out the Rashid and were recognized by the Ottomans as a “client”, thus when the Arab revolt came during WWI, the Saud did not take part. The Ikhwan sat on the side line as the revolt was lead by Hussein, Sharif of Mecca with the encouragement of Colonel Lawrence and the British.

Rather than make war against the Ottomans, the al-Saud continue their struggle against the Rashid finally defeating them in 1920.

In 1923 Britain, seeing the strength of al-Saud and the Ikhwan, withdrew its support of the Hashemites in Arabia and a massive Ikhwan army moved on Mecca taking the city for the al-Saud, plundering it and laying waste to artifacts of “heathen practice”. The use of the Ikhwan to effect the conquest had important consequences for Mecca: The old cosmopolitan society was uprooted, and a radical version of Wahhabi culture was imposed as a new compulsory social order.

After the conquest of the Hejaz region, the Ikhwan leaders wanted to continue the expansion of the Wahhabist realm into the British protectorates of Transjordan, Iraq and Kuwait. Abdul-Aziz, however, refused to agree to this, recognizing the danger of a direct conflict with the British. The Ikhwan therefore revolted but were defeated in the Battle of Sabilla in 1930, and the Ikhwan leadership were massacred

The sons of the Hashemite Hussain Ali, who lead the Arab Revolt, were set up by the British as Kings of Iraq, where they ruled until 1958 when the royal family was machine gunned in the palacecourtyard after surrendering to the Ba’ath Party military and in Jordan, where they still rule today. The descendants of the Sharifs of Mecca were driven out of the Arabian peninsula by the al-Saud.

The country remained dirt poor until the coming of Aramco, the Arabian American Oil Company in 1941. With it came the discovery and exploitation of vast oil reserves and the alliance with the West.

In 1979, two events occurred which greatly concerned the government and had a long-term influence on Saudi foreign and domestic policy. The first was the Iranian Islamic Revolution. It was feared that the country’s Shi’ite minority in the Eastern Province (which is also the location of the oil fields) might rebel under the influence of their Iranian co-religionists. In fact, there were several anti-government uprisings in the region in 1979 and 1980. The second event was the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by Islamist extremists. The militants involved were in part angered by what they considered to be the corruption and un-Islamic nature of the Saudi government. The government regained control of the mosque after 10 days and those captured were executed. Part of the response of the royal family was to enforce a much stricter observance of traditional religious and social norms in the country (for example, the closure of cinemas) and to give the Ulema, the religious authority a greater role in government. Neither entirely succeeded as Islamism continued to grow in strength.

So what kind of “allies” do we have in the fight against Isis?

“Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy. However, according to the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia adopted by royal decree in 1992, the king must comply with Sharia (Islamic law) and the Quran, while the Quran and the Sunnah (the traditions of Muhammad) are declared to be the country’s constitution. No political parties or national elections are permitted.[ The Economist rates the Saudi government as the fifth most authoritarian government out of 167 rated in its 2012 Democracy Index and Freedom House gives it its lowest “Not Free” rating.

Saudi law requires that all citizens be Muslims. Neither Saudi citizens nor guest workers have the right of freedom of religion. The religious police patrol the streets “forbidding wrong”, enforcing dress codes, the separation of men and women, the ban on alcohol, the required daily prayers.

“As of 2004 approximately half of the broadcast airtime of Saudi state television was devoted to religious issues; 90% of books published in the kingdom were on religious subjects, and most of the doctorates awarded by its universities were in Islamic studies. In the state school system, about half of the material taught is religious. In contrast, assigned readings over twelve years of primary and secondary schooling devoted to covering the history, literature, and cultures of the non-Muslim world comes to a total of about 40 pages.”

“Fierce religious resistance” had to be overcome to permit such innovations as paper money (in 1951), female education (1964), and television (1965) and the abolition of slavery (1962.

Because of religious restrictions, Saudi culture lacks any diversity of religious expression, buildings, annual festivals and public events. Non-Muslim festivals like Christmas and Easter are not tolerated at all, although there are nearly a million Christians as well as Hindus and Buddhists among the foreign workers. No churches, temples or other non-Muslim houses of worship are permitted in the country. Proselytizing by non-Muslims and conversion by Muslims to another religion is illegal,[ and as of 2014 the distribution of “publications that have prejudice to any other religious belief other than Islam” (such as Bibles), was reportedly punishable by death. In legal compensation court cases non-Muslim are awarded less than Muslims. Atheists are legally designated as terrorists. Saudis or foreign residents who call “into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based” may be subject to as much as 20 years in prison.

Women are not allowed to drive and every adult woman must have a male guardian. There is little legal recourse for violence against a woman. A woman cannot travel or study or attend school without permission from a male relative. She can be divorced by her husband but cannot divorce her husband without his permission.

The Saudi system of justice has been criticized for its “ultra-puritanical judges”, who are often harsh in their sentencing, (with beheading for the crime of witchcraft), but also sometimes overly lenient, (for cases of rape or wife-beating), and slow, for example leaving thousands of abandoned women unable to secure a divorce.

Capital and physical punishments imposed by Saudi courts, such as beheading, stoning (to death), amputation, crucifixion and lashing, as well as the sheer number of executions have been strongly criticized. The death penalty can be imposed for a wide range of offences including murder, rape, armed robbery, repeated drug use, apostasy, adultery, witchcraft and sorcery and can be carried out by beheading with a sword, stoning or firing squad, followed by crucifixion. The 345 reported executions between 2007 and 2010 were all carried out by public beheading. The last reported execution for sorcery took place in September 2014. Homosexuality can bring lashing to death.

And this is among our strongest Arab allies in the region – along with the rest of the Kings and Princes.

Why? Because they have oil and cozy up to us to us, not because they like us but because they are ensuring their own survival as “rulers”.

For you see there is now someone out there who doesn’t think they are Islamic enough and they want us to do their fighting for them.

I would rather sit in a cold house in Winter and take the bus.

We have already had one military death reportedly fighting Isis while the Saudi air force attacks Yemeni Shia rebels. If the Saudi royals perceive Isis as a threat let them do their own fighting.

Don’t hold your breath.

About toritto

I was born during year four of the reign of Emperor Tiberius Claudius on the outskirts of the empire in Brooklyn. I married my high school sweetheart, the girl I took to the prom and we were together for forty years until her passing in 2004. We had four kids together and buried two together. I had a successful career in Corporate America (never got rich but made a living) and traveled the world. I am currently retired in the Tampa Bay metro area and live alone. One of my daughters is close by and one within a morning’s drive. They call their pops everyday. I try to write poetry (not very well), and about family. Occasionally I will try a historical piece relating to politics. :-)
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7 Responses to Our Saudi Allies

  1. Thank you for this clarification

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lis says:

    …guter Artikel!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. beetleypete says:

    As usual, Frank, you give us a thoughtful and intelligent history lesson, ending with a logical conclusion. Britain has much to answer for in its dealings with these states, following the end of WW1. The way our government still fawns over the Saudis when they visit the UK, has to be seen to be believed. There is also some evidence that they are playing both sides against the middle. Funding Al-Qaeda, and ISIS, at the same time as requesting military help from the West.
    We hear a lot about supposedly harsh leaders who we should be deposing, but the Saudis name never gets added to that list.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toritto says:

      Pete – Indeed. Here we saw Bush the Lesser holding the hand of the old Saudi King like an uncle he hadn’t seen in a while. As an aside, the grandson of the last Rashidi Emir assassinated King Faisal in 1975. Revenge is best served very cold. Regards.


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