2019 in Saudi Arabia, one of the richest nations in the world, to be a female today must’ve felt like you were back in 8th century. Despite promised reforms by the crown prince Muhammad Bin Salman (being of the opposite sex meant) you couldn’t drive a car, travel without a male guardian or report sexual abuse by a spouse/ partner.
According to Amnesty international, laws weren’t just draconian for women. Criticizing the government, drug offences and simply being a part of the Shia’ minority could lead to arbitrary trials and in some cases even a death sentence. In most cases, journalists and rights organizations are strictly monitored or simply banned from entering Saudi Arabia.
The world was made aware of the butchering of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey. The murder and dismemberment was basically ignored by the monarchy’s leadership until international pressure and outrage got too overbearing. Eventually, a few loyal “soldiers” took the wrap for the obvious government sanctioned elimination of a human being; only for accusations of dissidence.
The house of Saud has enjoyed a close relationship with the United States since the first Bush administration. The US has always ignored the fact that human rights violations were a daily reality inside the kingdom. Just as long as the discounted oil made it’s way across the ocean and military bases were made available for US invasions any and all of Saudi Arabia’s human rights misdeeds were treated as non-existent.
Bin Salman who is next in line for the throne, despite the many other siblings who stake a claim, has been able to get some social reforms through. Woman can now operate a vehicle and attend school but still are unable to travel abroad without permission from their male guardian. Several stories of teenage girls attempting to escape the clutches of their families reign have been well documented. One such girl became somewhat of an international heroine as she videoed herself making the trek from Riyadh to Thailand and eventually to personal freedom in Canada. At one point she barricaded herself and a female reporter inside an airport hotel room in Thailand, refusing to come out until she was granted asylum in Canada (www.npr.org). Other girls weren’t as lucky. One documented case features another girl who attempted to leave Riyadh for good only to be tricked by a relative and returned to Saudi Arabia. She hasn’t been heard from since.
Oil was first discovered on the Arabian peninsula in 1932 in nearby Bahrain. Six years later more was found in the Saudi city of Damman. Thanks to an extending pipeline to the Mediterranean Sea which was complete in 1950, Saudi Arabia’s economy went from relying on tourism and pilgrimages to the holy city of Mecca to becoming the oil behemoth it is today. Enverus.com states that as of 2012, the nations oil company Saudi Aramco was pumping as much as 500 million barrels a day from a single field.
Despite radical differences in government; Saudi Arabia being an ultra conservative Islamic monarchy and the US being secular democracy the two nations became mutual defense partners in 1951 due to a common hatred of Communism as well as a diplomatic business relationship(brittanica.com). The nations drew even closer together in the early nineties right through the Obama and Trump administrations. One difference in policy that hasn’t changed, despite the US attempts for Saudi Arabia to accept relations with Israel, the Gulf country has remained fairly steadfast in their support of the Palestinian cause. Unlike other Gulf monarchies Saudi Arabia proved their beliefs about the Israeli-Palestine wasn’t for sale. For that, and their ability to guard the holy cities of Mecca and Medina to ensure safe travel for Muslims making the Hajj, credit needs to be given where credit is due.
The present and future of the Saudi monarchy is a lightly guarded secret. MBS has also shown an affinity for modern weaponry.
Firstly, the Yemen civil war, currently the worst man-made humanitarian crisis on Earth, has seen Saudi Arabia unsuccessful in their attempts to rid the economically ravaged nation of the Iranian backed Houthis. Billions have been spent on this tragic war and very little has gone right during the Saudi kingdoms attempt at militarism.
That brings us to their extremely hostile rivalry with the Islamic Republic of Iran. The two most powerful middle east nations ( not counting Israel) have been at each others throats the past ten years. Back and forth incursions including the Iranian backed Houthis missile attack on the Saudi oil company Aramco late last year as well as the kingdoms indiscriminate bombings of Houthi positions in Yemen have shown that the traumatic war is still mercilessly continuing, despite hundreds of thousands of deaths, many being civilians (aljazeera.com).
I’ve always been a prominent believer in Arab and Muslim unity, regardless of geopolitical differences between the Sunni and Shia populations. I said earlier how I was relieved to see the Saudi Arabian leadership not selling out for Israeli open relations, unlike neighboring monarchies UAE and Bahrain.
In many ways I am hopeful Saudi Arabia will improve their human rights issues. Woman need much more freedom, to say the least. Also, certain other law practices I mentioned earlier need to be updated somewhere close to 21st century standards. The failures in Yemen hopefully will show MBS and his ministers that militaristic ambitions will not help their hopes of expanding their influence throughout the Middle East.
In this writers opinion, the fact they’ve successfully and respectfully overseen the beautiful Muslim holy city of Mecca, making it mostly safe for any, and all believers in Islam can’t be ignored. As I conclude my thoughts of one of the richest, most powerful, yet controversial countries in the world I’m actually split on a few issues. But I still can’t look the other way when I read about certain misdeeds the kingdom has been guilty of.
Human rights and their secretive in-house actions continue to be a frustrating and sometimes horrific issue. One can only hope the generally respectful opinion many Muslims have on the kingdom will allow them to continue their unwavering support of Palestine. Still, some of their ambitions of expansionism have already not worked well, especially in Yemen.
Only time will tell if Saudi Arabia will eventually use their massive amount of capital and resources for the greater good in the region.
I, for one, hope that won’t just be another pipe dream.
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