Foreign Affairs

Saudi Petrodollars at Work

One year ago, a 19 year old Saudi girl met with her former boyfriend in a car in the town of Al-Qatif. Previously, she had given him a photo of herself, but requested its return because she was planning to get married. Two young men came to their car and started banging on the windows. One of them had a knife. Despite the girl’s protests, her friend opened the door. As a result, they were kidnapped and driven to a secluded area, where four more armed men awaited. They restrained her in iron chains and took turns raping her. The attackers laughed at her and seemed to think the whole thing was no big deal. They filmed their own crime and threatened to kill the victim if she told anyone.

After a non-jury trial, the attackers, all Sunni Muslims, were sentenced to 1 to 5 years in jail. The girl, a Shiite Muslim, was sentenced to 90 lashes for being in the car with a male who was not a relative — a crime in Saudi Arabia.

The “Al-Qatif girl”, as she was known, appealed the verdict. Her attorney pointed out that the defendants’ punishment was very lenient, especially in a country where their crime was eligible for capital punishment. The court toughened the defendants’ sentences to 2 to 9 years. But they also more than doubled the girl’s sentence to 200 lashes and 6 months in jail for attempting to “influence the judiciary” by telling her story to the media.

Such “justice” in Saudi Arabia is administered by religious courts. The judges are appointed by the king with the recommendation of the Saudi Judicial Council. Judges have complete and arbitrary discretion over sentencing. In this case, the Justice Ministry insisted that the punishment for the Al-Qatif girl was legal, and “followed the book of Allah and the teachings of Mohammad…”

Subsequent to the ruling, Abdul Rahman al-Lahem, the girl’s attorney, who doubled as a human rights activist, had his law license confiscated for challenging the verdict. He was disbarred from practicing law in Saudi Arabia and prohibited from further representing the Al-Qatif girl if there are additional appeals. The Justice Ministry also summoned al-Lahem to appear before the disciplinary committee on December 5th. He suspects that he drew the court’s ire by criticizing some of the judicial institutions in Saudi Arabia.

Despite the fact that Saudi Arabia is a signatory of the UN’s Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, it is a harsh and consistent abuser of human rights. According to Amnesty International, torture practice in Saudi Arabia includes: electric shocks, cigarette burns, nail pulling, beating, amputation of limbs, beheading, threats of sexual assault, and flogging with wooden rods or metal cables which cause extraordinary suffering. Flogging in Saudi Arabia is carried out for crimes including homosexuality, drinking alcohol, theft, spreading Christianity, and graffiti.

This week in Annapolis, Maryland, the U.S. government hosted a Middle East conference. The goal was to reinstate Israeli-Palestinian “peace process”. Saudi Arabia was reluctant to attend.

Saudi Arabia sought assurances in advance of the conference that Israel would negotiate on the toughest issues: borders for a Palestinian State, the fate of East Jerusalem, and the right of return for so-called “Palestinian refugees”. These demands were made despite the fact that Saudi Arabia has no diplomatic relationship with Israel.

In exchange for Saudi Arabia’s appearance at the conference, Israel agreed to recognize the importance of the “Arab Peace Initiative” sponsored by Saudi Arabia. The initiative requests the Jewish State to evacuate the West Bank, Eastern Jerusalem including the Temple Mount, and the Golan Heights. The Golan Heights is especially important strategically, as it is mountainous area from whence Syria has twice launched ground invasions into Israel.

So, what did Israel get in return for these demonstrations of good faith? Just days prior to the conference, Foreign Minister al-Faisal threatened that the Israelis will have no peace unless they withdraw from all territories back to the pre-1967 boundaries. He refused to make a symbolic visit to Jerusalem before striking a peace deal. And, he spurned the idea of even shaking hands with Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, announcing prior to the meeting that he won’t allow such “theatrics.” Al-Faisal argued that “[T]he hand that has been extended [by the Israelis] so far is a fist.” Indicating that no Arab concessions will be made, he added, “[W]e don’t need a Versailles for the Arab world, a peace that will only be an instigator of future wars.”

Saudi Arabia is ruled by strict Sharia (Koranic) law. Under this system, men and women are forbidden to associate unless they are relatives, women are banned from driving, and females must be covered from head to toe. There is no freedom of religion, no freedom of the press, and Jews and Christians are viewed as Kuffar (a derogatory term for those who are unbelievers of Islam). Saudi rigidity — required by Wahabbi Islamist ideology – – is keeping their wealthy country in the 19th century. They are using western petrodollars to export their extremist ideology to mosques and madrassas around the globe.

The Saudis’ influence over us is proportional to our dependence on their oil. The more dependent we are, the more tolerant our government seems to be of their support for terrorism, their obstructionism toward Middle East peace, and their efforts to spread their ideology here. But the Saudis have one great vulnerability: their fear of Iran.

It is in our interests to protect the Saudis from Iran, simply to keep their oil flowing. But what price can we extract for that protection? For decades, the US has given but not received. The next president can turn that around. And must.


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