Perhaps It Is Time to Get Out of the ‘Saudi Arabia Is Our Friend’ Business?

  • On Saturday Saudi Arabia executed 47 people, in 2015 they executed 158 – 90% more than in 2014
  • Capital crimes in the kingdom include apostasy and witchcraft
  • They are a long-time U.S. ally and are a member of the United Nations’ council on human rights (although not the only eyebrow-raising one)
  • This meme has been circulating:ISIS VS Saudi Arabia
  • These tweets address this issue as well:

Islam reformer Maajid Nawaz raised the question about Saudi Arabia’s ISIS-like justice in a recent Daily Beast article. Here’s the money-shot from it:

That one of our closest allies could maintain such an appalling human rights record should be a matter of deep shame to America and Great Britain. In today’s Information Age this barbaric track record can no longer be hidden from view. Under increasing pressure, the UK Ministry of Justice dropped a large contract to train Saudi prison staff. This decision was initially opposed by Prime Minister David Cameron, who only reversed track after facing a sustained human rights campaign. To his credit, Justice Secretary Michael Gove backed the move.

And here’s the rub. While Iran is no better, through Saudi Arabia the absurdity of our global alliances are laid bare. This medieval throwback of a regime—our ally—believes in and enforces many of the same punishments as those they are helping us to fight: ISIS. As this graphic shows punishments for apostasy, blasphemy, homosexual acts, treason—which could mean anything from organizing political opposition to acts of militancy, adultery, fornication, highway robbery and banditry are identical under Saudi law as well as under ISIS rule. In both cases, these punishments are justified by a medieval take on Islamic scripture.

My suspicion is that our country’s relationship with Saudi Arabia requires more nuance than “bomb them too” or “disengage completely.” We need oil (thanks, anti-frackers and anti-drillers) and other than Israel, they’re the only ones who are friendly to us in the crazy Middle East. On the other hand, all of these points made – both in the memes and by Nawaz, are extremely well made and impossible to ignore.

It’s an awful country, living by many of the same exact rules as the Islamic State. They are clearly adamantly opposed to everything that represents America. But, just as we’ve now learned in Syria, Egypt, and elsewhere, things can always get worse.


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