Editor’s Note: In a 53-45 bi-partisan vote, the Senate recently rejected Trump’s claim that an “emergency” situation exists in Saudi Arabia requiring the president to bypass the requirement for Congress to approve arms sales to the kingdom.
Last month President Donald Trump declared a national emergency to complete the sale of over $8 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia. Citing tensions with Iran, Trump bypassed the 1976 Arms Export Control Act, in which the State Department must notify Congress 30 days before concluding an arms sale.
In early March of this year, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry approved six secret authorizations by companies to sell nuclear power technology and assistance to Saudi Arabia. The apparent goal is to construct at least two nuclear power plants in the Kingdom.
Concern in both houses of Congress about sharing nuclear technology and knowledge with the Saudis arose after the American-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed and dismembered last October in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
After Saudi Arabia belatedly confessed to its role in the murder, it has insisted that the crown prince (and effective ruler), Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud (MBS) was oblivious to the plot carried out by a 15-man team, which included members of his security detail. Many American lawmakers object to this “unconditional” military support to Saudi Arabia citing humanitarian and other concerns. Last August, a Saudi-led coalition warplane bombed a school bus in northern Yemen, killing 51 people, 40 of them children. The four-year-campaign has killed an estimated 50,000 civilians; in addition, nearly 12 million are reported to be on the verge of starvation.
This conflict has its roots in the failure of a political transition intended to provide stability to Yemen following an Arab Spring uprising in 2011 that forced the Saudi-backed authoritarian President Ali Abdullah Saleh (a Shiite) to hand over power to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi (a Sunni).
After Hadi proved to be ineffective in tackling a variety of problems — including attacks by jihadists, the separatist movement in the south, corruption and food shortage — the Houthis, backed by Iran and the Hezbollah Party in Lebanon, formed ties with Saleh to overthrow Hadi.
Far be it to provide a solution in that hornet’s nest, especially with the escalated tension with Iran. Yet the largely unquestioning support of Western governments, the U.S. in particular, for Saudi Arabia tends to ignore its suppression of religious freedom, as well as that of speech and peaceful assembly.
According to Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Arab human rights organizations, the Saudi regime has jailed hundreds — if not thousands — of peaceful activists, bloggers, lawyers, judges, journalists, and religious scholars since the Arab Spring of 2011. If someone criticizes the royal family or any of its policies in the press or on Twitter, for example, it is considered a criminal act and can land that person in jail.
Establishing a political party, signing a petition calling for political reform, writing or even reading something deemed subversive — all are criminal acts.
Saudi oppression is mirrored in its Wahhabi version of Islam, which essentially provides the theological groundwork for almost every violent jihadist group. Its goal is to replace our democratic institutions with fundamental Islamist ones, in addition to being the main driving force behind the radicalization of young Muslims in the world today.
The U.S.-led Western coalition has justified its present position (that of overlooking human right violations), maintaining that the crown prince is modernizing his country. They base this on the prince’s Vision 2030, an project to harness natural resources and economic development in the kingdom outside of oil.
Yet Mohammed bin Salman has yet to have provided a transparent outline to achieve this. According to skeptics, Vision 2030 seems to be an austerity project that will continue the same pacts made by the royal family with the same constituencies (the rest of the royal family, religious clerics, business elites, tribal leaders and different social groups) instead of one-on-one deals with its citizens.
Vision 2030, also, does not mention human rights, nor does it outline any kind of meaningful political reform. While the government has recently introduced limited changes — including lifting the driving ban for women — the main impediment to the realization of women’s rights, the guardianship laws, remains intact. This is not to mention the fact that the prince has arrested the very women rights activists who campaigned for the right to drive in the first place.
Should we continue to support Saudi Arabia with sensitive military information? Are they reliable? Their history of human rights violations puts a serious doubt on that.