Saudi Arabia: US’ Strategic Partner No Matter What
Muhammed Bin Salman started to open up Saudi Arabia implementing new policies that guarantee gender equality and a freer society.
Muhammed Bin Salman (known as MBS) started to open up Saudi Arabia implementing new policies that guarantee gender equality and a freer society. It started with allowing women to obtain driving licenses in September 2017, a law that was implemented in June 2018; the possibility of women to travel without their guardian’s permission and involvement in the entertainment sector including concerts, open-air cinemas, and theatres where men and women mingle with no restrictions.
Despite some reformation, Saudi Arabia still violates human rights against Saudi citizens and civilians. There are prominent cases that stigmatize Saudi Arabia’s image. In 2018, Saudi Arabia arrested and detained Saudi female activist Loujain al-Hathloul who was calling for the destruction of Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship and lifting the driving ban on Saudi women. Loujain’s family reported that she was beaten, electrically shocked, threatened to be raped. Although Lougain was released from jail February 2021, she is still under probation and is not allowed to leave the country. Lougain is not the only female activist to be detained and tortured by the Saudi government; other female activists were persecuted as well for advocating for the same women’s rights.
That same year witnessed the murder the of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington post columnist and a critic of the Saudi government. Khashoggi was murdered in the Kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey by a number of Saudi agents. Later, it was reported that Saudi Arabia held 11 of these agents on trial.
Additionally, Saudi Arabia plays a crucial role in the war in Yemen. The Yemeni war started in 2011 after the Arab Uprising where the Houthis, a Shi’it armed political movement took control of the Capital Sanaa in 2014. Saudi Arabia explains that its involvement in the war is to protect its borders, territorial integrity, and national security against the Houthis. However, Saudi Arabia’s air-strikes target civilians, markets, and farms, making the situation in Yemen one of the most devastating humanitarian crisis, violating international law and human rights.
Moreover, the growth use of the internet in Saudi Arabia has been very controversial for the government. The Saudi government takes security measures on the use of the internet, banning posts or blogs that might be construed as criticizing the government or challenging the state’s national security or its culture and values. However, human rights groups and activists regard these measures as against the freedom of expression under the international covenant on civil and political rights.
Both sides, the Saudi government and the human right activists, have their valid arguments. However, it is questionable why the United States is supporting Saudi Arabia despite these violations, especially since the US calls itself the advocator of freedom, liberal values, human rights. The 75-year strategic alliance marks profound mutual interests and it has never been so strong as during Trump’s administration. Trump paid no attention to Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses. He vetoed three resolutions against Saudi Arabia condemning its human rights abuses and its war crimes in Yemen. The three resolutions along with another 18 require stopping arms sales and imposing sanctions on Saudi Arabia. Trump also objected to punitive measures against Saudi Arabia after the murder of Khashoggi. He stated that “The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel, and all other parts in the region.”
Trump only considered the strategic importance of Saudi Arabia to the US. It is a hub for oil and a strategic counterweight to Iran in the region. At the same time, Saudi Arabia is highly dependent on the US for security through US troops located in the region and US military aid. Trump said, mocking Salman “King, we are protecting you. You might not be there for two weeks without us.”. Trump also stated “It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world.” Late 2020, Trump conducted a deal with Salman of $500 million weapons sales, in addition to the access of precision munitions to Saudi Arabia that were used in the war in Yemen.
Biden stood against Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses and its involvement in the war in Yemen, regarding Saudi Arabia a pariah state. However, the US fears Saudi Arabia might get closer relations with China and Russia allowing it to have its own nuclear programs or cut oil supply to the US, especially since China and Russia do not question any human rights violations. Although Biden pledged to end the war in Yemen and stop arms sales, he said that the US would still support Saudi Arabia’s right to defend its territory and sovereignty. This absurdity is so that the US would not lose a partner and an ally as Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is a regional power in the Middle East and an important player in the world. On one hand, Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest exporter of oil and has the world’s largest oil reserves, making it a key player in world politics and a member of various international forums and organizations such as OPEC and G20. On the other hand, it plays a crucial role in Middle East politics where it competes with Iran on regional power, and is a player in some regional conflicts such as the wars in Yemen, Syria, and the Arab-Israeli Conflict. In addition, it represents a huge importance to all Muslims, not only in the Middle East, but the whole world as it is the custodian of the two holy mosques.
To conclude, despite Saudi Arabia’s continued criminal actions in Yemen, Syria, and against its own people, Saudi Arabia will continue to enjoy the full support of the United States. That country is willing to violate human rights and international law whenever doing so suits its geopolitical interests, and Saudi Arabia can, therefore, rely on continued US support.