Is international opinion on Saudi Arabia finally shifting? For years, one of the great embarrassments and contradictions of Western diplomacy has been the intimacy of the West's relationship with the House of Saud. Of course, both Britain and America have some responsibility for installing and then maintaining the Saudi royal family in their position. Were it not for this circumstance, in addition to the world's largest oil reserves, the people we now call the Saudi royal family would be neither richer nor any more famous than any other group of goat-herders in the region.
For decades now, the Saudi royal family has been a continuing embarrassment for the civilized world. Their brand of extreme Wahhabi Islam is not only -- against some very stiff competition -- one of the worst interpretations of the Islamic faith. It is the basis of a religious and judicial system that they have not been content to keep within their borders, but rather regard as such a success that they have sponsored it around the world, while promoting violence abroad to keep it from exploding at home.
From the mosques of North Africa to the schools of Europe, these abusive and retrograde Wahhabi teachings can be found everywhere. Ten years ago, the Saudi-sponsored King Fahad Academy in West London was found to be using Saudi Ministry of Education textbooks that, among much else, taught their young students that Christians and Jews are apes and monkeys. But even while such teachings have been pushed into our countries, they have been swallowed by Western leaders. The possibility that whatever regime follows the House of Saud in Arabia could be even worse could have been one reason for this, at least in recent years. Another reason, probably much more likely, was the simple desire for a slice of the desert kingdom's cash. So, even while Saudi Arabia practices and exports a brand of Islam essentially indistinguishable from that of ISIS, the alliance has gone on. Until now.
In March of this year, Sweden's Foreign Minister, Margot Wallstrom, spoke out against Saudi Arabia's brutalizing repression of 50% of its population: women. She also objected to the Saudi regime's sentencing of blogger Raif Badawi to a thousand lashes for the crime of writing a mild blog regarding the wish for a bit more speech. The sentence was, said Wallstrom, "medieval" and a "cruel attempt to silence modern forms of expression."
The Saudi propaganda regime promptly attacked the Swedish minister for "unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of Saudi Arabia." The Saudi propaganda machine has had to issue similar statements quite a lot as of late, most recently when worldwide attention finally focussed in the past few weeks on the case of Ali Mohammed Al-Nimr, arrested at the age of seventeen, who has been sentenced to beheading and crucifixion. The international uproar that this unspeakable sentence has finally triggered suggests that the House of Saud may -
- in the media Information Age -- not only have overstretched itself, but come to the end of a road.
This past week, another two Saudi human rights activists -- Abdelrahman Al-Hamid and Abdelaziz Al-Sinedi -- were sentenced to jail for, among other similar charges, illegally establishing a human rights organization, questioning the credibility and objectivity of the judiciary, interfering with the Saudi Human Rights Commission (one can imagine what that is like), and describing Saudi Arabia as a police state.
These cases are, finally, being noticed in a significant way, and being picked up in mainstream newspapers and media outlets. Now, there is a British case that has caught international attention. In recent days, Karl Andree, a 74-year-old grandfather and British citizen, who has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for the last year, is due to receive 350 lashes after being found guilty of the unpardonable crime of being caught with some homemade wine.
As his family back home in Britain have said in an appeal to Prime Minister David Cameron, it is likely that this sentence will kill Mr. Andree, who has already been weakened by cancer.
It is significant that cases such as this, of routine Saudi barbarism, are finally causing a reaction. The UK and Saudi Arabia had agreed on a contract worth £5.9 million (USD $9.1 million) for the UK to train Saudi prison guards, but in recent days the UK government withdrew from this contract. The cause was a cabinet discussion in which the new British Justice Minister, Michael Gove, reportedly insisted that the UK could not possibly have such an agreement with Saudi Arabia. The two specific cases he is said to have highlighted were the case of Mr Andree and the case of Ali Mohammed Al-Nimr.
The Foreign Secretary is alleged to have disagreed with Mr. Gove, describing his views as "naïve." But the Justice Minister, appropriately enough, prevailed. It is not Michael Gove, of course, who is naïve. The naïve Western leaders are those who expect our countries to carry on with "business as usual" with a regime that sentences our citizens -- or anyone -- to flogging, and that beheads and crucifies political dissidents.
The days of the secret awfulness of Saudi Arabia are long over. Now the routine abuses and atrocities of Saudi Arabia are rapidly moving from the blogosphere to the newspapers to the tables of cabinet with an unstoppable momentum. The naïve politicians are the ones who think the publics of the West do not know what a human rights sewer Saudi Arabia is, or think that, while knowing this, we in the West will all sit back and put up with it. If there were ever a time when this was the case, that time is over.