Monday, 19 August, 2019, 6:21 PM
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Moral dilemma of West-Saudi special relationship

Published : Friday, 16 August, 2019 at 12:00 AM  Count : 109
Ismail Ali

Ismail Ali

Ismail Ali

From a high moral ground the great Scottish philosopher Adam Smith famously said, "All the members of human society stood in need of each other's assistance, and are likewise exposed to mutual injuries, should circumstances so demand." In another tone, Anita Roddick, one of the most respected British entrepreneurs, argued, "The business of business should not just be about money, it should be about responsibility. It should be about public good, not private greed."

However, in the real world of political-business such noble words apparently have little impact. Seduced by its vast oil wealth and the containing of Iran's influence in the Middle East, Western powers have been enjoying a longstanding strategic relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. By supporting a medieval autocracy, politicians and corporate executives, from both sides of the Atlantic, ignore human rights issues and show little concern about the Saudi-led brutal war in Yemen, arguably the Saudi Arabia's Vietnam, where famine is looming, according to the United Nations.

Despite this, countries including the US, UK and France continue to make lucrative arms deals with Saudi Arabia. Therefore, many accuse them of being part of the problem in the region, including the humanitarian disaster in Yemen. Safeguarding the private interests of Big Business, time and again, the West shows profits come first over principles.

By making his first overseas visit, as a US president, to Saudi Arabia, Donald Trump has signed $120bn arms contracts with the Kingdom in which he also has personal business connections. As former Prime Minister of the UK, Tony Blair enriched corporate shareholders, such as BP and Shell (two British petroleum giants), over ethics. Utilizing Seif al-Islam (only surviving son of former Libya's leader Muammer Gaddafi, then a PhD student at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), Mr Blair negotiated multi-billion dollar oil contracts with his father.

Yet the West's silence on the silencing of Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist, regime critic and Washington Post columnist, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2ndOctober 2018,perhaps widely exposes their deep moral impasse. Although the US secret service, the CIA, concluded that the crown prince and de facto ruler Muhammad bin Salman (widely known as MBS), must have ordered the murder, Donald Trump has expressed openly that business with oil rich Saudi Arabia is worth more than Khashoggi's life.
This conclusion may have hurt Khashoggi's fiancé Hatice Cengiz who was eagerly waiting outside the Embassy when Saudi special agents were reportedly chopping him inside. Having lunch with Financial Times'' (FT) Roula Khalaf, in London last week, she questions "If there is no punishment for this ugly crime, is anyone safe?"

Terming Saudi Arabia as Kingdom of cruelty, Amnesty International highlighted one particular unfair trial in which an accused was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison simply for writing a blog. Among the long lists of brutality, the report includes the gruesome public beheadings, routine torture in custody, and systematic discriminations against women.

It would be an injustice to the 311 female migrants whose bodies flown back home from Middle Eastern countries, mostly from Saudi Arabia, between 2016 and June this year, if the Bangladesh government does not investigate their mysterious deaths.The authorities claimed that of these young women, 53 died by suicide, 120 due to stroke and 56 in accidents. However, talking with a media some relatives of the victims revealed the shocking horror that their loved oneswere being enslaved and were suffering various forms of abuses in the Kingdom. Some were physically and sexually abused, others became pregnant and mentally imbalanced. 

After Khashoggi killing, Richard Hass (president of the Council on Foreign Relations), writing exclusively in the FT urges Western governments and business leaders to reconsider partnering with the government in Riyadh as long as MBS remains in charge. Likewise, Ryan Costello and Sina Toossi, in their Foreign Policy column, warns Washington not to repeat the same mistake of the 1980s in creating the next Saddam Hussein in the Middle East simply because he opposes Iran.

Nonetheless, the West-Saudi staunchest strategic-business relationships will remain strong, at least in current geo-political-economic perspectives. This is what is suggested by a seminal book - The New Middle East -edited by Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East expert and LSE professor. Both the West and the Saudis need each other for the stability of a boiling Middle East and for the wider world.

The Kingdom needs western cooperation in security, technological know-how, and investment, to tackle lacklustre economic growth and rising unemployment. With two thirds of the population aged under 29, youth joblessness is more than 25 per cent, a figure that doubles for young women.

Similarly, to contain their common enemy Iran, King Salman has agreed to host American troops in Saudi Arabia as tensions soar between Iran and the west following a series of recent incidents in the Gulf. Supporting this initiative, Jameel al-Theyabi, editor-in-chief of the Saudi Daily newspaper Okaj, writes: Iran only understands the language of force.

Some argue, whoever was involved in the gruesome Killing of Khashoggi must not go unpunished, but on the other hand one tragic event should perhaps not ruin the relationships. "In the case of MBS, who enjoys broad popularity at home, it could prove counter-productive and risky to call for his departure. There could be infighting within the Saudi Royal family leading to broader instability that serves no one's interest," Hass concluded.

From reading the above, one may argue this is Western hypocrisy.But my friends in the West sometimesmay hold a different view, as one explained the other day.

"We have tried to find solutions from within by promoting young reformers in the region over the past decade.These include Syria's Bashar al-Assad (son of long time ruler Hafez), Libya's Seif al-Islam, Egypt's Gamal Mubarak (son of Hosni, the former president), and most recently, Saudi Arabia's Mohammed bin Salman (son of King Salman)."Sadly, they all broke their promise; instead of developing participatory political systems, they have proved as repressive as their fathers, and sometimes more brutal.

The writer is a columnist on current affairs and development issues based in London

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