IN the days of innocence, the preachment was ‘Blessed are the peace makers’. In these days of globalisation, rather than make peace, nations tend to stoke the fires of conflict.
So is it with the Saudi Arabia-Iran spat which began with the January 2, 2016 mass execution of forty seven persons after trials which even the usually complacent United Nations described as raising “serious concerns over the nature of the charges and the fairness of the process”
At least four of the victims are Shiite. These included Sheik Nimr al-Nimr who had been identified with peaceful protests. Nimr, a known anti- gun cleric was shot before being arrested, held for eight months and then charged with nebulous crimes like “breaking allegiance with the ruler”. Forty three of the men were beheaded while three faced the firing squad.
The execution of Nimr was a clear message to the Shiite minority – which constitute fifteen percent of the Saudi population – that the authorities will not tolerate any dissent.
Not unexpectedly, there were negative reactions . In Iran, protesters attacked Saudi diplomatic buildings. On Sunday, Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic relations with Iran, and interestingly, rather than seek to deescalate the rising tension, a number of countries are stoking the fires. Taking the lead is Bahrain which broke diplomatic relations with Iran on Monday. This is understandable as that country has been ruled since 1783 by a Sunni minority. When, following the Arab Spring, the populace, which is seventy percent Shia, took to the streets demanding political reforms, Saudi Arabia on March 14, 2011, sent one thousand troops supported by five hundred Emirati soldiers into Bahrain to crush the protests. So for the monarchy in Bahrain, this is the time to show solidarity with its benefactor.
The reason Sudan decided to join the fray by severing diplomatic links with Iran is unclear. But Sudan realises that Saudi Arabia is one of the favourite sons of the master in Washington; so what better time to show loyalty to the big boss than now? That may mitigate the unfair and thuggish attempts by America and its allies to hurl President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir before the international Criminal Court.
Saudi Arabia with its interventions in Bahrain and Syria, and bombings in Yemen, has become the new policeman of the Middle East, a role Israel had played over the years. Indeed, one of the major beneficiaries of the crises and wars in the Middle East, is Israel, which will have more time to concentrate on the theft of Palestinian lands and denying them an independent homeland while simultaneously, occupying Syrian lands like the Golan Heights.
However, it will be a mistake to assume that the Saudi monarchy offensive is a defence of faith. In truth, it is a sustained attack on all Saudi citizens, denying them basic rights, masking economic incompetence while maintaining its infamous profligacy. Most of the victims of political crackdown in the kingdom are the majority Sunnis. Saudis are jailed for making critical analysis, and, are candidates for beheading if they demand freedom.
A major crime is for a Saudi to be accused of “breaking allegiance with the ruler”. For this, a number of human rights activists are either in jail or on trial. For instance, activists like Mohammed al- Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamid, are serving ten and eleven years respectively for such nebulous charges.
Now, the monarchy has manufactured a number of “anti-terrorism” laws which is being used to terrorise Saudis into complete submission. Summarised in eleven paragraphs by the Interior Ministry, a terrorist and treasonable felon is any Saudi who engages in the “Abuse of other states and their leaders”. In other words, a Saudi cannot insult America or Barack Obama, Russia or Vladimir Putin, Pakistan or Nawal Sharrif, South Africa or Jacob Zuma. But I wonder if this also applies to Syria or Basir al-Assad. Also classified a terrorist, is an atheist or anybody who says anything that can cast doubt on Islam. Any Saudi who participates in, calls for or incites combat anywhere in the world, is classified a terrorist. Any Saudi who in the social media or through any means, supports, affiliates or expresses sympathy with any group in the world considered a terrorist organisation, is guilty of terrorism.
Also declared a terrorist is any Saudi who communicates with any group or individual considered to be terrorist. By Saudi definition, a Saudi is guilty of terrorism and therefore, treasonable felony if he is found “Inciting other states or associations or international organisations against the Kingdom”. So a Saudi who petitions the United Nations or Amnesty International over human rights abuses, or complains to the International labour Organisation over labour practices, is guilty of terrorism!
With such sweeping laws, Saudis will not be able to question the mismanagement of their country’s enormous oil resources and huge income from pilgrimage. Nor can they protest the imposition of austerity measures which have seen a freeze on appointments, promotions and new projects. They cannot question the infamous profligacy of the monarchy nor the huge resources frittered away shoring up the wars in Yemen and Syria.
The monarchy does not also think highly of pilgrims and their safety. Known for its incapability to efficiently organise pilgrimages which has resulted in horrendous loss of lives like the 1990 loss of 1,426 people, it is quick to blame the victims. For instance in the last pilgrimage, first a construction crane collapsed at the Grand Mosque killing 109 persons. Thirteen days later, on September 24, over one thousand pilgrims were killed in Mina City with a number yet to be accounted for. The immediate reaction of the Saudi authorities was to blame the dead and injured for allegedly “not following established guidelines”. Following criticism especially from the Iranians, it agreed to investigate the incident including the police closure of some roads in the area immediately leading to the tragedy.
Ironically, the democratic West and America are comfortable having as a major ally, a country which employs terrorism as state policy and is allergic to fundamental human and democratic rights.