The Legacy Of King Abdullah

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 23 2015 @ 11:58am

Greenwald is disgusted by the tributes to the late Saudi king:

The effusive praise being heaped on the brutal Saudi despot by western media and political figures has been nothing short of nauseating; the UK Government, which arouses itself on a daily basis by issuing self-consciously eloquent lectures to the world about democracy, actually ordered flags flown all day at half-mast to honor this repulsive monarch.

Murtaza Hussain piles on:

It’s not often that the unelected leader of a country which publicly flogs dissidents and beheads people for sorcery wins such glowing praise from American officials. Even more perplexing, perhaps, have been the fawning obituaries in the mainstream press which have faithfully echoed this characterization of Abdullah as a benign and well-intentioned man of peace.

Andrew Brown likewise takes the Saudis to task:

Saudi’s influence on the outside world is almost wholly malign. The young men it sent to fight in Afghanistan turned into al-Qaida. The Sunni jihadis whom Saudis have funded in Iraq and Syria turned into Isis. It has spread a poisonous form ofIslam throughout Europe with its subsidies, and corrupted western politicians and businessmen with its culture of bribery. The Saudis have always appealed to the worst forms of western imperialism: their contempt for other Muslims is as great as any American nationalist’s.

Juan Cole remarked recently that “the very efforts of the Saudi regime to make the region safe for absolute monarchy and hard-line Wahhabi fundamentalism have boomeranged on the House of Saud”:

It probably is not the case that Riyadh ever directly supported Daesh, but it has supported rebels in Syria, and likely Iraq, that differ little from the latter in religious ideology. The Saudi princes are used to a domestic situation where ultraconservative religion is a pillar of support for the status quo and the monarchy. They seem not to realize that similar religious puritanism, when rebranded as “Salafism” in Sunni republics, has a tendency to turn radical and revolutionary, even to turn to terrorism. Martin Luther, after all, had not intended to provoke peasant revolts, and he ultimately denounced the Protestant revolutionaries.

Human Rights Watch finds Abdullah’s reforms wanting:

Over King Abdullah’s fourteen-and-a-half year reign, reform manifested itself chiefly in greater tolerance for a marginally expanded public role for women, but royal initiatives were largely symbolic and produced extremely modest concrete gains. The spread of internet and social media empowered Saudi citizens to speak openly about controversial social and political issues, creating a broader social awareness of Saudi Arabia’s human rights shortcomings, but after 2011, Saudi authorities sought to halt online criticism through intimidation, arrests, prosecutions, and lengthy prison sentences.

Despite all that, Paul R. Pillar argues that the “people of Saudi Arabia are probably better off for having had Abdullah as king than would have been their lot with most other rulers”:

He recognized the need for the country’s society to modernize and moved in that direction about as much as he could within the severe limits posed by tradition, the religious establishment, and the necessity for consensus. This was particularly true regarding the role of women, however painfully slow progress in this area has been by the standards of those of us in the West who do not have to deal with those same limits. Probably the clearest manifestations of Abdullah’s intentions in this regard are to be found at the mixed-gender university for science and technology that bears his name.

With regard to the US-Saudi relationship, Dickey doesn’t expect much to change:

But apart from the oil-defense nexus, there really is no tie that binds. Forget democracy. Forget human rights. Forget freedom of expression. Forget women’s rights. Those all are laudable objectives, but if, as the Saudi elite seems to believe, they can be used directly or indirectly to challenge the regime, then they are luxuries too costly even for the richest monarchs on earth.

Abdullah’s predecessor, King Fahd, once warned a protégé he was sending to work with the Americans, “We have no cultural connection with them … no ethnic connection to them … no religious connection … no language connection … no political connection.” And anyone arguing today that western-style freedoms will bring long-term stability and prosperity to the Arabian Peninsula will have to explain why the grim fate of those countries that experienced the “Arab Spring” wouldn’t befall the Saudis if they went in that direction.