Saudi Arabia! Now that’s a country worth a blog post on don’t you think?
Although probably not for the reasons you might expect. Especially since a lot of things you read or hear about Saudi Arabia in Britain, are negative… So, I’m going to break with the ranks again here, and go rogue.
And the first thing I’m going to write isn’t really new. Not really. Many people think of it, some people talk about it openly, even a few newspapers are open about it these days. Which is that there are two main reasons most western countries are friends with Saudi Arabia:
Reason number 1: Saudi Arabia is a source of cheap (or relatively cheap) oil
Reason number 2: They have been persuaded (unlike Iran and Syria) to take a Pro-West / favourable position towards Israel. A buffer that helps maintain the balance of power in the region we are told (and which would be destabilised should Iran acquire a nuclear weapon).
Those are the only two real reasons why they are our friends.
But let me qualify it. I know that there are hundreds of millions of dollars that flow from Riyadh to our financial capitals of London, New York, Paris, Frankfurt, and Zürich every year, but that’s not really the reason we like the Saudi’s because even our enemies send their money here. Also, I know they purchase our military equipment to the billions of dollars, but even then that’s not a good enough reason for friendship. If in any doubt, look at Putin, who buys tons of our military equipment to the billion, but is not really our friend. So, remove those two reasons and you’ll see how quickly Saudi Arabia will transform into Iran, or into Gaddafi’s Libya.
Despite Saudi Arabia’s vast wealth, most westerners I know hate the Saudi’s way of life. How they treat their women. We don’t like the way they deal with matters of girls education and welfare. We think it is backward, archaic and inhumane. We hate the way they treat people who are different from them (from gay people / bisexual to foreigners); It’s deeply upsetting that there are reports (see another here) even in this day and age of slave labour in Saudi Arabia. We hate that Saudi’s have a death sentence for almost everything and worry that sometimes they ran what are by most appearances kangaroo courts; Saudi Arabia is responsible for some of the worst Human rights abuses on the planet….we hate the 1000 lashes punishments and suchlike, its all disgustingly cruel and backward, it borders on the farce. Political dissent of any sort is not tolerated. Oh, one other troubling issue, most of us in the west don’t fully understand or outright despise their religion.
We hate that organisations within Saudi Arabia finance militant terror groups like Al Qaeda, ISIS and Hezbollah and that the Saudi authorities don’t seem to do anything about it.
We even hate that they paid our former prime minister loads of bucks for private consultancy work?!? Thats how much we dislike them ( or him).
Yet we need Saudi Arabia as an ally..?!? Yes, our leaders have to like them.
Charles Dudley Warner was right: Politics makes strange bedfellows. In the end, it’s all down to special interests and that invariably involves turning a blind eye to certain things. There is probably no other country in the world which we are forced to like, but which we hate as much as we do Saudi Arabia.
Except why is it the case that while we will never approve of the bad stuff, we rarely hear about anything else? I mean when did Time Magazine last feature a front page story on something good that happened in the Kingdom of Saudi? We don’t hear or read of things like what the teenage pregnancy rates in Saudi Arabia are (which you’d think are not as high as in the UK or America)? Or what the GCSE (or equivalent) pass rates are ? I agree that these are not pressing issues as say trying to save a woman caught in the act from being beheaded, but don’t they help to put things into perspective?
How good is the health service in Saudi Arabia? Do they have a national health service? What are their hospitals like? Do they have long waiting lists for patients waiting to receive treatment? What’s their property market like? Do their citizens struggle with high mortgages and an expensive property market that’s in a bubble? What is their job market like? What are their schools like? Can students get jobs after University? What’s the average pay for a graduate? What’s the unemployment rate? What is the crime rate? Are their police officers often embroiled in scandals of impropriety like is the case in the UK/ US? Never mind press freedoms (which we can guess they do not really enjoy) but is their press bigoted? How many people do they have in prison… is it that such data is unavailable, or are these questions not important enough?
I think asking such questions is likely to provide a better picture as to how our societies in western countries fare against or differ from the likes of Saudi Arabia, and may even cause us to like them more 🙂 if not soften Saudi’s stance on certain other issues. It’s certainly better in my view to see the good in others (even those we don’t necessarily like) than always focussing on the negatives, although that doesn’t mean we condone their behaviour.
Maybe if more of us take such an approach it will be easier to wean ourselves from this unhealthy and all too common obsession of wanting other countries to live a life (or follow only the kind of values) that we agree with.