I had the very unpleasant experience of spending a little less than 48 hours at the airport in Riyadh. By far, it is the worst experience I’ve experienced in any country that I have visited. As such it has surprised me over the years how Americans generally see Saudi Arabia in a different light from other Muslim countries, like Afghanistan, for example. The American government seems to accept Saudi Arabia as a friend, instead of the enemy.
This is not about Donald Trump, as the “friendship” between Saudi Arabia and the United States existed under both George H. Bush and W. Bush. But no matter how outrageous Saudi Arabia is, the United States government just issues timid warnings of repercussions.
Saudi Arabia is a country where a thief can be sentenced to having their hand chopped off by the Saudi government. Legal dismemberment. Although not as prevalent today, chopping off a hand as punishment is still legally recognized in the country. News media reports shows that a hand was chopped off in 2014. The individual that lost his hand was Yemeni man. Saudi Arabia also has one of the highest execution rates in the world.
Although women in Saudi Arabia were finally granted the right to drive just a few months ago, women are very much treated as second-class citizens in Saudi Arabia today. Women cannot travel, get married or do any other major life activity without the permission of their “wali,” or guardian, always a male who has authority over them.
The dress code for women in Saudi Arabia is very strict, limiting what women wear in public and how much makeup they put on. Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to swim in public. Public services such as banking, transportation or government services are segregated. Women can be punished for spending too much time with a man who is not related to her.
It is all governed by Sharia law. But like everything else, it is the poor who are held to a higher standard than the rich. The poor, the foreigner and women are more likely to be prosecuted for violations of Sharia law then the well-to-do men running the country.
Some may be tempted to argue that Saudi Arabia can deal with its criminals as its sees fit. It may be a valid argument if the United States preached the same rhetoric to other countries in human rights abuses and the treatment of journalists.
Of the 19 al-Qaeda affiliated hijackers that attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, 15 were citizens of Saudi Arabia.
By any measure of the definition of state-sponsored terrorism and state-sanctioned attack on another country, Saudi Arabia should have been deemed a terrorist nation and the source of the worst attack on American soil.
But it wasn’t, and it isn’t treated as such by the American government.
America has selective amnesia when it comes to Saudi Arabia.
Money and oil.
Donald Trump clearly expressed this inconvenient fact this weekend.
Saudi Arabia recently signed an agreement with Trump to purchase $110 billion in weapons over ten years. Trump has cited the agreement as the “biggest” and argues it will “create jobs”. As of this week, Saudi Arabia has only committed to purchasing $14.5 billion.
Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist disappeared on October 2. He remains missing but is presumed dead. According to Turkish government officials, Khashoggi entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul and was interrogated, tortured and killed in the consulate. According to Turkish officials, they have recordings of his death.
The evidence so far supports the contention that Khashoggi was murdered at the Saudi consulate. The Saudi government has yet to provide evidence to dispute what the Turkish government has alleged.
Donald Trump, for his part, argues that if it is proven that Saudi Arabia had a part in the murder that there would be repercussions. However, Trump has all but ruled out that cancelling the arms deal would be one of the repercussions for murdering a U.S. legal resident.
In other words, it’s the money America cares about even at the expense of doing business with an enemy country and a country that ignores the fundamental rights of humans, especially women.