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Saudi Arabia’s Tyrant King Misremembered as Man of Peace

President Obama and Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, who died on Thursday, in this file photo. (Photo: AP/Gerald Herbert)

After nearly 20 years as de facto ruler of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah ibn-Abdulaziz al-Saud died last night at the age of 90. Abdullah, who took power after his predecessor King Fahd suffered a stroke in 1995, ruled as absolute monarch of a country which protected American interests but also sowed strife and extremism throughout the Middle East and the world.

In a statement last night Senator John McCain eulogized Abdullah as “a vocal advocate for peace, speaking out against violence in the Middle East”. John Kerry described the late monarch as “a brave partner in fighting violent extremism” and “a proponent of peace”. Not to be outdone, Vice President Joe Biden released a statement mourning Abdullah and announced that he would be personally leading a presidential delegation to offer condolences on his passing.

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.

Tiptoeing around his brutal dictatorship, The Washington Post characterized Abdullah as a “wily king” while The New York Times inexplicably referred to him as “a force of moderation”, while also suggesting that evidence of his moderation included having had: “hundreds of militants arrested and some beheaded” (emphasis added).

While granting that Abdullah might be considered a relative moderate within the brazenly anachronistic House of Saud, the fact remains that he presided for two decades over a regime which engaged in wanton human rights abuses, instrumentalized religious chauvinism, and played a hugely counterrevolutionary role in regional politics.

Above all, he was not a leader who shied away from both calling for and engineering more conflict in the Middle East.

Read the full article at The Intercept.

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Murtaza Hussain, The Intercept

Murtaza Hussain is a journalist and political commentator now working for First Look Media. His work focuses on human rights, foreign policy and cultural affairs. Murtaza’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Globe and Mail, Salon and elsewhere. Twitter at @mazmhussain.

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