Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

President Obama meeting with King Salman of Saudi Arabia at the White House on September 4, 2015. (Photo: Evan Vucci / AP )

Befriending the Saudis Highlights U.S. Hypocrisy on Human Rights

Sonali Kolhatkar

 by Truthdig

Since World War II, the United States has maintained a close friendship with one of the world’s worst human rights violators, Saudi Arabia. Given mounting evidence of the Saudi monarchy’s appalling behavior, that relationship must end in order to start reconciling U.S. actions with its stated support for human rights.

In a nutshell, the Persian Gulf kingdom combines the depravity and violence of the Taliban and Islamic State with the oppression, militarism and consumerism of the U.S. The country spreads its fundamentalist ideology through its immense wealth and Washington’s mighty political backing.

Hundreds of people recently were trampled to death in Mina, an area near Mecca, during the yearly pilgrimage to one of Islam’s holiest sites. While dozens of people remain missing, Saudi officials have insisted that the death toll is 769, not the approximately 1,100 estimated elsewhere. Troubled over their dead and missing citizens, foreign governments raised a ruckus at the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York this week. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blasted the Saudis for their “incompetence and mismanagement” of the hajj and even cut short his U.S. trip to return home.

Saudi Arabia has said it will conduct an internal investigation into the deadly incident. But rumors are swirling that the presence of a Saudi prince’s convoy caused the closure of nearly half the roads in the area, which forced crowds into fewer streets and led to a convergence that culminated in the stampede. Given the kingdom’s penchant for secrecy and abiding by its own legal standards of human rights, it is highly unlikely that authorities will hold anyone accountable for the Mina disaster.

Saudi Arabia has also been criticized globally this week for the imminent execution of a young dissident named Ali Mohammed al-Nimr. The 21-year-old was arrested by authorities at age 17 on a number of charges, including attending an anti-government rally. He faces death by beheading, followed by the public crucifixion of his body.

News of the young man’s gruesome impending fate comes at the same time Saudi Arabia has been chosen to head a prestigious 47-member United Nations panel on human rights. While the panel is hardly free of human rights violators (members include the U.S., Russia and China), the choice of Saudi Arabia is particularly egregious given the depravity of many government-sanctioned practices. And leaked diplomatic cables reveal that Saudi Arabia may have made a deal with the United Kingdom in order to get on the panel.

The United States has maintained a stunning silence on al-Nimr’s case. When questioned by the media, State Department spokesman Mark Toner sidestepped the issue, weakly adding, “we’ve talked about our concerns about some of the capital punishment cases in Saudi Arabia in our Human Rights Report, but I don’t have any more to add to it.” Saudi Arabia has executed about 110 people by beheading this year alone, twice as many as Islamic State has. In response to the controversy over the Saudi leadership of the human rights panel, Toner went as far as to say, “Frankly, it’s—we would welcome it. We’re close allies.”

It’s easy to hate on Saudi Arabia. The “hacktivist” group Anonymous has shut down numerous Saudi government websites over al-Nimr’s pending execution. Islamic feminist scholar Asra Nomani has called for a boycott against Saudi Arabia. Even noted Islamophobe Bill Maher addressed al-Nimr’s case on Twitter.

But remember, the U.S. also practices the death penalty and has executed 20 people this year alone. Georgia executed Kelly Gissendaner on Tuesday. Oklahoma was to kill Richard Glossip on Wednesday, but the governor issued a 37-day stay at the last minute. The fact that our executions are more controlled and less visible doesn’t make them less cruel or barbaric.

Saudi Arabia’s human rights problem is perhaps most dramatically symbolized by its government agency called Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. (The harsh dictates inside Saudi Arabia may not apply in the U.S. however, as a Saudi prince was accused last week by several women of sexually assaulting them in a luxury mansion’s compound near Beverly Hills, Calif.) If that sounds familiar, it is because that’s what the Taliban called its agency for enforcing draconian and often misogynistic policies in Afghanistan.

In addition to remaining silent on Saudi atrocities committed within the country, overt American military and political support has propped up external Saudi power in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is the United States’ single largest weapons buyer, spending $80 billion last year on hardware. It has deployed those weapons brutally in Yemen, the poorest nation in the Persian Gulf, in a war I recently wrote about. The U.S. is also providing logistical assistance and intelligence to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi bombers recently struck a wedding party in Yemen, killing more than 130 people—the deadliest airstrike since the war began in March. One Yemeni doctor contends that at least 80 of the dead were women. The airstrike was supposedly a mistake.

If wedding bombings also sound familiar, it is because the U.S. routinely carried out similar attacks in Afghanistan. In fact, eight times since 2001, the U.S. bombed wedding parties in that country. Weddings, among the most joyful of social occasions, were turned into the sites of carnage—we were literally killing happiness. It appears, at least on the surface, that in Yemen, Saudi Arabia emulated its benefactor and ally.

Saudi Arabia has helped quash Arab Spring revolts in countries like Bahrain, Egypt and Tunisia, fueling a Sunni-Shiite war under the guise of curbing Iranian influence. U.S. political support and silent condoning, coupled with its close military ties to Saudi Arabia, have helped destroy the democratic aspirations of many people in the Middle East.

If the Taliban is our enemy in Afghanistan, why is the Taliban-like government of Saudi Arabia our friend? If Islamic State—which has beheaded far fewer people than Saudi Arabia—is our enemy, then why is Saudi Arabia our ally? If we supposedly support the Arab Spring revolutions, why are we backing Saudi Arabia, the leader of the counterrevolutions?

Perhaps it is because the Saudi regime’s cruelty is consistent with the U.S.’ own hypocritical adherence to human rights on paper and rights violations in practice. It is past time that we abandoned both the Saudis’ and our own pretenses.


© 2020 TruthDig
Sonali Kolhatkar

Sonali Kolhatkar

Sonali Kolhatkar is currently the racial justice editor at YES! Media and a writing fellow with Independent Media Institute. She was previously a weekly columnist for Truthdig.com. She is also the host and creator of Rising Up with Sonali, a nationally syndicated television and radio program airing on Free Speech TV and dozens of independent and community radio stations. Sonali won First Place at the Los Angeles Press Club Annual Awards for Best Election Commentary in 2016. She also won numerous awards including Best TV Anchor from the LA Press Club and has also been nominated as Best Radio Anchor 4 years in a row. She is the author of Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence, and the co-Director of the non-profit group, Afghan Women’s Mission. She has a Master’s in Astronomy from the University of Hawaii, and two undergraduate degrees in Physics and Astronomy from The University of Texas at Austin. Watch her 2014 Tedx talk, My journey from astrophysicist to radio host. She can be reached at www.sonalikolhatkar.com

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Stop Line 5': Valve Turner Forces Shutdown of Enbridge Oil Pipeline in Michigan

"We are here to protect the water, land, and air that support all life, including our own. Line 5 poses an immediate threat to our lives and these actions are taken out of necessity and in self-defense."

Jessica Corbett ·


'Delay Is the New Denial': Study Confirms 99.9% of Scientists Agree on Climate

"It's pretty much case closed for any meaningful public conversation about the reality of human-caused climate change."

Brett Wilkins ·


Exposed: How Pfizer Exploits Secretive Vaccine Contracts to Strong-Arm Governments

"Pfizer has used its monopoly on a lifesaving vaccine to extract concessions from desperate governments," said the report's author, urging action from the Biden administration.

Jessica Corbett ·


'A Toxic Presence in the Party': Ocasio-Cortez Joins Calls for Jay Jacobs to Resign

"India Walton is the Democratic nominee for mayor of Buffalo. No amount of racist misogyny from the old boys' club is going to change that."

Brett Wilkins ·


New Multimedia Report Details Unprecedented 'Permian Climate Bomb' in Texas

"If the Biden Administration wants to be serious about its promise to demonstrate U.S. climate leadership, it must first clean up its own backyard."

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo