Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah died at age 90 on Friday, which means it will be up to his successor -- 79 year-old Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud -- to steer the kingdom into the 11th century. Despite being one of the most oppressive countries in the world, Saudi Arabia has been staunch allies of the United States going back to the time of Franklin Roosevelt. Were it not for the vast pools of oil that Saudi Arabia's despots have sat atop all these years, the country's status in international affairs would possess all the importance a human rights NGO.
Speaking of human rights, the U.S. Department of State's most recently published report for Saudi Arabia notes a myriad of human rights abuses. These "included citizens’ lack of the right and legal means to change their government; pervasive restrictions on universal rights such as freedom of expression, including on the internet, and freedom of assembly, association, movement, and religion; and a lack of equal rights for women, children, and noncitizen workers."
The report goes on:
"Other human rights problems reported included torture and other abuses; overcrowding in prisons and detention centers; holding political prisoners and detainees; denial of due process; arbitrary arrest and detention; and arbitrary interference with privacy, home, and correspondence. Violence against women, trafficking in persons, and discrimination based on gender, religion, sect, race, and ethnicity were common, although the government made efforts to counter discrimination in some areas and increasingly prosecuted individuals for trafficking and domestic violence. Lack of governmental transparency and access made it difficult to assess the magnitude of many reported human rights problems."
Abdullah managed to avoid becoming another toppled ruler in the Arab Spring. In fact, the kingdom was never even remotely threatened by it. This cannot be said for the tiny nearby kingdom of Bahrain, which in 2011 was the site of massive protests against the monarchy. With Bahrain's security forces unable to put down the rebellion, Abdullah sent Saudi troops in to smash them. Those troops succeeded.
John Kerry's own State Department thinks Abdullah was a monster
None of this is surprising when you consider how Abdullah treated four of his daughters, whom he locked up in his $740 million compound for the crime of advocating women's rights. The women have been confined to "dark" and "suffocating" rooms since 2002. Their mother, who has fled for London, wed Abdullah as part of an arranged marriage when she was 15 and he was 48.
Based on the reaction of prominent U.S. politicians both present and past, one would have no earthly idea about the nature of Abdullah's rule, which included the imprisonment and flogging of a blogger, and beheadings of citizens for crimes like apostasy and adultery. President Obama issued a glowing statement expressing his personal condolences to the "people of Saudi Arabia" over the king's death, when in reality he should've expressed his condolences that the U.S. will continue to be complicit in their oppression by supporting the next Wahhabist autocrat. For its part, the U.K. government requested that all flags be flown at half mast out of respect.
Obama might be forgiven for giving the standard boilerplate condolences over a dead world leader, but it's a stark contrast between this and how he handled the death of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who was actually elected, unlike Abdullah.
It could be argued that Obama is simply going through the motions by offering seemingly heartfelt words to a prominent U.S. ally, though Abdullah's death and the reaction following should give all Americans pause as to just what kind of leaders they want to be doing business with. However, two of Obama's predecessors have no such excuse, yet this did not prevent them from issue similar statements. George H.W. Bush called Abdullah a "dear friend and a partner." Not to be outdone, George W. Bush said he was "an important and able ally and a force for modernization in his country."
President Bush and King Abdullah share an intimate moment when they think the camera's not watching
Modernization? It's true that Abdullah took steps that were once thought unimaginable, such as allowing Saudi women to participate in the Olympics, or pledging that women would be allowed to run and vote in municipal elections this year. In a sense this is reform, but Saudi Arabia remains a woman's nightmare, and overall it still has one of the most oppressive regimes in the world. The fact is that the favor enjoyed by the Saudi royal family with the United States and other Western powers who fancy themselves as beacons of freedom and modernity is an absolute scandal.