- Will anybody hold them to account?
There are many lessons to be learned from last thirty-year history of global imperial politics. One, is that the United States reserves the right to determine which authoritarian constitutes a ‘dictatorship’, and which one doesn’t. The Democratic Republic of North Korea fails the test for obvious reasons. But it’s been incredibly interesting watching the US establishment walking over egg-shells to not call General El-Sisi’s military takeover in Egypt a “coup”.
The House of Saud will never be deemed a ‘dictatorship’ in international media, despite all signs of authoritarian control associated with a classic dictatorship. ‘Monarch’ is a nicer word. ‘Monarch’ invokes a warm image of a well-dressed, English aunt waving at the peasantry — now called ‘citizenry’ for reason of political correctness alone – cheering down below.
The last three decades of Middle Eastern politics have been a Saudi master class on how to get away with human rights violations without as much as a slap on the wrist. Jamal Khashoggi’s murder in the Saudi consulate is merely the latest in a series of unaccountable atrocities being connected, directly or indirectly, to the Saudi royal establishment.
A typical anti-murder citizen might ask why Saudi Arabia isn’t facing serious repercussions in the aftermath of this murder. A political historian may ask why the Saudi regime is facing even the slightest embarrassment on international stage now. Why now? For years, Human Rights Watch has been documenting abuse of foreign labour force in Saudi Arabia, particularly from Pakistan and Bangladesh. Pakistan, which is rightfully vocal about human rights abuses in Kashmir, has a history of scandalous silence towards the suffering of its own citizens in Saudi Arabia. No report of racial abuse, torture, unfair trials, non-payment of dues, and even deaths by unsafe working conditions or direct police brutality, have ever shaken the Pakistan foreign office into action. Never have human rights violations against Pakistan’s own citizens ever come in the way of Pak-Saudi friendship.
Why now? The Saudis have been involved in a brutal war on Yemen for a long time. Yemen presently stands at the precipice of the world’s largest famine in the last hundred years, with nearly 12 million people facing starvation. Constant reports of strikes against civilian targets, including women and children, have appeared on and disappeared from our news screens without being paid a second thought.
The Saudi establishment has been accused of committing crime after crime, which is met each time with mild international disapproval
Even more tragic is the fact that many of these crimes have been dutifully crowd-funded by Muslims around the world, who make repeated trips to the Kingdom’s holy cities for Hajj and Umrah. Even worse, the Saudi establishment has learned to take this obligatory religious tourism for granted, and has done relatively little to make the pilgrimage safer and more comfortable. In 2015 alone, more than 2,000 Muslims lost their lives in a poorly-organised pilgrimage. The establishment not only refused to apologise for this catastrophe, but lied about the number of casualties – severely underestimating them in their reports. While international monitors like the Associated Press reported 2400 deaths and many others provided similar numbers, Saudi admitted only 769 deaths. Yet the Muslim world rose to defend Saudi negligence, distributing the blame upon “ill-mannered” pilgrims.
The world’s tepid response to the aforementioned crimes could be explained through Stalin’s infamous observation: a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is statistic.
It also explains why the gruesome murder of Jamal Khashoggi is something of a game-changer for Saudi Arabia’s global image. This is the cold-blooded murder of an anti-establishment Saudi journalist, who looks like one of your uncles. He’s a prominent political writer, known in the West for his contribution to prestigious sources like Washington Post.
Every detail of the murder appears something out of a violent film about gang wars. Turkish authorities declared the arrival of 15 Saudi officials in Istanbul the day before Khashoggi’s appointment at the consulate where he was murdered. The suspects are linked directly to Saudi security service. A Turkish news source is reporting an audio recording captured by Khashoggi’s Apple watch, recovered from his iCloud account. The recording details the last horrific moments of the journalist as he was tortured to death inside the Saudi consulate.
The Saudi establishment has been accused of committing crime after crime, which is met each time with mild international disapproval. The United States has much to do with this silence, which is financially motivated to give KSA the benefit of doubt, even when doubt is practically non-existent. President Donald Trump, in a case that can only be described as a symptom of late-stage capitalism, put an actual price-tag of $110 billion on Khashoggi’s life. He stated that the United States may not jeopardise $110 billion worth of deals with KSA by condemning this murder.
What would it take to ever hold the Saudi regime accountable for its human rights violations? This is an establishment tied to more Muslim deaths around the world – from bombing of Yemen to the casualties of Islamic radicalism around the world – than nearly any other oppressive regime. This is not an opinion at this point, but an actual comparison of statistics.
All we can do is hope for a global moral awakening, because a shift in world economics that benefit Saudi Arabia don’t seem likely in the near future.