Saudi Arabia Quiz

By Jeffrey Rudolph  (February 2011, last update June 2018)

Saudi Arabia, an Islamic absolute monarchy, has enjoyed extremely close relations with the United States, a constitutional republic. This relationship highlights the gross hypocrisy of US foreign policy: fundamentalism and dictatorship in the Arab world are only condemned when they come garbed in anti-Americanism. In fact, Saudi Arabia makes Iran—the regular target of sanctions and regime change by the US—look relatively progressive.

The US and Saudi governments have had a clear long-term agreement. The Saudis agree to supply oil in accordance with US needs and to reinvest the resulting profits in US financial assets and arms. In return, the US provides protection to the Royal family, regardless of its internal repression and extremist ideology. While mutually beneficial, this compact is also the source of one of Saudi Arabia’s great contradictions: The Saudi kings depend for their security on a country widely reviled in the Arab world as Israel’s protector.

Contradictions run deep in Saudi Arabia. Attempts at domestic reform have been confronted with state-sponsored extremist preachers—in fact, Saudi kings have, on occasion, used their power to protect “progressives” from harsh Saudi judges. While in the foreign policy realm, state support of confrontational policies concerning Iran have been coupled with attempts to moderate belligerence in Palestine.

The following quiz is an attempt to supplement the rather shallow coverage of Saudi Arabia provided in the mainstream media.


1. Which Middle East country, Israel or Saudi Arabia, has been an ally of the US for the longer period of time?

-In 2008, Saudi Arabia celebrated “the seventy-fifth anniversary of US-Saudi diplomatic relations, which had started with the signing of [an] oil contract in 1933.” President Bush attended the celebration—flying to the Kingdom after attending celebrations in Jerusalem to mark Israel’s sixty years of existence since 1948. “Abdullah took some delight in the comparative longevity of the two anniversaries, cupping his palms open in front of him, as if weighing the relative poundage of sixty or seventy-five years of friendship in the scales.” (Robert Lacey, Inside The Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia, Viking, Toronto: 2009, 301. Hereinafter, “Lacey 2009.”)

-“In May 1933, Ibn Saud granted Standard Oil of California an enormous petroleum concession for less than $200,000 [a great bargain]…Later, in the early 1940s, the California-Arabian Standard Oil Company (a consortium that became known in 1944 as the Arabian American Oil Company, or Aramco) convinced President Roosevelt to help the king by including the kingdom in the lend-lease aid program.” (Juan Cole, Engaging The Muslim World, Palgrave Macmillan, New York: 2009, 86. Hereinafter, “Cole 2009.”)

-After the UN Partition Resolution in 1947, which the US supported, Ibn Saud stated “that ‘although the other Arab states may bring pressure to bear on me I do not anticipate that a situation will arise whereby I shall be drawn into conflict with friendly Western powers over this question.’ In fact Ibn Saud not only did not cancel US oil concessions but in late 1949 he even allowed these oil companies to expand their operations.” (“Dependent as he was on US oil royalties for 90 percent of his kingdom’s revenues, Ibn Saud was not about to sacrifice his” relationship with America on a vote that supported a Jewish state.) (Norman G. Finkelstein, Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End, OR Books, New York: 2012, 55. Hereinafter, “Finkelstein 2012.”)

-“[O]il is not the whole story [of US interest in Saudi Arabia]: Saudi Arabia is also important because of its strategic location. Lend-Lease was extended to the nation in 1943 in exchange for permission to build and utilize an air force base in Dhahran. The location of this base later made it a useful tool for the Americans during the cold war.…The official relationship was launched at the highest level in the most dramatic of circumstances: at President’s Franklin Roosevelt’s post-Yalta meeting with Ibn Saud.…[W]ildly different notions of how the world worked…[did not] get in the way of the main bilateral issue: Saudi oil supply and American security guarantees for the kingdom.” (Stephen P. Cohen, Beyond America’s Grasp: A Century of Failed Diplomacy in the Middle East, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York: 2009, 94-5.)

-The following link has a picture of the February 14, 1945 “landmark meeting between King Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt onboard the US Navy cruiser Quincy in the Great Bitter Lake segment of the Suez Canal. The…meeting was the first face-to-face contact between top American and Saudi leaders and served as the foundation for the longstanding relationship between Washington and Riyadh.”

2. Who stated the following in 1945? “I’m sorry, gentlemen, but I have to answer to hundreds of thousands who are anxious for the success of Zionism. I do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents.”

-The quote was stated by US President Harry Truman (1945-53) at a “meeting in Washington with William Eddy, the US chief of mission in Saudi Arabia, and with other US diplomats to the major Arab countries. There had been widespread anger in the Arab world at the favor that America was showing toward the Zionist effort to create a Jewish state in Palestine, and the diplomats had been assembled to explain the reasons for Arab opposition. But nothing he heard appeared to change Truman’s mind.”

   Truman was “not quite correct. The US Census of 1940 showed 107,420 individuals classified ‘white’ who gave their ‘mother tongue’ as Arabic, and census analysts reckon the real count of Arab-Americans at three times that. But the president’s political point remained. By the 1940s the Jews were organized politically in America in a way that the Arabs never were…Today [2009] there are some 3.5 million Arab-Americans (a good number of them Christians), and their political clout does not begin to match that of the 6.4 million US Jews. Following the hard-fought creation of Israel in 1948, every successive crisis in the Middle East would increase pro-Israeli feeling inside America—and then came the emergence of so-called Christian Zionism in the 1980s. Popular evangelists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson preached that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land had happened in accordance with biblical prophecy—‘to stand against Israel is to stand against God,’ proclaimed Falwell in 1981.”

   America was “the ‘far Satan,’ in Osama’s eyes, because it was the patron and supporter of the Al-Saud, the ‘near Satan’ that was the ultimate target.” Few Americans “could see that it was through the selection of contradictory friends [– Islamic extremists in Afghanistan and allying with the House of Saud while also supporting Israel at the expense of Arabs –] that their successive governments had picked themselves this lethal foe.” (Lacey 2009, 216-7, 228)

-Truman “coveted the Jewish vote as well as Jewish financial support–both of which were regarded as vital for a Democratic presidential aspirant–and US diplomatic backing for the Zionist movement appeared to be the quid pro quo for securing them.” (“Truman credited Jewish financial backer Abe Feinberg with making possible the ‘whistle-stop’ tour that clinched his 1948 electoral victory.”) (Finkelstein 2012, 54, 370)

   “American Jewish lobbying (including the personal lobbying of President Truman’s friend and former business partner, Eddie Jacobson) helped convince Truman to support the United Nations’ partition plan of 1947 and then to officially recognize the State of Israel, against the advice of his own State Department, when it declared independence in May 1948. As Truman himself later acknowledged in his memoirs: ‘I do not think I ever had as much pressure and propaganda aimed at the White House as I had in this instance.’” (Dov Waxman, Trouble In The Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict Over Israel, Princeton University Press, Princeton: 2016, 34. Hereinafter, “Waxman 2016.”)

   Jews are “disproportionately represented among major campaign donors and fundraisers for politicians and for both political parties. American Jews are also very well represented in the US government and in think tanks, journalism, and academia. As a result of this access and influence…, Jewish issues have become interwoven into America’s routine political agenda.” (Waxman 2016, 6)

   “By far the best-known and most influential ‘mega-donor’ to American Jewish organizations is the billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson…Adelson is the single largest donor in the American Jewish community, and is reported to have donated over $200 million to Jewish and Israeli causes (which is just a fraction of the amount he has spent supporting the Republican Party and conservative causes in American politics).” (Waxman 2016, 186)

   The culmination of one-sided US support for Israel was the George W. Bush administration. One of its earliest and most warmly welcomed guests was Ariel Sharon, the hardline enforcer of Greater Israel.

-Israel has played an important role as an enforcer of US interests in the Middle East. For example, an important concern for the Eisenhower administration was Nasser’s drive for true independence. However, in 1967, this major “problem…was resolved with Israel’s destruction of the Nasser regime, hated by the United States and Britain, which feared that secular nationalist forces might seek to direct the vast energy resources of the region to internal development. A few years earlier, US intelligence had warned of popular feelings that oil is a ‘national patrimony’ exploited by the West by unjust arrangements imposed by force. Israel’s service to the United States, its Saudi ally, and the energy corporations confirmed the judgment of US intelligence in 1958 that a ‘logical corollary’ of opposition to Arab nationalism is reliance on Israel as ‘the only strong pro-Western power in the Middle East,’ apart from Turkey, which established a close military alliance with Israel in 1958, within the US strategic framework.”

3. What was Saudi Arabia’s military expenditures for 2009 (in US dollars)? Israel’s?

-Saudi Arabia’s military expenditures were $39 billion; Israel’s were $14 billion.

-Saudi Arabia is “by far the US’s top weapons customer….From October 2010 through 2015, the US has approved sales of $111.3 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia… — more than three times the arms sales approved to the US’s second-biggest customer, South Korea.” 

-“[A]rms sales…specifically to Saudi Arabia…have been a consistent element of Obama’s tenure. ‘Many Americans would be surprised to learn that his administration has brokered more arms deals than any administration of the past 70 years…During the first six years of the Obama administration, the United States entered into agreements to sell over $190 billion in weapons and training to Saudi Arabia. And in 2015, the administration announced its intention to sell another $22 billion…’ To put that in context, in his first five years as president, Obama sold $30 billion more in weapons than President Bush did during his entire eight years as commander in chief. Saudi Arabia maintains a huge network of D.C. lobbyists, public relations experts, and a subsidized think tank to promote its cozy relationship with Washington.” While Obama upset Saudi rulers by his 2015 Iran accord and lack of steadfast support of Mubarak, he has not put meaningful pressure on them for change.

4. Why, despite spending billions on military equipment, is the Saudi state unable to defend itself?

-“Even after Saudi oil was fully nationalized in 1980, Washington’s politico-military elite maintained their pledge to defend the existing Saudi regime and its state whatever the cost. Why…could the Saudi state not defend itself? The answer was because the Saud clan, living in permanent fear, was haunted by the spectre of the radical nationalists who had seized power in Egypt in 1952 and in Iraq six years later. The Sauds kept the size of the national army and air force to the barest minimum to minimize the risk of a coup d’état. Many of the armaments they have purchased to please the West lie rusting peacefully in desert warehouses. For a decade and a half in the late 1970s and ‘80s, the Pakistan army, paid for by the Saudi treasury, sent in large contingents to protect the Saudi royal family in case of internal upheavals. Then, after the first Gulf War, the American military arrived.” (Tariq Ali, The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power, Scribner, New York: 2008, 265.)

-“Relatively small in number, in order to minimize the domestic risk of a republican coup d’état of the kind that brought down monarchies in Egypt, Iraq, and Libya, [the Saudi military] is impressively armed with equipment bought at prohibitive prices in what has proved to be a bonanza for Western cannon merchants. Thus, for a population four times the size of that of neighboring Jordan, the Saudi kingdom has barely twice as many personnel in its armed forces, but it spends thirty-three times what the Hashemite kingdom spends on its own military budget.…Much of Riyadh’s most advanced weaponry is ‘pre-positioned’ so as to be available for eventual use by US troops…It is an open secret that the huge airport at Jeddah is not designed merely for the transit of pilgrims to Mecca.” (Gilbert Achcar, Eastern Cauldron: Islam, Afghanistan, Palestine, and Iraq in a Marxist Mirror, Monthly Review Press, New York: 2004, 71-2. Hereinafter, “Achcar 2004.”)

   Saudi Arabia is among the world’s top arms importers. As a result “it has assembled a formidable strike force consisting of more than two hundred advanced fighters and bombers, a mix of F-15s, Tornadoes, and next-generation Eurofighter Typhoons. [As well,] it has purchased some twenty tankers for mid-air refueling and a large supply of high-precision cruise missiles.” Since 2011 it has been more aggressive in using its power than in the past as it “has rained bombs on Yemen and financed and armed Al Qaeda, ISIS, and other Sunni jihadis in Libya, Syria, and Iraq. It has sent troops to crush democratic protests in Shiite-majority Bahrain and imposed a blockade on Qatar for the crime of insufficient hostility to Iran.”

-“The original function of the [Saudi National] Guard was to enlist the loyalty of the tribes to protect the royal family against any threat…The Guard was founded at a time of suspected military coups, so its first bases were sited close to Riyadh and the major cities. The idea was that the Guard could block hostile forces coming from the more distant army and air force bases on the borders. Its anti-aircraft weapons were designed to shoot down Saudi fighter planes. Its antitank rockets had to be good enough to take on the Saudi Army.” (Lacey 2009, 184)

-Note that the respective populations of Israel and Saudi Arabia are 7.6 million (75% are Jewish) and  25.7 million (including 5.6 non-nationals). Therefore, Saudi Arabia has the population to more than match Israel’s military.

5. Which country is the largest provider of crude oil to the US?

-“The top five exporting countries accounted for 84% of United States crude oil imports in November [2015]…The top five sources of US crude oil imports for November were Canada (3,173 thousand barrels per day), Saudi Arabia (1,232 thousand barrels per day), Venezuela (799 thousand barrels per day), Mexico (632 thousand barrels per day), and Colombia (371 thousand barrels per day).”

-The US does not rely on Saudi oil. However according to Noam Chomsky, “What has been central to [US] planning [concerning Middle East energy resources] is control, not access, an important distinction. The United States followed the same policies long before it relied on a drop of Middle East oil, and would continue to do so if it relied on solar energy. Such control gives the United States ‘veto power’ over its industrial rivals, as explained in the early postwar period by influential planners, and reiterated…with regard to Iraq: a successful conquest of Iraq would give the United States ‘critical leverage’ over its industrial rivals, Europe and Asia, as pointed out by Zbigniew Brzezinski, an important figure in the planning community. Vice President Dick Cheney made the same point, describing control over petroleum supplies as ‘tools of intimidation and blackmail’—when used by others. He went on to urge the dictatorships of Central Asia, Washington’s models of democracy, to agree to pipeline construction that ensures that the tools remain in Washington’s hands.”

   The Allies recognized the critical importance of oil to the Nazi war machine. Successfully denying Germany oil during the war was crucial to victory. Therefore, after the war, US planners worked to ensure American control of the world’s main sources of energy.

   “The Persian Gulf is strategically important because it produces roughly 30 percent of the world’s oil, and it holds about 55 percent of the world’s crude-oil reserves. If the flow of oil from that region were stopped or even severely curtailed for a substantial period of time, it would have a devastating effect on the world economy. Therefore, the United States has good reason to ensure that oil flows freely out of the Gulf, which in practice means preventing any single country from controlling all of that critical resource. Most oil-producing states will keep pumping and selling their oil as long as they are free to do so, because they depend on the revenues. It is in America’s interest to keep them that way, which means there can be no regional hegemon in the Gulf…” (January 2014)

-In 2017, the US now “holds more proved oil reserves than either Saudi Arabia or Russia. More than half of the US total is in shale. New technology has decreased the cost of production to the point that fracking is becoming competitive with traditional means of extraction.” (Lawrence Wright, God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State, Alfred A. Knopf, New York: 2018, 42.)

-Control of oil entails power. “Since the Cold War, Saudi Arabia has served as a vital ally in constraining Russian power via oil production. The export economies of both Saudi Arabia and Russia are based, almost entirely, on oil. However, unlike the oil fields of Russia, where the cost of production is $20 per barrel, Saudi Arabia produces oil for under $10 per barrel. Simply put, if the Saudis pump out oil fast enough, the Russians go broke. So a strong US-Saudi relationship provides a powerful constraint on Russian power.” (17 March 2017)

-Saudi Arabia has the world’s largest oil reserves and is the world’s largest oil exporter. Oil accounts for more than 90% of exports and nearly 75% of government revenues, facilitating the creation of a welfare state.

6. Who wrote the following in 1956? “Arabia is a country that contains the holy places of the Moslem world, and the Saudi Arabians are considered to be the most deeply religious of all the Arab groups. Consequently, the King could be built up, possibly, as a spiritual leader. Once this were accomplished, we might begin to urge his right to political leadership.”

-Dwight D. Eisenhower: US President, 1953 – 1961. (Cole 2009, 88)

-Professor Cole, the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, explains that, “Faced in the Middle East with the rise of secular Arab nationalism and of leftist politics in countries such as Syria, Washington cast about for a counterweight….Later that year [1956], after the potentially destabilizing Suez War, Eisenhower cabled his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles…, ‘I continue to believe…that one of the measures that we must take is to build up an Arab rival of Nasser, and the natural choice would seem to be [King Saud]…’ In 1957, the US National Security Council set up a working group to compile a list of Muslim organizations and religious groups that could be propagandized by the United States Information Agency….[However,] King Saud…was no match for Abdel Nasser, who knew how to appeal through powerful oratory to the aspirations of the Arab masses….[Nevertheless, the] Saudi leadership idea did not go away…and was resurrected by later American presidents.”

   Washington “appeared to think that, just as mainstream Protestants, such as theologian Reinhold Niebuhr were bulwarks against communism in the United States, so Wahhabism could underpin a conservative moral order compatible with the sanctity of private property in the Middle East. After September 11, [2001,] Washington suddenly rethought its promotion of Saudi Arabia and Wahhabism as buttresses of a conservative, capitalist order in the Middle East.” (Cole 2009, 88-90)

   (The 1956 war “against Egypt was launched pre-emptively by Israel, in collusion with Britain and France, the latter fighting a bloody anti-colonial insurgency in Algeria where the National Liberation Front (FLN) was being backed by Cairo. The governments in London and Paris were infuriated by Nasser’s takeover of the [Suez] canal and the wild enthusiasm he inspired across the Arab world. British Prime Minister Anthony Eden’s obsession with the man he called ‘Hitler on the Nile’ was to lead to his own downfall. Israel’s principal official justification…was to put an end to fedayeen raids from Gaza. Opening the canal to Israeli shipping was another goal. The Egyptian leader called the war the ‘tripartite aggression’–the Arabic phrase neatly encapsulating regional perceptions of imperialist machinations in tandem with the Zionist enemy.” (Ian Black, Enemies and Neighbors: Arabs and Jews in Palestine and Israel, 1917-2017, Atlantic Monthly Press, New York: 2017, 153-4. Hereinafter, “Black 2017.”))

-Traditionally, Saudi Arabia “has more often been timid than militant in world affairs. Although Saudi intelligence coordinated with the Arab volunteers who went to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s, it did so in deference to the Reagan administration’s policy of marshalling private militias against leftist governments.” (Cole 2009, 84)

   However, it is clear that Saudi Arabia will act aggressively to prevent any hint of the “Arab Spring” near its borders. And, it is clear that since the 2015 rise of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, Saudi Arabia has become far more aggressive in confronting Iranian power. Saudi military interventions in Bahrain (2011) and Yemen (2015), as well as confrontational actions toward Qatar and Hezbollah in 2017, clearly prove this point. Yet, Saudi Arabia’s actions in, for example, Yemen are augmenting extremism. Yemen’s “continuing disintegration makes it a hotbed for terrorist activity. At the least, the Saudis need to stop indiscriminately bombing Yemeni civilian areas. [Instead,] Saudi Arabia should fulfill its obligation to provide air support and financial aid for the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. It now averages only a single token airstrike per month.”

   “[In 2018,] Three years after it began, the Yemen war continues unabated, with widespread starvation, cholera, thousands dead, accounts of indiscriminate Saudi bombing of hospitals and schools, Houthi missiles being fired into Saudi Arabian towns, and spreading misery.” (The New York Times, 24 June 2018, SR 7)

-“[T]he West is reaping what it helped sow. For more than three decades its fight against progressive nationalism (as typified by Nasser’s model backed by the USSR) went hand in glove with the Islamic propaganda emanating from the Saudi monarchy, a sworn enemy of the Egyptian regime. With a view to supporting the Muslim Brotherhood against Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Riyadh, with the aid of the CIA, financed and provided a haven for a sizable section of the hazy international groupings of Islamic fundamentalism.…After so many years of anti-communist and anti-nationalist struggle conducted under the banner of Islam rather than liberal democracy, bankrupt nationalism and an impotent Left have left the door wide open to Islamic fundamentalism.…[In the 1980s,] Saudi rulers and their US advisers imagined that the contagion could be contained by playing up the specifically Shiite nature of Iran, and by playing off ‘Sunni moderates’ against ‘Shiite extremists.’ Riyadh continued to play godfather to Sunni fundamentalist movements…” (Achcar 2004, 73)

-The unfortunate truth is that the US has benefited from not promoting democratic values in the Arab world as true democratic change leads to governments that primarily answer to their domestic populations, not their foreign patron. Turkey demonstrates that when a Middle East country becomes more democratic, it finds it more difficult to cooperate with Israel and the US on policies that dispossess Palestinians or harm Muslims. (Nevertheless, Turkey and Israel have kept business channels open despite tensions, allowing trade and investment to flourish in 2012.)

7. True or False: In the early 1960s, a group of Saudi princes flew to Cairo and called for constitutional democracy for Saudi Arabia.

-True. As the Al-Saud splintered in the late 1950s under the challenge of Arab nationalism and the charismatic Nasser, a group of radical young princes campaigned for constitutional democracy. “Prince Talal was one of a group of reformers and leader within the royal family known as the Free Princes. In 1958 he wrote a proposed constitution for Saudi Arabia which would have created a constitutional monarchy and expanded civil rights. He began to assemble an elected advisory committee, but his ideas were rejected by the king, and religious leaders in Saudi Arabia issued a fatwa declaring his constitution to be contrary to Islamic law. In 1961 the kingdom revoked his passport and attempted to silence him, but he expatriated to Egypt and declared himself a socialist. There, influenced by Gamal Abdel Nasser, Talal continued to push for reform and criticize the leadership of the Kingdom. In 1964 Talal agreed to temper his criticisms in exchange for permission to reenter Saudi Arabia. He is now a successful businessman…Prince Talal resumed his push for reform in Saudi Arabia in September 2007, when he announced his desire to form a political party (illegal in Saudi Arabia) to advance his goal of liberalizing the country.”

-By the nature of its monarchial dictatorship, Saudi Arabia cannot “endorse more participatory politics in the region [nor the] proliferation of regional states genuinely committed to foreign policy independence….This is why, when US forces invaded Iraq and overthrew Saddam in 2003, Saudi Arabia played a critical role in funding and organizing Sunni insurgents there, in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to forestall a more representative political order which Iraq’s Shia majority would inevitably dominate [and over which Iran would exert influence]. This is also why Riyadh viewed the outbreak of the Arab Awakening in late 2010—which Tehran welcomed—as a mortal threat. [Accordingly,] The Saudi response has been: to undermine Sunni movements, like the Muslim Brotherhood, prepared to compete for power in elections; to build up violent jihadi groups, including groups that have aligned with al-Qaida and coalesced into the Islamic State, as alternatives to the Brotherhood; and to co-opt popular demands for reform by coercively intervening—including through jihadi proxies—in Libya, Syria, and…Yemen, with disastrous humanitarian and political consequences.”

   “As it has done these things, Riyadh has reframed political struggles around the region in starkly sectarian, anti-Iranian/anti-Shia terms. This is especially striking vis-à-vis the Syrian conflict. Saudi intervention in Syria ensured that jihadis — many non-Syrian—dominate opposition ranks, killing any potential Brotherhood role in leading anti-Assad forces. It also turned what began as indigenous protests over particular grievances into a heavily militarized (and illegal) campaign against a UN member state’s recognized government…”

   “In the process, Saudi Arabia has exploited Tehran’s support for Syria’s government to swing the balance of opinion in Sunni publics—which had increasingly seen the Islamic Republic as championing more participatory politics and resistance to US and Israeli hegemony—against Iran. The turn in Sunni attitudes gives Riyadh political cover to double down on supporting violent jihadis—as with Saudi backing for a new ‘Conflict Army,’ organized around the al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat an-Nusra [re-branded as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham in 2016]…”

   Thus, “It is Saudi policy—not Iran’s support for Syria’s government against an externally-fueled insurgency that, as Syrian oppositionists themselves admit, couldn’t defeat [Assad] at the ballot box—that is responsible for Syria’s agony.” (13 May 2015)

-The Gulf states do not fear an invasion from Iran. Rather, they fear segments of “their internal populations. They call these segments of their populations—which, in some cases, have been restive; they’ve often been marginalized, especially among the Shia communities—…‘foreign, Iranian-backed elements.’ But they are part of their populations…”  (24 May 2015)

   “The sectarianism that Saudi Arabia uses to contain its own as well as Bahrain’s Shiite populations, and rally support for its geopolitical ambitions, especially its rivalry with Iran, has fuelled [sectarian violence]. Saudi recruits for al-Qaida and the Islamic State are often motivated by a desire to contain Shiism and stem Iranian influence in the region – strategic objectives that Saudi media perpetuates ad infinitum.”  (July 2015)

-A particular existential threat to the Gulf states from “Iran is not that it is ‘Persian’ or Shia, but that it is simultaneously Islamic and republican—that it seeks to integrate principles and institutions of Islamic governance with participatory politics and elections while maintaining a strong commitment to foreign policy independence.” Accordingly, Saudi Arabia pursues policies that maximize “the ruling family’s chances of holding onto power;” yet these same policies conflict with US interests in the region by empowering anti-US extremists.

   “[Gulf] leaders are relatively unconcerned about reform calls from secular liberals, judging (rightly) that this agenda elicits limited support in Arab societies. But they worry deeply about Sunni movements, like the Muslim Brotherhood, willing to compete for power in elections. For [Gulf] rulers, these groups are profoundly threatening, for if Muslim-majority Arab publics can elect Islamic governments, the historically most potent argument for monarchy in Arabia—that it is essential to propagating true Islam—goes out the window. To forestall this, Riyadh and its partners have declared the Brothers ‘terrorists’ in GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] jurisdictions, and have worked to quash them around the region—as with Saudi and Emirati backing for the July 2013 coup against Egypt’s elected Brotherhood government.”

   “By undermining the Brothers as a vehicle for expanding Sunni political engagement, Saudi Arabia and its allies leave jihadi groups like al-Qaida and the Islamic State as the only options for Sunni Arabs dissatisfied with the status quo. They make things worse by building up violent jihadis as alternatives to the Brothers—in Libya, Syria, and, Yemen—with Washington’s collaboration, and with disastrous humanitarian and political consequences.”  (13 May 2015)

8. What event led to Saudi Arabia and other Arab oil-producing countries imposing an oil embargo on the US and Europe in the early 1970s?

-In 1973, “[K]ing Faisal of Saudi Arabia announced a boycott on his kingdom’s oil sales to the United States. Enraged by President Richard Nixon’s military support for Israel in the October War against Egypt and Syria, the Saudi king had hoped to compel some dramatic change in US policy. Yet as the Arab oil boycott caused the price of oil on the world market to multiply nearly five times, it was back home, inside the Kingdom, that the truly dramatic changes would occur.…After centuries of hibernation and a few recent decades of only gradual change, Saudi Arabia was suddenly turned on its head. Foreign money brought foreign ways—the good, the bad, and, in the eyes of many Saudis, the very definitely ugly. Women started appearing on TV…[The] pure world [of the pious] was under threat.” All over the Arab world in the 1970s “Muslims worked out their different responses to the material and spiritual inroads of the West. Those who opted for back-to-basics called themselves Salafi…” (Lacey 2009, 3-4, 9)

-“Led by Saudi Arabia, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) imposed a general rise in oil prices and an oil embargo on major oil consumers who were either supporters of Israel or allies of its supporters. The embargo was theoretically aimed at forcing Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories and recognize the rights of the Palestinian people. In reality…[Saudi Arabia] negotiate[d] exceptions with practically every nation…affected…but not before…giving them a taste of the power the Arabs could wield if they chose.” (Nicholas Buchele, Culture Smart Saudi Arabia, Random House, Canada: 2008, 38-9. Hereinafter, “Buchele 2008.”)

-“Dealing with Arab and Israeli leaders on the Palestinian issue must have been eye-opening for…president [Obama]. Publicly Arab rulers pressed him on Palestine, but privately all they wanted to talk about was defanging Iran (the same is true of the Israelis)….When Obama met Abdullah in Riyadh in June 2009, most of the hour-long meeting was taken up with a royal lecture on the Iranian threat. The Saudi king wanted America to fix the Iranian problem, not the Palestinian one, and he did not want any linkages between the two issues. In that, the king and Netanyahu were on the same page.” (Vali Nasr, The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat, Doubleday, New York: 2013, 161. Hereinafter, “Nasr 2013.”)

   In July 2016, Dore Gold, a senior Israeli official, met in Jerusalem with Anwar Eshki, a former Saudi general with close ties to the Kingdom’s rulers. “The meeting marks a rare public engagement between countries that have no official relations.” The two countries have grown closer in recent years over their shared concerns of a rising Iran and more influential Muslim Brotherhood. (The latter’s influence was diminished by the 2013 coup in Egypt.)

   In November 2017, “Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz revealed that the country maintains secret contacts within Saudi Arabia and many other Muslim and Arab countries, especially those with shared concerns from Iran [and Hezbollah. According to Steinitz,] ‘We have ties that are indeed partly covert with many Muslim and Arab countries, and usually we are not the party who is ashamed’…He revealed that ‘the diplomatic efforts by Israel with the US administration and the United Nations to reconsider the nuclear agreement with Iran is happening through contacts with the Saudi authorities…'” (22 Nov. 2017)

   In March/April 2018, during the overwhelmingly nonviolent protests by Gazans along their border–which led to Israel killing many unarmed protesters and wounding thousands–demonstrators “burned the image of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia…” The protests are “‘coming at a time when the Palestinians feel totally marginalized from the world agenda and even from the regional agenda,’…” For example, Trump has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Saudi Arabia has an “overflight agreement for Air India to fly to Israel”; and, the Arab states attended “alongside Israel at a recent White House conference on Gaza, [which] Palestinians boycotted.” (Likewise, before the First Intifada (1987-93), Palestinians felt abandoned by world and regional states. The PLO and thousands of its fighters were scattered among Tunisia, Algeria, Yemen and various other countries. “In that moment of utter hopelessness, something snapped. In December 1987, people (mostly children and teenagers) took to the streets, in a largely non-violent mobilization that lasted over six years, culminating in the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993.”)
(The New York Times, 8 April 2018, 10)

9. What three events in 1979 greatly affected Saudi Arabia’s domestic and foreign policies?

(i) Iranian Revolution
-“The ayatollahs’ revolution in Iran had been a dazzling assertion of Shia power and identity” that challenged the Saud family’s legitimacy. The Saudi royals did not want to suffer the fate of the Shah. The lesson they took away was: the solution to religious upheaval was more religion.

   An “apparently impregnable, Westernizing autocrat [in Iran], smiled on by America, with a huge army, an efficient secret police, and burgeoning oil revenues, had been brought down without a serious shot being fired—all the Shah’s modernization had proved helpless against the supposedly outmoded power of religion.…The Shah had got on the wrong side of the mosque, reckoned [King] Fahd—and that was the side on which the former playboy already feared himself to be.” More strictures on women, secular education, etc., thus followed.

   In December, Shia riots, inspired by the triumphant return to Iran of Ayatollah Khomeini, broke out in al-Qatif in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. Twenty thousand National Guard troops were immediately moved into the Eastern Province. (In 1987, rioting by Shia pilgrims in Mecca led to four hundred deaths and was the straw that broke the kingdom’s diplomatic relations with Iran.)

   The Saudi rulers were naturally threatened by Khomeini’s doctrine of rule by the clerics (i.e., rule by Kings was unIslamic). Saudi rulers (along with most Muslims) disagree with Khomeini’s radical doctrine that the ulema (religious scholars) are qualified not simply to advise the ruler, but to exercise government in their own right. The executive power held by Iran’s clerics sets Iran apart from the Muslim world. Saudi leaders argue that from the first caliphs, the secular rulers have always been the executive rulers, while the job of the sheikhs and the mufti has been to give them advice.

   The Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88 was a bloody conflict. “When Iran launched a successful counterassault in…[1983] against Saddam Hussein’s unprovoked invasion of September 1980, the Saudis financed the Iraqi leader as a Sunni Arab ‘brother.’ Saddam was the best available barrier to the scary prospect of the ayatollahs taking power in Baghdad, while the United States backed the Iraqi tyrant as part of Washington’s enduring attempt to gain some redress for the humiliation of the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-81.” (Lacey 2009, 47, 109-110)

   “King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear programme, according to leaked US diplomatic cables that describe how…Arab allies have secretly agitated for military action against Tehran. The revelations, in secret memos from US embassies across the Middle East, expose behind-the-scenes pressures in the scramble to contain the Islamic Republic, which the US, Arab states and Israel suspect is close to acquiring nuclear weapons. Bombing Iranian nuclear facilities has hitherto been viewed as a desperate last resort that could ignite a far wider war. The Saudi king was recorded as having ‘frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons programme’, one cable stated. ‘He told you [Americans] to cut off the head of the snake,’ the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir said, according to a report on Abdullah’s meeting with the US general David Petraeus in April 2008.”

   Israel and the Gulf states share “an interest in countering what they [see] as rising Iranian influence in the Middle East….[In 2015,] it seems as though the GCC states have finally readied themselves to go public about their warming relationships with Israel. In an event at the Council on Foreign Relations…high-ranking former Saudi and Israeli officials not only shared the stage but disclosed that the two countries had been holding a series of high-level meetings to discuss shared strategic goals, particularly around the perceived regional ascendance of Iran. At the event, former Saudi General Anwar Eshki openly called for regime change in Iran, while former Israeli ambassador to the UN, Dore Gold, once a fierce critic of Saudi Arabia, spoke of his outreach to the country in recent years, and of the possibility of resolving the remaining differences between the two nations…” (6 June 2015)

   “Israel, Pakisan and the United Arab Emirates began joint military exercises [in August 2016] as part of the US Air Force’s elite Red Flag drill at Nellis Air Force Base in the Nevada desert. Countries without diplomatic relations are rarely seen in joint military exercises, but few nations would be likely to allow such concerns cause them to miss an opportunity to work with the US Air Force.”  (16 August 2016)

(ii) Invasion and occupation of the Grand Mosque in Mecca on November 20 by five hundred Wahhabi fanatic salafis
-“Since the early 1960s the House of Saud had been on the lookout for trouble—investigating and arresting Communists, socialists, and ‘godless’ radicals of all sorts. Serious opposition, everyone anticipated, would be coming from the left. But the attacks of 1979 had come from the very opposite direction—from those on the right… ‘Godless’ was the reproach that was now being thrown at the king and princes…[The rebels] had been nurtured in the traditional territory of Wahhabi mosques…” (To regain the Grand Mosque, the government lost 127 soldiers dead and 461 injured; 117 Salafi rebels were also killed.) (Lacey 2009, 34-5, 46)

-“Saudi Arabia’s execution of a Shi’ite Muslim cleric [on 2 Jan. 2016] provoked sectarian anger across the Middle East, but by putting to death dozens of al Qaeda convicts at the same time it also delivered a strong message that Sunni violence would not be tolerated at home.”

   “Amid rising regional turmoil and a series of bombings and shootings that have killed over 50 Saudis since late 2014, Riyadh’s execution of 43 jihadists was a warning that internal support for militant Sunni groups would be crushed….The Al Saud ruling family regard the expansion of Shi’ite Iran’s influence in the Middle East as a threat to their security and to their ambition of playing the leading role among Arab states. Inside the kingdom, however, it is the threat of a rebellion by the majority Sunnis that most alarms a dynasty whose rule is based on conservative support at home and an alliance with the West.”

   “All past threats to the Al Saud, from a 1920s tribal rebellion to riots in the 1960s, a siege at Mecca’s Grand Mosque in 1979 and protests in the 1990s, were caused by conservative Sunni anger at modernization or ties with the West. That was why the al Qaeda uprising that began in 2003, and attacked the Al Saud by turning its own conservative Salafi brand of Sunni Islam against it, was such a danger. It is why the jihadist movement’s latest iteration, Islamic State, is also a problem.”

   “While Islamic State seems to lack real support among Saudis, some may sympathize with its broader goals, approving of its rhetoric against Shi’ites and the West and its criticism of corruption among the Al Saud.”

   “By executing al Qaeda ideologues and attackers, Riyadh was showing its determination to crush support for the militant cause. By also killing four Shi’ites, angering Iran in the process, it was telling conservative Sunnis it was still on their side.”

   “The jihadists dispute Saudi Arabia’s claim to lead Salafi Islam, the position of its state-appointed clergy as arbiters of religious orthodoxy, and the Al Saud’s status as legitimate rulers of the country.”  (4 Jan. 2016)

-Pakistan has “played a security role in the Persian Gulf region. After extremists occupied the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979 – posing the most serious threat to the Saudi monarchy since its creation – the kingdom turned to Pakistan for help. Pakistan sent divisions of troops to Saudi Arabia to serve as the monarchy’s praetorian guard. The Muslim and highly experienced Pakistani forces gave Saudi rulers peace of mind throughout the 1980s, and a good reason to deepen security ties with Pakistan – setting the stage for what many believe was Saudi investment in Pakistan’s nuclear program. The Pakistan option is still Saudi Arabia’s trump card when its interests diverge from those of the United States. In March 2011, when the Arab Spring was in full swing and just after protests rocked Saudi Arabia and Oman and nearly toppled the pro-Saudi monarchy in Bahrain, Prince Bandar bin Sultan flew to Islamabad to ask for help. He wanted assurances from Pakistan that it would deploy troops in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia if and when protests grew out of hand (he knew the United States certainly would not)….The help ultimately arrived in Bahrain, the Gulf state where the regime had come closest to falling. With the Pakistan army’s blessing, thousands of Pakistani veterans and experienced tribal fighters were recruited through newspaper ads to join the Bahraini security forces, which were desperate to beef up their capabilities ahead of surging unrest.” (Nasr 2013, 237-8)

(iii) Russian invasion and occupation of Afghanistan
-“The plight of the invaded Afghans woke an immediate and powerful response in a [Saudi] society where outrage was habitually rationed. Here was an injustice where protest could be permitted—encouraged even—by the Saudi government…Better that anger should be directed into jihad abroad than into Iran-style revolution at home.…Hundreds of [Saudi printing] machines stood ready to churn out tens of millions of Korans in multiple languages with [Saudi-approved] commentaries…It was part of the Kingdom’s worldwide missionary effort to combat the Shia teachings of Khomeini’s Iran…Korans would be distributed free to the madrasas…inside Afghanistan and along the Pakistan border.”

   The resulting threat to the Persian Gulf led to President Carter, in his State of the Union address, declaring: “Let our position be absolutely clear. An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force. Early in February 1980 Carter agreed to a covert program that would put his doctrine into practice—a secret agreement that Saudi Arabia and the United States would match each other, dollar for dollar, to fund an undercover guerrilla campaign in Afghanistan that would hand the Soviets ‘their own Vietnam.’” (Lacey 2009, 65, 67)

Saudi response to the three 1979 events
-“[The 1979 events] together freaked out the Saudi ruling family at the time, and prompted it to try to shore up its legitimacy by allowing its Wahhabi clerics to impose a much more austere Islam on the society and by launching a worldwide competition with Iran’s ayatollahs over who could export more fundamentalist Islam. It didn’t help that the US tried to leverage this trend by using Islamist fighters against Russia in Afghanistan. In all, it pushed Islam globally way to the right and helped nurture 9/11.” (Essentially, Wahhabi hardliners were appeased and the ulema was given more powers.)

-Saudi Arabia’s political structure is based on: veneration of the ruler; shura (consultancy) as personified in the 150-member appointed Shura council; and, a religious authority in the form of the ulema led by the Grand Mufti. Because there is no separation of religion and state, the political role of the ulema is second in importance only to the ruling family.

   In practice, “Power in the kingdom essentially rests on a three-way social compact among the House of Saud, the general population, and the…religious establishment. The first is allowed an absolute monopoly on political power as long as it shares a portion of its oil wealth with the broad masses in the form of jobs and social benefits. The people, in turn, are allowed to collect such benefits as long as they…do not disturb the status quo. As for the mullahs, their job is to drum up support for the House of Saud as long as the royal family returns the favor by safeguarding sharia at home and promulgating the kingdom’s austere, violent, and women-hating version of Islam abroad.”

-The 9/11 attacks “finally settled who ruled whom in Saudi Arabia. After Juhayman [the leader of the Grand Mosque assault in 1979], the 1980s had seen the clerics dictating the agenda in an almost Iranian fashion, with the Al-Saud anxious to appease them…[However,] September 11 had shown what happened when religion got out of hand.” (Lacey 2009, 235-6)

   “[In 2017, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS)] is on a mission to bring Saudi Islam back to the center. He has not only curbed the authority of the once feared Saudi religious police to berate a woman for not covering every inch of her skin, he has also let women drive.” (Genuinely empowering “half the Saudi population would transform the country and send a clear message of a modernized Islam.”) “And unlike any Saudi leader before him, he has taken the hard-liners on ideologically….At the time of the Prophet Muhammad, he argued, there were musical theaters, there was mixing between men and women, there was respect for Christians and Jews in Arabia.” (“Saudis marveled when the country’s first movie theaters opened in 2018.”) “‘The first commercial judge in Medina was a woman!’ [In the 1950s one could see] women without heads covered, wearing skirts and walking with men in public, as well as concerts and cinemas. It was still a traditional and modest place, but not one where fun had been outlawed, which is what happened after 1979. [There are also plans for] a broad set of education reforms, [such as] redoing and digitizing all textbooks [and] sending 1,700 Saudi teachers each year to world-class schools in places like Finland to upgrade their skills…”

   “[It’s argued] that MBS caught a wave that has been building for some time. A largely uncensored internet, Saudis’ intense involvement in social media, a youth bulge, women’s education, frequent travel and post-9/11 self-scrutiny had all paved the way for a revolutionary upstart to fast-forward a chafing society.” However, democracy is not on MBS’s agenda; amassing more and more power is his tool for change.  (The New York Times, 24 June 2018, SR 6)

10. Why did Osama Bin Laden, who had been in sync with Saudi state policy in the 1980s, turn against the Saudi government?

-“When the news had come through of Saddam’s invasion [of Kuwait] in August 1990, Osama Bin Laden knew exactly how he could help. He got in touch with the comrades who had fought with him in Afghanistan…He and his mujahideen companions had defeated the Soviets…Now they would chase…Iraqis…back to Baghdad.…When the House of Saud turned down Osama’s mujahideen in favor of the godless Americans…[t]hey offended his religious beliefs—and those of many other pious Saudis.”

   It should not be forgotten that in the mid-1980s, Bin Laden was a hero in Saudi Arabia as he was using his wealth to help a noble cause—kicking the Russians out of Afghanistan—which was supported by the Saudi and American governments. To many Arabs it “was a new and very pleasant sensation…to feel they had played their part in a military victory. ‘Progressive’ Arab leaders like Nasser and Sadat had flung well-armed Arab armies against Israel, and had delivered humiliation. They had not included religion in their strategy. But now victory was going to those who grounded themselves in Islam. Small and simple groups of holy warriors were humbling one of the world’s two superpowers.”

   In 1988 the “Russians started withdrawing, and on February 15, 1989, the Soviet Union announced that the last of its soldiers had left the country. It was an extraordinary defeat…But the victors interpreted its roots and reasons in different ways. Within months the West was celebrating the scarcely believable collapse of the entire Soviet monolith. [While the West celebrated capitalism and deterrence,] Saudis remembered their prayers…”

   In general, Saudi fundamentalists had complained for a long time that “The Al-Saud…had exploited religion as…a means to guarantee their worldly interests, putting an end to jihad, paying allegiance to the Christians (America), and bringing evil and corruption upon the Muslims[;] in a word, betrayal.…[It was] the essence of the message that Osama Bin Laden would deliver via his attacks on America on 9/11. The House of Saud were hypocrites…” (Lacey 2009, 18, 119, 123, 148, 150)

-To remove Iraq from Kuwait in 1991, “a large United Nations-sanctioned force assembled and pushed the Iraqi military back out of Kuwait. For the first time, the US military, and the militaries of Western Europe, had hundreds of thousands of troops on Saudi soil. After the Gulf War, [King] Fahd gave the United States use of…[an] air base. Among those outraged by then was Bin Laden, who declared war on the Saudi dynasty years before he declared war on the United States.” (Cole 2009, 101)

-The disintegration of the USSR in the early 1990s removed an important restraint on US foreign policy. “The real ‘peace dividend,’ it turned out, in a twist of sad and stunning irony, was that it became much easier to make war in places like the Persian Gulf without worrying about the opportunity cost for our ongoing standoff with the Soviets. ‘We could be so lavish with resources because the world had changed,’ [Colin] Powell later said. To fight a war in the Gulf, for example, ‘we could afford to pull divisions out of Germany that had been there for the past forty years to stop a Soviet offensive that was no longer coming.’” (Rachel Maddow, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, Crown Publishers, New York: 2012, 137.)

-“Since the mid-1990s the US Air Force had built up the Prince Sultan Air Base at Al-Kharj, south of Riyadh, to become the linchpin of its Middle East air command.” Saudi Arabia permitted the United States to use Al-Kharj and some other bases for the 2003 Iraq invasion “on a basis of strict military secrecy—after which the Americans” would have to leave. Once “the invasion was completed, American transporters flew in to start dismantling and shuttling US Air Force assets eastward…to…Qatar. By the end of September 2003 there was not a single US soldier, tank, or plane left on the soil of Saudi Arabia, apart from a few long-term military trainers. Abdullah had finally distanced the Kingdom from Bush’s America as he had long wished—and, in the process, one of the principal demands that Osama Bin Laden had made in attacking the twin towers…had also been met.” (Lacey 2009, 291)

   “Across the Persian Gulf [in January 2016], there are still US bases in every country save Iran and Yemen. Even in Saudi Arabia, where widespread anger at the US presence led to an official withdrawal in 2003, there are still small US military contingents and a secret drone base. There are secret bases in Israel, four installations in Egypt, and at least one in Jordan near the Iraqi border. Turkey hosts 17 bases…”  (20 Jan. 2016)

   “For years, the American military has sought to distance itself from a brutal civil war in Yemen, where Saudi-led forces are battling rebels who pose no direct threat to the United States. But late [in 2017], a team of about a dozen Green Berets arrived on Saudi Arabia’s border with Yemen, in a continuing escalation of America’s secret wars. With virtually no public discussion or debate, the Army commandos are helping locate and destroy caches of ballistic missiles and launch sites that Houthi rebels in Yemen are using to attack Riyadh and other Saudi cities.”

11. Jihadi manuals, used by the mujahideen in Afghanistan and elsewhere, were produced in the early 1980s by which country? 

-“In the twilight of the Cold War, the United States spent millions of dollars to supply Afghan schoolchildren with textbooks filled with violent images and militant Islamic teachings, part of covert attempts to spur resistance to the Soviet occupation. The primers, which were filled with talk of jihad and featured drawings of guns, bullets, soldiers and mines, have served since then as the Afghan school system’s core curriculum. Even the Taliban used the American-produced books…”

   The US is now “wrestling with the unintended consequences of its successful strategy of stirring Islamic fervor to fight communism. What seemed like a good idea in the context of the Cold War is being criticized by humanitarian workers as a crude tool that steeped a generation in violence.…Published in the dominant Afghan languages of Dari and Pashtu, the textbooks were developed in the early 1980s…[at] the University of Nebraska-Omaha…Today, the books remain widely available in schools and shops, to the chagrin of international aid workers. ‘The pictures [in] the texts are horrendous to school students…’ One page from the texts of that period shows a resistance fighter with a bandolier and a Kalashnikov slung from his shoulder. The soldier’s head is missing. Above the soldier is a verse from the Koran. Below is a Pashtu tribute to the mujaheddin, who are described as obedient to Allah. Such men will sacrifice their wealth and life itself to impose Islamic law on the government, the text says.”

-“To the extent that Saudi Arabia is indirectly implicated in the rise of al-Qaeda in the 1980s, its partner in crime was surely the Reagan administration, the US Congress, and the American religious right—who by encouraging brigades of Muslim volunteers to go to Afghanistan, created the preconditions for al-Qaeda’s rise.” (Cole 2009, 101-2)

   With respect to Saudi Arabia establishing madrasas in Afghanistan in the 1980s, “We have to remember…that the original purpose of these schools was strategic. The fighting with the Soviets had tragic consequences—it was creating a lot of orphans.… The plan was to…put [the orphans] through school—then ship them to the front. The Saudis get the blame…but…many of…[the madrasas] were part of a joint US-Saudi project to take these poor kids and make them warriors for the West.” (Lacey 2009, 194)

12. Which three countries were the first to officially recognize the Taliban government in Afghanistan? 

-“By the end of September 1996 the Taliban had conquered Kabul and had extended their rule to twenty-two of the country’s thirty-one provinces. They announced that their godly government would be known as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, and while most of the world prudently stepped back and waited, three countries granted this unusual entity official recognition: Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates—and Saudi Arabia.”

   The Taliban began issuing prohibitions: “no kite flying, no pool tables, no music, no nail polish, no toothpaste, no televisions, no beard shaving…[T]he Taliban also…closed all girls’ schools and colleges, and banned women from working…These draconian regulations were enforced by religious police squads…that were built directly on the Saudi model of fundamentalist vigilantes and drew support from Saudi religious charities.”

   At the end of July 1998 the Taliban finally captured “Mazar-e Sharif. This historic center of Shia worship…had resisted Taliban attacks…and was now punished with a series of ghastly reprisals. Ahmed Rashid later estimated that six thousand to eight thousand Shia…were slaughtered in a rampage of murder and rape that included slitting people’s throats and bleeding them to death, halal-style, and packing hundreds of victims into shipping containers without water, to be baked alive in the desert sun.” Not for the “first or last time, Saudi favor to Islamic purists had helped give birth to a monster…” (Lacey 2009, 199-201, 209-10)

   When in 1996 “the Taliban religious movement decided to stone to death a couple caught in adultery, it chose a blazing afternoon in late August.…The condemned woman, Nurbibi, 40, was lowered into a pit dug into the earth beside the wall until only her chest and head were above ground.…[After the judge threw the first stone,] Taliban fighters who had been summoned for the occasion stepped forward and launched a cascade of stones…”

-“[I]t is one of the most extraordinary aspects of the turmoil in the Middle East that the Saudi backing for extreme Sunni organizations, for jihadi organizations, isn’t opposed by the US more vigorously. [T]he official 9/11 Commission report [said] the main backers for…al-Qaeda are private Saudi donors and donors in the other [Sunni] Gulf states…[In 2010, WikiLeaks] released a memorandum from Hillary Clinton…[that said exactly] the same thing. The main backers for al-Qaeda-type organizations, of Sunni-organized fanatical jihadi groups is Saudi private donors in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf….[T]here’s a whole series of Frankenstein monsters both in Syria and in northern Iraq that have been created and supported and aided by private citizens and at times the state in Saudi Arabia, but the US has refused to do anything about this.”

   “It really is absurd to focus on tiny al-Qaeda groups in the hill villages of Yemen without looking at these very dangerous developments in northern Iraq and eastern and northern Syria, where al-Qaeda and its affiliates for the first time control a great swath of territory…from the upper reaches of the Tigris River to the coast of the Mediterranean…. Saudi Arabia has played a key role in this [extraordinary] development. But there’s been very little reaction in the US or Western Europe or from [the] many security agencies that are meant to be focusing on al-Qaeda.”

   “The kingdom…harbors individuals and companies sanctioned by the US for aiding terrorist organizations….Hateful ideology is so prevalent in the kingdom, it’s no wonder that at least 2,500 Saudis have joined Islamic State. Saudi leaders should…fulfill their promise to remove from state-issued textbooks passages so intolerant — including instruction on how best to execute heretics and homosexuals — that Islamic State has downloaded them for children in its territories.”  (21 Dec. 2015)

   When ISIS was “getting started, a key component of [its] support came from wealthy individuals in…Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Sometimes the support came with the tacit nod of approval from those regimes; often, it took advantage of poor money laundering protections in those states…Gulf donors support ISIS, the Syrian branch of al Qaeda called the al Nusrah Front [re-branded as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham in 2016], and other Islamic groups…because they feel an obligation to protect Sunnis suffering under the atrocities of the Assad regime….[G]ulf leaders often justify allowing their Salafi constituents to fund Syrian extremist groups by pointing back to what they see as a failed US policy in Syria and a loss of credibility after President Obama reneged on his pledge to strike Assad after the regime used chemical weapons.”  (14 June 2014)

   “It is difficult to believe that Gulf regimes, including the Saudis, that excel in controlling their populations [with extensive security networks] are unaware of [private funding of Sunni jihadist groups]. But since much of this funding is aimed at countering Iranian influence, especially in Syria, they turn a blind eye.”  (8 June 2017)

-When President Obama was asked in 2016 how Islam in Indonesia “had become more intolerant and exclusive” he “is quoted as replying: ‘The Saudis and other Gulf Arabs have funnelled money, and large numbers of imams and teachers, into the country. In the 1990s, the Saudis heavily funded Wahhabist madrassas, seminaries that teach the fundamentalist version of Islam favoured by the Saudi ruling family.’ The same shift towards the Wahhabisation of mainstream Sunni Islam is affecting the great majority of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world who are Sunnis.”

   “Arab oil states spread their power by many means in addition to religious proselytism, including the simple purchase of people and institutions which they see as influential….‘A widely held sentiment inside the White House is that many of the most prominent foreign-policy think tanks in Washington are doing the bidding of their Arab and pro-Israel funders….’ Television and newspapers happily quote supposed experts from such think tanks as if they were non-partisan academics of unblemished objectivity.”

   Hopefully, future presidents will “continue to rebalance US foreign policy away from reliance on Sunni powers seeking to use American military and political muscle in their own interests. Past US leaders have closed their eyes to this with disastrous consequences in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.”

   The fact is that Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan and the Gulf monarchies have limited power and limited loyalty to the US. “Though it was obvious that the US would be unable to defeat the Taliban so long as it was supported and given sanctuary by Pakistan, the Americans never confronted Pakistan on the issue.” Turkey’s “policies have failed.” “Despite all the US efforts not to make the same mistakes it made in Iraq in 2003, Obama concedes that ‘Libya is a mess’…[T]he collapse of Libya into anarchy and warlord rule served as warning to Obama against military intervention in Syria where he rightly calculated that the Libya disaster would be repeated.”  (17 March 2016)

-In 2012, “the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) of the US Dept of Defense accurately characterized the conflict in Syria and predicted the emergence of the Islamic State.” The assessment “doesn’t say that the US created sectarian groups and it does not say that the US favors al-Qaeda in Syria or the so-called ‘Islamic State of Iraq.’ [However, it does say] that those powers (e.g., Turkey and the Gulf monarchies) supporting the opposition wanted to see the declaration of a Salafi (hard line Sunni) breakaway statelet, in order to put pressure on the al-Assad regime. It doesn’t say they wanted to see a Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) state.”

-“While the [Saudi 2015 Yemen] intervention was intended to crush the Houthi movement and reinstall the government of interim president Abd Rabbu Mansur Hadi, it also led to an empowerment of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which profited from a power vacuum and anti-Houthi sentiments in South Yemen….[U]nlike most other Saudi foreign policy initiatives since 2011, [such as supporting the coup against Morsi in Egypt, attacking ISIS, and declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization,] the Yemen campaign was strongly supported by the kingdom’s Islamists. This may in part be because of affinities and links to Yemen’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Islah, which had suffered from the Houthi advance and was rehabilitated as a tactical ally of Saudi Arabia since the start of the Yemen intervention.”  (July 2015)

   Americans should know that the Houthis do not seek confrontation with the US or Israel, and are not aligned with extremists. In fact, “the Houthi movement has repeatedly clashed with the Islamic State [and] al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. It is Saudi Arabia that has long supported Sunni Islamist groups in Yemen.”

   “To compound the irony, the paranoid sheiks in Riyadh created the very threat they set out to crush with their invasion in 2015. Iranian ties to the Houthis were negligible before then. Remarking on years of attempts to smear them as pawns of Iran, the US ambassador to Yemen reported in a classified cable in 2009, ‘The fact that…there is still no compelling evidence of that link must force us to view this claim with some skepticism.’ Two former members of the State Department’s Office of Policy Planning have recently confirmed that ‘the vast majority of the Houthi arsenal…was seized from Yemeni army stockpiles,’ not provided by Iran.”

   “As the devastating war grinds on, however, Iran has provided the Houthis with modest training, advice, and ground munitions. ‘Iran has exploited, on the cheap, the Saudi-led campaign, and thus made the expansion of Iranian influence in Yemen a Saudi self-fulfilling prophecy… By catering to the Saudis in Yemen…the United States has…strengthened Iranian influence in Yemen, undermined Saudi security, brought Yemen closer to the brink of collapse, and visited more death, destruction, and displacement on the Yemeni population.’” (5 Nov. 2017)

-Saudi-financed mosques in Kosovo have been “blamed for spreading Wahhabism [since the 1999] American-­led intervention wrested tiny Kosovo from Serbian oppression. Since then — much of that time under the watch of American officials [who are trying to spread democracy] — Saudi money and influence have transformed this once­ tolerant Muslim society…into a font of Islamic extremism and a pipeline for jihadists. [As a result,] Kosovo now finds itself, like the rest of Europe, fending off the threat of radical Islam.”

   Since 2014, “the police have identified 314 Kosovars…who have gone abroad to join the Islamic State, the highest number per capita in Europe. They were radicalized and recruited…by a corps of extremist clerics and secretive associations funded by Saudi Arabia and other conservative Arab gulf states using an obscure, labyrinthine network of donations from charities, private individuals and government ministries.”

   Kosovo’s Saudi-financed mosques “are part of what moderate imams and officials here describe as a deliberate, long-term strategy by Saudi Arabia to reshape Islam in its image, not only in Kosovo but around the world. Saudi diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks in 2015 reveal a system of funding for mosques, Islamic centers and Saudi­-trained clerics that spans Asia, Africa and Europe. In New Delhi alone, 140 Muslim preachers are listed as on the Saudi Consulate’s payroll.”

   “All around Kosovo, families are grappling with the aftermath of years of proselytizing by Saudi­-trained preachers. Some daughters refuse to shake hands with or talk to male relatives. Some sons have gone off to jihad. Religious vigilantes have threatened — or committed — violence against academics, journalists and politicians.”

   “In recent years, Saudi Arabia appears to have reduced its aid to Kosovo….It is now money from Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — which each average approximately €1 million a year — that propagates the same hard­line version of Islam. The payments come from foundations or individuals, or sometimes from the Ministry of Zakat (Almsgiving) from the various governments…Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations were still raising millions from ‘deep­-pocket donors and charitable organizations’ based in the gulf, the [US] Treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, David S. Cohen, said in a speech in 2014…While Saudi Arabia has made progress in stamping out funding for Al Qaeda, sympathetic donors in the kingdom were still funding other terrorist groups, he said.”

-“The first American diplomat to serve as envoy to Muslim communities around the world visited 80 countries and concluded that the Saudi influence was destroying tolerant Islamic traditions. ‘If the Saudis do not cease what they are doing,’ the official, Farah Pandith, wrote [in 2015], ‘there must be diplomatic, cultural and economic consequences.’”

   “[M]any American officials who have worked to counter extremism and terrorism have formed a dark view of the Saudi effect — even if, given the sensitivity of the relationship, they are often loath to discuss it publicly. The United States’ reliance on Saudi counterterrorism cooperation in recent years…has often taken precedence over concerns about radical influence. And generous Saudi funding for professorships and research centers at American universities, including the most elite institutions, has deterred criticism and discouraged research on the effects of Wahhabi proselytizing…One American former official who has begun to speak out is Ms. Pandith, the State Department’s first special representative to Muslim communities worldwide. From 2009 to 2014, she visited Muslims in 80 countries and concluded that Saudi influence was pernicious and universal….She [believes] the United States should ‘disrupt the training of extremist imams,’ ‘reject free Saudi textbooks and translations that are filled with hate,’ and ‘prevent the Saudis from demolishing local Muslim religious and cultural sites that are evidence of the diversity of Islam.’”  (Aug. 2016)

-“In the collaborative management of the region by the Saudis and the West in pursuit of the many western projects (countering socialism, Ba’athism, Nasserism, Soviet and Iranian influence), western politicians have highlighted their chosen reading of Saudi Arabia (wealth, modernization and influence), but they chose to ignore the Wahhabist impulse. After all, the more radical Islamist movements were perceived by Western intelligence services as being more effective in toppling the USSR in Afghanistan — and in combatting out-of-favor Middle Eastern leaders and states. Why should [the West] be surprised then, that from Prince Bandar’s Saudi-Western mandate to manage the insurgency in Syria against President Assad should have emerged a [strict Wahhabist] type of violent, fear-inducing vanguard movement: ISIS?”

   ISIS should be seen as a revolutionary “movement to contemporary Wahhabism….[I]t forcefully denies the Saudis’ claim of authority to rule….ISIS’s undermining of the legitimacy of the King’s legitimacy is not seen to be problematic, but rather a return to the true origins of the Saudi-Wahhab project.” (August 2014)

   Saudi Arabia’s “brand of ultraconservative Islam is nearly identical to that of the Islamic State. When [ISIS] needed textbooks to distribute to schoolchildren in Raqqa, it printed out copies of Saudi textbooks found online. [In 2014, ISIS began publishing its own textbooks, which still reproduce ideas from Saudi texts.] Unsurprisingly then, most of the Islamic State’s hudud penalties are identical to penalties for the same crimes in Saudi Arabia: death for blasphemy, homosexual acts, treason, and murder; death by stoning for adultery; one hundred lashes for sex out of wedlock; amputation of a hand for stealing; amputation of a hand and foot for bandits who steal…But there are two ways the Islamic State distinguishes itself from Saudi Arabia, which it believes is ruled by apostates. Firstly, the State carries out its penalties in public whereas Saudi Arabia hides them because of international censure….Secondly, The Islamic State goes the extra mile in its penalties. It opts for eighty lashes for drinking and slander rather than leaving it to the judge’s discretion, as in Saudi Arabia. Whereas Saudi Arabia prefers to execute people by beheading, the Islamic State does that and more, [such as] throwing people off buildings…When Muslims raise a hue and cry that [ISIS’s] actions aren’t Islamic, the Islamic State’s jurists cite chapter and verse.” (William McCants, The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision Of The Islamic State, St. Martin’s Press, New York: 2015, 136-7.)

   “[In 2016,] the former imam of [Saudi Arabia’s] Grand Mosque said…ISIS ‘exploited our own principles, that can be found in our books….We follow the same thought but apply it in a refined way.'”

13. When the Taliban took power, who said he saw “nothing objectionable” in their plans to impose strict Islamic law?

-“The US government was well aware of the Taliban’s reactionary program, yet it chose to back their rise to power in the mid-1990s. The creation of the Taliban was ‘actively encouraged by the ISI and the CIA,’ according to Selig Harrison, an expert on US relations with Asia. ‘The United States encouraged Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to support the Taliban, certainly right up to their advance on Kabul,’ adds respected journalist Ahmed Rashid. When the Taliban took power, State Department spokesperson Glyn Davies said that he saw ‘nothing objectionable’ in the Taliban’s plans to impose strict Islamic law, and Senator Hank Brown, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Near East and South Asia, welcomed the new regime: ‘The good part of what has happened is that one of the factions at last seems capable of developing a new government in Afghanistan.’ ‘The Taliban will probably develop like the Saudis. There will be Aramco [the consortium of oil companies that controlled Saudi oil], pipelines, an emir, no parliament and lots of Sharia law. We can live with that,’ said another US diplomat in 1997.”

   The reference to “oil and pipelines explains everything.…Afghanistan itself has no known oil or gas reserves, but it is an attractive route for pipelines leading to Pakistan, India, and the Arabian Sea. In the mid-1990s, a consortium led by the California-based Unocal Corporation proposed a $4.5 billion oil and gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan. But this would require a stable central government in Afghanistan itself. Thus began several years in which US policy in the region centered on ‘romancing the Taliban.’”

14. From the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 to 2007, what percentage of known suicide-bombers in Iraq were of Saudi origin? Iranian origin?

-Saudi origin: 43%; Iranian origin: 0%.

15. How many Wahhabi suicide bombers had there been before 1980?

-None. “There were no Wahhabi suicide bombers until after the Reagan administration launched its struggle, with the help of the mujahideen, against the Soviets in Afghanistan, and there is no warrant in Wahhabism for suicide, or it would not have taken 150 years for it to occur to a Wahhabi fighter to sacrifice himself in that way. It is wrong to tar all the members of a religious tradition with the brush of terrorism based on the actions of a small number of persons among them.” (Cole 2009, 111)

-“[I]t is wildly inaccurate to describe [Iran] as the source of jihadi terror. According to an analysis of the Global Terrorism Database by Leif Wenar of King’s College, more than 94 percent of deaths caused by Islamic terrorism since 2001 were perpetrated by ISIS, al-Qaeda and other Sunni jihadists. Iran is fighting those groups, not fueling them. Almost every terror attack in the West has had some connection to Saudi Arabia. Virtually none have been linked to Iran.”

16. True or False: Saudi Arabia was instrumental in putting forward a comprehensive peace plan with Israel—that was formally adopted by the entire Arab League—that offered Israel full recognition and normal relations.

-True. “During a February 2002 interview the crown prince [Abdullah] startled…columnist Thomas Friedman by…[producing] a fully worked-out peace proposal that offered Arab recognition of Israel and normalization of relations in exchange for an Israeli return to its pre-1967 borders. A few weeks later Abdullah went to Beirut to push his peace plan through the twenty-two-member Arab League summit—the most developed and comprehensive Arab olive branch ever.…[P]rivate polling inside Israel [done by a company not told it was for Saudi Arabia]…found that 70 percent of Israelis thought that the Abdullah peace plan was a fair deal.” (Lacey 2009, 285)

-In March 2002, the Arab League summit in Beirut unanimously put forth a peace initiative that commits it not just to recognize Israel but also to establish normal relations once Israel implements the international consensus for a comprehensive peace—which includes Israel withdrawing from the occupied territories and a just settlement of the Palestinian refugee crisis. (This peace initiative has been subsequently reaffirmed including at the March 2009 Arab League summit at Doha.) All 57 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, including Iran, “adopted the Arab peace initiative to resolve the issue of Palestine and the Middle East…and decided to use all possible means in order to explain and clarify the full implications of this initiative and win international support for its implementation.” (Norman G. Finkelstein, This Time We Went Too Far: Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion, OR Books, New York: 2010, 42.)

   “[T]he proposal…was never taken seriously by the expansionist government of Ariel Sharon, nor by the stridently pro-Israeli politicians in Washington.” (Cole 2009, 103)

-Saudi Arabia is concerned that its US ally is largely hated in the Arab world due to its invasion and occupation of Iraq, blatantly pro-Israel stance and other policies. Accordingly, King Abdullah has attempted to resurrect his Arab-Israeli peace plan, reconcile Hamas and the PLO, and pursue other policies to diminish Iran’s influence in the region. (The Saudi rulers had warned against the 2003 US invasion of Iraq as they were concerned that the venture could lead to increasing Iran’s power in the region.)

   Instead of “attempting to enlist Saudi Arabia in vendettas, as the Bush administration did, pitting Saudis and their Sunni allies in Lebanon against the Iran-backed Shiite Hizbullah (which ended badly in May 2008 when Hizbullah militiamen demonstrated that they could take over all of Beirut if they so chose), or attempting to set Saudi Arabia and other Gulf oil monarchies against Iran, the United States should see the Saudis as the ultimate potential peace brokers in the region.” (Cole 2009, 112)

17. What was the unemployment rate in Saudi Arabia in 2010?

-According to the CIA World Factbook, the estimated rate is 10.8%. The rate is for Saudi males only. Some unemployment estimates range as high as 25%. In 2018, youth unemployment is 34%.
(The New York Times, 24 June 2018, SR 6)

-Saudi Arabia has an unemployment problem for several reasons. “In reality, income generated from exporting…high priced primary commodities [such as oil] enhances the value of the local currency, which in turn makes other potential exports…more expensive…[thus] destroying jobs….Other roots of unemployment include the kingdom’s extremely high population growth rate…and [the practice] whereby individual Saudis bring foreign workers into the country, taking jobs away from citizens.”

   There is plenty of poverty in Saudi Arabia. The late King Abdullah “responded to this challenge by embarking on projects such as the building of an entirely new city of 2 million, aiming to provide a million jobs to Saudis, and by developing industries such as aluminum, steel, fertilizer, and petrochemicals so as to diversify the economy.” (Cole 2009, 93-5)

-“The unrestricted entry of cheap foreign workers had flooded the Saudi labor market with millions of third-world workers who were willing to live in primitive camps and to work for…$190 per month. This was a third of the amount on which a Saudi could survive, and the logical solution—that young Saudis should be trained to work as managers—was handicapped by the rising generation’s embarrassing deficiencies in education, particularly when it came to practical knowledge and independent reasoning skills. The teaching of math, science, and English…had been drastically reduced in the early 1980s to make room for the extra religious classes that featured learning by rote…Small wonder that the vision of jihad in foreign lands offered purpose and excitement that attracted many a frustrated young [man]…”

   Public “beheadings today are disciplinary displays intended to make a point to the ever-swelling community of migrant workers—some ten million, legal and illegal, in a population of twenty-eight million—and the grim deterrent seems effective. By day or by night, you can walk the streets of any Saudi town without fear of muggers. People leave their cars unlocked. Gun crime against or between locals is virtually nonexistent…” (Lacey 2009, 192, 317)

-“Domestically, Saudi Arabia faces the challenges of unemployment, an exploding population, a growing gap between rich and poor, rapid urbanization and an information revolution that has bypassed the rulers. Although Saudi Arabia shares many of the conditions that have bred the [2011] democracy uprisings—including autocracy, corruption and a large population of educated young people without access to suitable jobs—its people are cushioned by oil wealth and culturally resistant to change.” In other words, unlike other Arab countries, the ruling families in the Persian Gulf region can use cradle-to-grave benefits to co-opt opponents and preempt change.

-For a sense of the degree of corruption that has prevailed in Saudi Arabia, consider that an “investigation by the [UK’s] SFO [Serious Fraud Office] into alleged payments of as much as £1bn made by [arms manufacturer] BAE to Prince Bandar bin Sultan…was dropped in 2006 after the intervention of the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair. The Government claimed that investigating the £43bn Yamamah deal would threaten the UK’s national security.”

   Massive corruption “by thousands of princes has undermined the economy to the point where it’s even less diversified than it was forty years ago. With oil prices off 50 percent from their mid-2014 peak, the government has had to cut social spending so that King Salman can keep taking $100 million vacations in Morocco…”

-“[S]audi Arabia ranks about seventeenth in the list of the world’s twenty most powerful economies, just behind Turkey and comfortably ahead of any other Arab country.” King Abdullah’s “most wide-reaching reform…has been…the accession of the Kingdom to the World Trade Organization. In a trade context this has involved the removal of various preferential tariffs, notably the discounts to the US oil majors who founded Aramco. More profoundly, it required the passing—and enforcement—of forty-two new laws to impose international standards of arbitration, fiscal transparency, legal process, and the protection of intellectual property…As a result of these reforms, Saudi business efficiency [has improved according to the World Bank]…” (Lacey 2009, 272, 302)

-“In 2017, Saudi Arabia will continue to pursue the two key goals that King Salman set when he acceded to the throne in January 2015: to reduce the economy’s dependence on oil revenues and government spending; and to position the Kingdom as a regional hegemon that can meet any threat, especially from Iran.”

   “[Economic] reform will be a Sisyphean struggle, because the state employs two-thirds of the population, and its decades-old entitlements system has created a culture of dependence. It will be exceedingly difficult to wean Saudis off of government handouts and benefits, and acclimate them to an economy in which the state is not the dominant player.”

-“Since his sudden rise to power in April 2015, [Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, aka MBS] has spearheaded a full-scale war with Yemen, blockaded tiny Qatar, pledged to list a portion of…Saudi Aramco on international markets, propped up the global oil market by leading the OPEC-and-friends strategy to maintain oil output, and embarked on a grand plan to transform the economy in just over a decade — the so-called Saudi Vision 2030. [And, in November 2017 he began removing] his rivals.”

    “The [November] purge of 11 powerful princes, four sitting ministers and at least 38 former ministers as part of a sweeping ‘anti-corruption’ drive…is seen as an effort by the Crown Prince to break away from 40 years of inertia [and to consolidate power].…During the sweeping arrests, the Saudi authorities also seized sizable lands and assets from ministers and princes.” (“To preempt a backlash against its policies, the government launched the most severe crackdown on dissent in years, detaining prominent clerics and activists.”)

   “By targeting high-profile Saudis, the crown prince is tapping into the resentment of citizens, who watch with envy the higher living standards and freedoms enjoyed by their counterparts in the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar. Ordinary Saudis are also feeling the brunt of a severe economic downturn due to lower crude prices, that has forced the government to channel nearly US$250 billion — or roughly a third — of its international reserves into the economy. But retooling the economy means taking apart deeply entrenched structures. Since its establishment in 1932, the conservative country has functioned as a loose coalition between dissenting brothers and princes sharing the spoils.” (Montreal Gazette, 7 Nov. 2017, B2) (Bloomberg Businessweek, 6 Nov. 2017, 26)

18. Which is the only Muslim-majority state to forbid the building of churches?

-Among the “nearly 60 Muslim-majority states in the world, only one, Saudi Arabia, forbids the building of churches.” (Saudi Arabia “still executes women for witchcraft” and its religious establishment instructs Muslims to hate Christians, Jews, polytheists and atheists.)  (17 March 2017)

-Observers are correct to discern hypocrisy whenever the US government attacks Iran for being undemocratic and abusive towards its own citizens since the Saudi “kingdom is run as an absolute monarchy. It does not allow freedom of religion or of speech. It discriminates against religious minorities. It imposes strict gender segregation…It represses political dissidents.” However, such repression is not due to Islam—since many Muslim countries have far better human rights records—but due to the Saudi regime and Saudi culture. (Cole 2009, 95)

-“[I]n Saudi Arabia the law actually enshrines the principle that the male knows better than the female. A woman may not enroll in university, open a bank account, get a job, or travel outside the country without the written permission of a mahram (guardian) who must be a male blood relative—her father, grandfather, brother, husband, or, in the case of a widow or separated woman, her adult son.” “Since 9/11 women have the right to work in the private sector, but like any other activity outside the home, they can do it only with the written permission of their…male guardian.” (Lacey 2009, 277, 325)

   Restaurants in Saudi Arabia “have separate entrances and eating areas — one for single men, one for families. Starbucks and other coffee shops have private sitting areas with tall walls to keep women from being seen by men. Shopping malls have women-only floors. Banks have side-by-side branches — one for women and one for men.”

   “[T]he King Abdullah University of Science and Technology [does not] segregate students by gender, nor impose a dress code on women. [The University] followed the precedent of Saudi Aramco, the state oil company, which had also been shielded from clerical interference, highlighting one of the great contradictions of Saudi Arabia: Regardless of how much the royal family lauds its Islamic values, when it wants to earn money or innovate, it does not turn to the clerics for advice. It puts up a wall and locks them out. Most clerics kept quiet out of deference to the king.”

   In September 2017, Saudi women were “granted the right to drive, overturning a cornerstone of Saudi conservatism that had been a cause célèbre for activists demanding reforms in the fundamentalist kingdom.” Furthermore, women will not need permission from a legal guardian to get a licence nor will they “need a guardian in the car when they drive…” Saudi Arabia had been the only country where women could not drive. (In 2015, women were granted the right to vote and compete in municipal elections.)

   “Close to seventy per cent of the population is under thirty years old. Every year, the government pays for as many as seventy thousand young people to study in the United States. Those students return home wanting jobs and, often, at least some of the freedoms that they enjoyed in the West.”

-“[A]s sweeping as [Crown Prince] Mohammed bin Salman’s [MBS’s] economic and cultural reforms may be, he has expressed no interest in liberalizing the country’s political system. Indeed, the model that seems to best conform to his vision is China, with its dynamic economy, literate population, and authoritarian rule.”

   “[By early 2018 MBS] had eliminated or silenced nearly all potential opposition to his rule. He replaced the generals in charge of the war in Yemen and pushed ahead with his plans to privatize Saudi Arabia’s oil industry. At the same time, the waves of arrests created a climate of fear in which even the tamest criticism of the government was labelled disloyal….[However,] His rapid modernization and anti-corruption initiatives, whatever their motivations, seemed sure to inspire legions of enemies.”

   Trump’s hawkish administration entails “that there will be few constraints on MBS’s regional ambitions” to confront Iran, tame Qatar, and diminsh the Muslim Brotherhood. (Domestically, MBS did assert his dominance over the royal family, the clerical establishment, and leading businessmen. However, foreign affairs are more complex to dominate, as MBS’s attempt to tame Qatar shows.)

-Twitter and similar “social-networking sites are alive and well in Saudi Arabia. But anyone who posts anything the regime deems offensive risks being arrested.” “That Saudi Arabia allows so much freedom on its pan-Arab Al Arabiya satellite channel and Al Hayat newspaper while continuing to imprison writers and activists at home is especially hypocritical and abhorrent.” “[T]he United States says little or nothing publicly about human rights abuses in the kingdom, apart from its annual State Department human rights report.” “Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has always been appalling. The chaotic outcome of the Arab revolutions has, regrettably, made the United States and other Western powers even more reluctant to pressure Saudi leaders to promote democratic reforms.”

19. Who wrote the following about a conversation he had with Saudi King Faisal at a state dinner? “[The King informed me that] Jews and Communists were working…together, to undermine the civilized world as we knew it. Oblivious to my [Jewish] ancestry—or delicately putting me into a special category—Faisal insisted that an end be put once and for all to the dual conspiracy of Jews and Communists. The Middle East outpost of that plot was the State of Israel, put there by Bolshevism for the principal purpose of dividing America from the Arabs.”

-Henry Kissinger: United States Secretary of State, 1973-1977.

-Robert Jordan, Bush’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, discovered the depth of conspiracy thinking among Saudis when he arrived in Riyadh a few weeks after 9/11 to take up his post. “Many senior princes believed it was a Jewish plot. Nayef (the interior minister) actually said it was a Zionist conspiracy in a public statement. Even Abdullah was suspicious. They had latched onto this report that three thousand Jewish employees had not gone into work that day. It was an urban myth that has since been discredited, but at the time it was the only way they could make sense of it.…To accept that [many Saudis were involved with the 9/11 attacks]…was like accepting that your son was a serial killer.”

   The terror attacks inside Saudi Arabia during the early 2000s, “were the work of Saudi jihadis who had been driven out of Afghanistan by the US-UK invasion in the months following 9/11. The demolition of their Afghan training camps forced several hundred extremists back to the Kingdom, where they regrouped in safe houses as ‘Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,’ taking orders via coded phone messages from their leaders, who had gone into hiding in the tribal territories along the Afghani border. Osama Bin Laden…ordered them to take the battle to the Al-Saud on their home territory.” “[Prince Nayef] may have blamed 9/11 on the Zionists, but now his Ministry of the Interior went for the terrorists with ruthless efficiency.”

   In contrast to how the US has treated its prisoners, Saudi Arabia has adopted a progressive rehabilitation program. According to Prince Nayef, the architect of the program, “Some people say that our rehab program is too soft—that we should build a sort of Saudi Guantanamo to punish them. But that is just what Al-Qaeda would like.…If we used the old, harsh ways, then they would draw sympathy and the extremists would take advantage of that to try to get more people involved in terrorism.…We are building a national consensus that extremism is wrong.…[W]e have had…[many] young men surrender themselves because their families brought them in. Whoever wins society will win this war.” (Lacey 2009, 228, 245, 248, 255, 257-8)

20. True or False: A popular satirical TV comedy show, on the air in Saudi Arabia for many years, pokes fun at the flaws of Saudi society by dealing with sensitive topics such as terrorism, marital relations and religion.


-A fatwa – a religious edict — was “issued by senior sheikhs in the Kingdom who said it was sinful for anyone to watch the show [Tash Ma Tash]. The sheikhs said it made a mockery of sheikhs and insulted religious figures, failing to accord them due prestige and importance. This particular fatwa followed an episode about judges in Saudi courts—who are all sheikhs. According to the episode, the sheikhs work only 2 or 3 hours a day, even though official working hours are from 8 to 2. Unpleasant as it may be, it was the truth; many sheikhs work far less than is required. Thousands of people requiring signatures or coming with witnesses to courts all over the Kingdom depend on the judges’ presence in order to finish their business.…The fatwa was issued and the message was clear: criticizing judges is a ‘no-no.’”

-In its “many years on the air, Tash Ma Tash has never once made fun of a greedy prince or a pompous government minister. In 2006 it moved from the official government channel to satellite TV in Dubai, and in 2008 renamed” itself: We Are All Village People. (Lacey 2009, 324)

21. What is the Shia population of the oil-rich Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia?

-Approximately 915,000 (of a total population of the Eastern Province of 3,400,000). Shias have suffered discrimination and are disproportionately poor in Saudi Arabia. Iran, especially following its Revolution, tried to incite “its fellow Shias” against the ruling Saudi regime. However, Shia have proved loyal to the Kingdom while radical Sunnis committed terror against the regime. “[L]ike a lot of minorities in [Saudi Arabia, Shias recognize]…they would get a better deal from the Saudi monarchy than they would from any nonroyal government.…How could the Shia expect anything but oppression from the Wahhabis?” (Lacey 2009, 101, 170)

-“The kingdom’s Shiite population makes up about 10-15% of the citizen population, and is mainly located in the country’s Eastern Province, particularly around Qatif and al-Ahsa. Since the 1970s, Islamist movements have become the most powerful political force amongst the Shiite, replacing leftist and Arab nationalist movements that had been popular in the Eastern Province since the 1950s. They led an uprising in 1979, which was repressed. Many of their leaders spent long years in exile and tensions with the state remained high during the 1980s and early 1990s. An amnesty agreement in 1993 brought most exiles back, and led to an alliance of the state with the Shirazi movement, the most prominent of the Shiite Islamist movements. The Shirazi movement has by and large maintained its pro-government stance, and did not openly call for protests as part of the Arab uprisings in 2011. But most Saudi Shiite supported the uprising in neighbouring Bahrain and saw the Arab uprisings as an opportunity for change. And so a splinter group of the Shirazi movement led by the cleric Nimr al-Nimr from Awwamiyya did call for protests, and an uprising started in February 2011. It mainly involved peaceful protests but also occasionally armed clashes with security forces. A small militant faction remains active, particularly in the village of Awwamiyya. Nevertheless, the uprising was by and large crushed by the end of 2013 with hundreds of people imprisoned and more than twenty killed.”  (July 2015)

-Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest oil exporter, with one-quarter of the world’s proven oil reserves, mostly in the Eastern Province, home to the giant government-owned oil corporation Saudi Aramco. Oil accounts for 75% of budget earnings, approximately 45% of GDP and 90% of exports. Today, China and Japan are its biggest customers. The kingdom also has huge reserves of natural gas. The government is making efforts at diversifying the economy into power generation, telecom, and petrochemical industries. (Buchele 2008, 49)

Jeffrey Rudolph, a Montreal college professor, was the Quebec representative of the East Timor Alert Network and presented a paper on its behalf at the United Nations. He was awarded the prestigious Cheryl Rosa Teresa Doran Prize upon graduation from McGill University’s faculty of law; has worked at one of the world’s largest public accounting firms; and, has taught at McGill University. He has prepared widely-distributed quizzes on Israel-Palestine, Iran, Hamas, Terrorism, Saudi Arabia, US Inequality, the US Christian Right, Hezbollah, the Israeli Ultra-Orthodox, Qatar, and China. These quizzes are available at,

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