Thursday, September 29, 2011

And now a word on Saudi Arabia

"Saudi Arabia's interactions with its restive neighbors have been reliably counterrevolutionary. Saudi Arabia has historically preferred Yemen divided and weak. Although divisions within the regime on the best approach to Yemen are clear, Saudi Arabia has shown a consistent willingness to intervene in Yemen's affairs. North of the Kingdom in Jordan, where stalled political reforms and a struggling economy have led to regular protests, the Saudi regime has offered economically advantageous membership in the Gulf Cooperation Council and at least $400 million in grants to support the country's economy and reduce its budget deficit. Additionally, Kingdom forces headed up an intervention in Bahrain in March, on behalf of their allies, the ruling al-Khalifa regime.
Saudi troops helped the Sunni leaders crack down on the Shia protests and may have assisted in the destruction of a number of Shiite mosques in the country. This assistance not only helped restore stability to the closely neighboring island, but also may have served as a message to the Kingdom's own Shia population, which has long been the subject of severe discrimination by the Wahhabi sect that dominates the Saudi religious establishment. In recent years, there has been a renewal of small Shia protests in Saudi Arabia, but public protest remains illegal. The government aggressively clamps down on protest movements, and those arrested often disappear into the prison system. The only man to appear for a planned day of protests on March 11 in Riyadh was arrested; he remains imprisoned with no access to legal representation.
Saudi Arabia's record on human rights is dismal . The plight of the country's foreign domestic workers is so bad that Indonesia this year barred its citizens from working there after a particularly serious incident. Laborers not only work long hours for little pay under draconian sponsorship laws, but abuse is common, redress virtually unknown and a worker is more likely to be convicted for standing up for herself than to see her employer convicted for abusing her. Saudi citizens cannot rely on the rule of law either, as the legal system is still built largely on un-codified religious law and royal decree. Even codification efforts seem aimed toward formalizing injustice. Despite some recent changes, women in Saudi Arabia have diminished legal standing; a woman's voice carries half the weight of a man's in court proceedings and women require the supervision of a male family member for many activities. They are also not permitted to drive, which is the only rights issue for which U.S. politicians have applied any public pressure on the Saudi regime.
Nevertheless, last fall, the U.S. came to an agreement with Saudi Arabia on a $60 billion arms deal, the biggest such deal in U.S. history. It includes a large package of new fighter jets, upgrades to older jets and a variety of attack helicopters, as well as equipment, weapons, training and support for all systems. It hasn't been finalized, but Congress raised no objections when the deal was reviewed last fall. In fact, in July there were reports that the deal was being expanded to include an additional $30 billion to facilitate upgrades to the Saudi Navy. An agreement of this scope and magnitude shows a clear commitment by the United States to its future relationship with the Kingdom. Upgrading their fleet will allow them to take a stronger posture against Iran and those attack helicopters will be useful for limiting spillover from the chaos in neighboring Yemen."