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 is only condemned when it comes garbed in anti-Americanism. In fact, Saudi Arabia makes Iran—the target of sanctions and regime change by the US for over 30 years—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 revenue in US 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, uneven state support of confrontational policies concerning Iran have been coupled with attempts to moderate US belligerence in Iraq and 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 has been the US’s oldest ally in the region?
-Saudi Arabia. In 2008, Saudi Arabia celebrated “the seventy-fifth anniversary of U.S.-Saudi diplomatic relations, which had started with the signing of the 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; p. 301.)
-“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; p. 86.)
-“[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; pp. 94-95.)
-The following link has a picture of the February 14, 1945 “landmark meeting between King Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt onboard the U.S. 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.”: http://www.susris.com/2011/02/
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.”
-Harry Truman: President of the United States, 1945-1953.
-The above quote was stated by Truman at a “meeting in Washington with William Eddy, the U.S. chief of mission in Saudi Arabia, and with other U.S. 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 U.S. 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  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 U.S. 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. … [F]ew Americans could see that it was through the selection of contradictory friends [i.e. 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.” (Robert Lacey; Inside The Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia; Viking; Toronto: 2009; pp. 216-7 and 228.)
-The culmination of one-sided U.S. support for Israel was the Bush Jr. administration. One of its earliest and most warmly welcomed guests was Ariel Sharon, the hardline enforcer of Greater Israel.
3. What was Saudi Arabia’s military expenditures for 2009 (in US dollars)? What was Israel’s?
-Saudi Arabia’s military expenditures: $39 billion. (http://milexdata.sipri.org/
-Israel’s military expenditures: $14 billion. (http://milexdata.sipri.org/
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; p. 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, it [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 the U.S. 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; pp. 71-72.)
-“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.” (Robert Lacey; Inside The Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia; Viking; Toronto: 2009; p. 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?
-Canada. “The top five sources of US crude oil imports for November  were Canada (1,975 thousand barrels per day), Mexico (1,229 thousand bpd), Saudi Arabia (1,119 thousand bpd), Venezuela (884 thousand bpd), and Nigeria (806 thousand bpd).” http://www.eia.doe.gov/pub/
-While the US does not rely on Saudi oil, 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 recently 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.” (http://www.monthlyreview.org/
-The issue of “control of oil” is fundamental. It is why the US accepts Saudi Arabia being China’s principal supplier of crude oil and why it accepts Russia-Saudi joint ventures connected to oil.
-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. (http://saudinf.com/main/d1.
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: U.S. President, 1953 – 1961. (Juan Cole; Engaging The Muslim World; Palgrave Macmillan; New York: 2009; p. 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 , 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 U.S. 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, Washington suddenly rethought its promotion of Saudi Arabia and Wahhabism as buttresses of a conservative, capitalist order in the Middle East.” “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.” (Juan Cole; Engaging The Muslim World; Palgrave Macmillan; New York: 2009; pp. 84 and 88-90.)
-“[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 U.S. 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…” (Gilbert Achcar; Eastern Cauldron: Islam, Afghanistan, Palestine, and Iraq in a Marxist Mirror; Monthly Review Press; New York: 2004; p. 73.)
-An important concern for the Eisenhower administration was Nasser’s drive for true independence. However, in 1967, this ”major problem in the Middle East 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, U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. strategic framework. (http://www.monthlyreview.org/
-The unfortunate truth is that the US has benefitted 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.
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 heexpatriated 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. In1964 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.”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
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 U.S. 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.” “[A]ll 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…” (Robert Lacey; Inside The Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia; Viking; Toronto: 2009; pp. 3-4 and 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; pp. 38-39.)
9. What three events in 1979 greatly affected Saudi Arabia’s domestic and foreign policies?
(i) The invasion and occupation of the Grand Mosque in Mecca on November 20, 1979 by five hundred Wahhabi fanatic salafis. The siege ended on December 4. All the surviving men were beheaded. The government lost 127 soldiers dead and 461 injured; 117 Salafi rebels were also killed. “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…” (Robert Lacey; Inside The Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia; Viking; Toronto: 2009; pp. 34-35 and 46.)
(ii) The 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. 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 business. … When Iran launched a successful counterassault in… 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.” (Robert Lacey; Inside The Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia; Viking; Toronto: 2009; pp. 47 and 109-110.)
(iii) The 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 possible 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.’” (Robert Lacey; Inside The Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia; Viking; Toronto: 2009; pp. 65 and 67.)
-The Al-Saud’s response to the above three events was to appease the Wahhabi hardliners by tightening religious restrictions on ordinary Saudis and handing more powers to the ulema.
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.
The attacks on 9/11 “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.” (Robert Lacey; Inside The Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia; Viking; Toronto: 2009; pp. 235-6.)
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…They 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…” (Robert Lacey; Inside The Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia; Viking; Toronto: 2009; pp. 18, 119,123, 148 and 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 U.S. 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.” (Juan Cole; Engaging The Muslim World; Palgrave Macmillan; New York: 2009; p.101.)
-“Since the mid-1990s the U.S. 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 must…be gone. … [O]nce the invasion was completed, American transporters flew in to start dismantling and shuttling U.S. Air Force assets eastward…to…Qatar. By the end of September 2003 there was not a single U.S. 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.” (Robert Lacey; Inside The Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia; Viking; Toronto: 2009; p. 291.)
11. Jihadi manuals, used by the mujahideen in Afghanistan and elsewhere, were produced in the early 1980s by which country?
-The United States of America. “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 U.S. 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.” (http://www.washingtonpost.
-“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 U.S. 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.” (Juan Cole; Engaging The Muslim World; Palgrave Macmillan; New York: 2009; pp. 101-102.)
-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 them [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 U.S.-Saudi project to take these poor kids and make them warriors for the West.” (Robert Lacey; Inside The Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia; Viking; Toronto: 2009; p.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  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…” (Robert Lacey; Inside The Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia; Viking; Toronto: 2009; pp. 199-201 and 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…” (http://middleeast.about.com/
13. When the Taliban took power, who said he saw “nothing objectionable” in their plans to impose strict Islamic law?
-Glyn Davies: State Department spokesperson.
-“The U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. policy in the region centered on ‘romancing the Taliban.’” (http://www.
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%. (http://www.mcclatchydc.com/
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.” (Juan Cole; Engaging The Muslim World; Palgrave Macmillan; New York: 2009; p. 111.)
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.” (Robert Lacey; Inside The Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia; Viking; Toronto: 2009; p. 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
-“[T]he proposal…was never taken seriously by the expansionist government of Ariel Sharon, nor by the stridently pro-Israeli politicians in Washington.” (Juan Cole; Engaging The Muslim World; Palgrave Macmillan; New York: 2009; p. 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.” (Juan Cole; Engaging The Muslim World; Palgrave Macmillan; New York: 2009; p. 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%. (https://www.cia.gov/library/
-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. … King Abdullah has 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.” (Juan Cole; Engaging The Muslim World; Palgrave Macmillan; New York: 2009; pp. 93-95.)
-“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…” (Robert Lacey; Inside The Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia; Viking; Toronto: 2009; pp. 192 and 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  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. (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/
-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.” (http://www.independent.co.uk/
-“[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 U.S. 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]…” (Robert Lacey; Inside The Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia; Viking; Toronto: 2009; pp. 272 and 302.)
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.” (http://www.juancole.com/2009/
-Saudi Arabia is also the only country where women cannot drive (and where men can vote in municipal elections but women cannot). (http://www.juancole.com/)
-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. (Juan Cole; Engaging The Muslim World; Palgrave Macmillan; New York: 2009; p. 95.)
-“[I]n Saudi Arabia the law actually enshrines the principle that the male knows better than the female. A woman nay 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.” (Robert Lacey; Inside The Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia; Viking; Toronto: 2009; pp. 277 and 325.)
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. (http://www.danielpipes.org/
-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.” (Robert Lacey; Inside The Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia; Viking; Toronto: 2009; p. 228.)
-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 U.S.-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.” (Robert Lacey; Inside The Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia; Viking; Toronto: 2009; pp. 245 and 248.)
-In contrast to how the U.S. has treated its prisoners, Saudi Arabia has adopted a liberal and progressive rehab 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.” (Robert Lacey; Inside The Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia; Viking; Toronto: 2009; pp. 255 and 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.’” (http://archive.arabnews.com/?
-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”). (Robert Lacey; Inside The Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia; Viking; Toronto: 2009; p. 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. Needless to say, 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?” (Robert Lacey; Inside The Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia; Viking; Toronto: 2009; pp. 101 and 170.)
-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. (Nicholas Buchele; Culture Smart Saudi Arabia; Random House; Canada: 2008; p. 49.)
Jeffrey Rudolph, a college professor, was the Quebec representative of the East Timor Alert Network, and presented a paper on its behalf at the United Nations. He has prepared widely-distributed quizzes on Israel-Palestine, Iran, Hamas, and Terrorism which can be found, respectively, at: http://www.countercurrents.
(Comments or questions concerning the quizzes should be emailed to: [email protected]