Saudi Arabia, a country which to some might conjure romanticized images of gallant Arabian princes racing fine steeds across pristine deserts or more contemporary scenes of fancy cars being driven in metropolitan Riyadh. Relative to Iran or North Korea, Western media outlets have been fairly warm, if not outright praiseworthy of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a leader in the Middle East and committed opponent to international terrorism. Similarly, the primary Gulf state has been wooed, if not capitulated to, by many governments of much of the rest of the world.
But the kingdom of House Saud has myriad sinister governmental, legal, and cultural elements which haven’t been seen nearly anywhere else on earth since the Middle Ages. Buckle up, you’re going to explore what is quite possibly the most brazenly oppressive yet well-supported regime in the modern world.
As you are reading this keep in mind, Saudi Arabia still has friendly political relations with multiple developed countries including South Korea, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States.
15. The Country Is STILL A Monarchy…
While it’s not terribly unusual to find countries who bestow prestige and tax money onto a few remaining royal families, it is increasingly rare to find any with political power. Much like other Gulf States, Saudi Arabia is an important exception.
To be sure there are other monarchies in the world which have some kind of restraints on power, like Kuwait in which the ruling sovereign can be, to a degree, checked by elected government officials. Not so in the land of House Saud. The king effectively holds near complete control legislative, executive, and judicial functions of government via royal decree. These decrees include the deployment and salaries of soldiers to incredibly trivial manors regulating the dates of student exams.
14. …And Has A Theocratic Legal System
During the mid-eighteenth century, a radical cleric Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab sought protection by tribal chieftain Muhammad bin Saud and thus set into motion what would lead to the creation of Saudi Arabia and a subset of the Sunni branch of Islam endemic to the region: Wahhabism. This particular religious sect has been the favored lens through which laws should be structured and interpreted within the Arabian kingdom. As a result, some crimes can be punished by caning, lashing, or even public stoning.
13. It’s Nearly Impossible To Run A Business
Although foreign investors and businessmen do enjoy a degree of autonomy from government regulations, Saudi Arabia has primarily a command and control economy. Given the countries Wahhabi-based legal system and government control of entire industries, there exist an enormous number of regulations restricting the few private, native businesses that exist.
Due to the nation’s religiously inspired laws businesses are legally required to shut down anywhere from half an hour to forty-five minutes several times a day to observe daily prayers. On top of that, products and services not approved by the religiously-regulated legal system are verboten. In practice, that means the obvious such as pork products, non-government approved print or digital media, anything alcoholic, and even obscure items such as chess sets, any form of taxidermy, and even Israeli currency.
12. There Are Literally Morality Police
Most people in most countries value the local police, at least ideally, as legally authorized upholders of individual rights and interdictors of crimes against one’s person or property. But in Saudi Arabia there exist a separate, special branch of law enforcement officers referred to as the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Saudi authorities cite this organization as being necessary to enforce laws to prevent the crime of pre-marital sexual relations, the sale or consumption of alcohol, or, *gasp*, a couple of amorous teenagers holding hands in public.
Interestingly, there are means of getting around these officers and laws they enforce, depending on if you were born into the Saudi royal family or a rich friend of theirs. Foreigners have leaked details of lavish parties in which young members of the royal family enjoy premium cocaine, hashish, and alcoholic beverages, dance in elite nightclubs and engage in other, shall we say, “vice” behavior, normally illegal under Saudi jurisprudence.
11. Immigrants Can Legally Be Abused or Even Killed
As with other Gulf States, Saudi Arabia has seen a severe uptick in both documented and undocumented immigration, particularly from Southeast Asia, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Yemen. As these foreign workers are technically allowed residency but denied any sort of protection under Saudi law due to the kafala system. Kafala legal binds immigrant workers to their employers and are unable to switch occupations or even leave the country…unless they are forcibly deported.
Given their status as second-class citizens as well as a strong cultural bias against foreigners, immigrants are often subject to severe abuse both by their employers and vigilante mobs. Both perturbed employers and enraged mobs have been able to harass, beat, and even murder immigrant workers without any legal consequences. Although humanitarian organizations such as Human Right’s Watch have long documented these abuses along with substandard pay, grueling twelve-hour work days, and gruesome living arrangements, Saudi authorities have done nothing to repeal the kafala system.
10. There is No Freedom Of The Press
One of the frustrating aspects of ruling a kingdom is maintaining a great public image, not only to one’s own subjects but to the rest of the world. Unfortunately, when the people of all the other civilized countries generally perceive your domain as backward and dictatorial, and some of your citizens do too, one strategy to clamp down on bad press is by getting rid of it…literally.
Although the government doesn’t engage in pro-active censorship, the Saudi Ministry of Interior retains the right to “purify” any media broadcasts that it perceives as being disagreeable and punish the producing parties accordingly. For example, writer Raif Badawi was sentenced to a decade in prison and one thousand lashes for the crime of “insulting Islam.” Of course, actions like this have discouraged Saudi journalists, writers, and media producers from criticizing the generally oppressive nature of the government, the nation’s highly fragile economy, or the countries outstandingly high poverty rate.
9. Saudi Arabia Was The Primary Source Of Foreign Fighters In Iraq
After the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, American media outlets had a tendency to focus on the origins of arms being funneled to resistance fighters, particularly by the Iranian government, and their contribution to the death of Iraqi citizens and American soldiers. However, most media sources didn’t focus on the source of the foreign resistance fighters (and suicide bombers) themselves. Of the hundreds of resistance fighters who originated from all over the Middle East (and even France) the majority of them originate from Saudi Arabia.
At the end of the first US insurgency and the beginning of the Iraqi civil war, the total number of foreign fighters totaled around seven hundred. Of that sum, Saudi fighters numbers three hundred and five were of Saudi origin, nearly three times as many as the second-highest contributing country Libya. This is likely due to the number of Saudi Wahhabist clerics promising lavish heavenly rewards were they to kill American soldiers.
8. Being A Religious Non-Muslim Person Sucks
Saudi officials have had a long, and fairly agreeable, history of dealing with non-Muslim countries and the politicians who represent them. Thus, you might think that the nation has a somewhat tolerate attitude towards people who don’t share the kingdoms favored religion. There is a kernel of truth in this statement, though, if you consider the details, perhaps it’d be better to say that there’s a microscopic fraction of a kernel of accuracy in it instead.
It is possible to be a foreign-born Christian, Buddhist or Hindu, so long as you don’t tell anybody about or practice your religion publicly. Distributing Bibles, for example, is expressly prohibited, and recent legislation proposed in the country has advocated for the death penalty for anyone importing non-Islamic religious texts. Currently, apostates are eligible to receive the death penalty, and atheists are considered to be “terrorists.”
7. Being A Religious Shia Muslim Sucks
Since its inception in 1744 Saudi Arabia has always been a chief exponent of the Sunni variant of Islam. Unfortunately, the countries infatuation with the Wahhabist variant of Sunni Islam has resulted in an extreme disdain for the kingdoms primary religious sectarian rival Shia Islam. Consequently, Shiites are routinely subjected to legally permitted prejudice including employment, educational, and judicial discrimination.
And that’s only if you are a run-of-the-mill Shia practitioner. Should you be Shia, have an opinion in opposition to the Sunni majority, and voice that opinion, like the Shia Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr you’re going to be arrested and beheaded.
6. Being a Woman Sucks
A common misconception, particularly in the West, is that all Muslim nations (or even all Muslim) require the complete subjugation of women under the law. But this stereotype is completely true with respect to the nation of House Saud. By law, women can never leave the home without a male “guardian”, be he a husband, brother, uncle, or even son.
Nearly all women are required, at a minimum, to wear some kind of head scarf (such as a hijab or niqab) as well as a long, concealing garment called an abaya when in public. To be fair, though, foreign women can get away with just having to wear just an abaya or even a long coat when visiting the sunny Sunni state.
5. Political Undesirables Can Be Legally Incarcerated or Even Executed
At this point in this list, it may be obvious that the Saudi government isn’t exactly a big proponent of equal treatment before the law or even the idea of rudimentary forms of justice. In addition to individuals who openly speak out against the regime, those who are suspected or just associated with those individuals are at risk.
To bring up one example, Ali Mohammad Bariq al-Nimr, the nephew of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, was incarcerated after his uncle capture, under the charge of allegedly carrying firearms and protesting the government in 2012. Two years later, he was sentenced to be beheaded and have his body crucified. Fortunately, Ali’s execution was been postponed amid massive international protest. However, those same protests did not stop an up-step of executions by the Saudi regime upon the kingdoms most recent monarch, King Salman’s, ascension to the throne at the beginning of 2015.
4. Other Undesirables Can Be Publicly Beheaded
If there is one thing that is applied liberally in Saudi Arabia it’s the administration of the death penalty. Saudi Arabia holds the unique distinction of being one of the minority of countries to not only have capital punishment but to hold public executions. The number of actions one can undertake in order to be subjected to this method of punishment is quite numerous. For example, being a homosexual, practicing witchcraft, trafficking drugs, female adulterers, leaving the Muslim faith, or just being suspected of doing any of those things, are all enough to warrant a literal death sentence.
Although death by firing squad and stoning is not unheard of, beheading by sword is still a favored method of murder…er, punishment in the nation. Bizarrely though, decapitated individuals usually have their heads sewn back on.
3. The Saudi Military has Literally Hundreds of Billions of Dollars Worth of Advanced Military Hardware
Prior to the 1930s, the Saudi Kingdom had been a relatively obscure and impoverished nation. But when American oil prospectors discovered vast amounts of petroleum a peculiar, and eventually, disturbing relationship between House Saud and the United States government developed. As a result, the emerging military and economic North American power of the age the United States cultivated a firm relationship with, then, obscured kingdom. As access to Gulf oil, ancient tribalist politics, and the possession of certain holy cities, have played an increasingly crucial role modern geopolitics America, along with the other Western powers, have poured hundreds of billions of dollars worth of the most advanced weaponry into the Saudi kingdom in exchange for an official political alliance.
2. Both Saudi Citizens and Government Officials Were Involved in 9/11
As nearly everyone knows, Al-Qaeda is a terrorist organization responsible for heinous attacks on civilians including the 9/11 hijackings in the United States, the 7/7 bombings in the UK, among other atrocities. What isn’t as well understood is the primary source of funding for this organization: civilian individuals from and government officials of Saudi Arabia. Of course, politicians within Saudi Arabia, as well as the United States and the West, in general, have publicly denied this fact to varying degrees despite the fact that their own intelligence reports it.
For example, the famous 28-page 9/11 Commission Report – which was never made public by the Bush administration – suggested that Saudi citizens were directly involved with the funding of al-Qaeda, and even hinted that members of the royal family were supportive of al-Qaeda operations, and presumably, the World Trade Center bombings, as well. This was further supported by the infamous 20th 9/11 hijacker Zacharias Mousaoui who testified under oath that he knew specific Saudi princes were directly responsible for supporting the September 11th attacks.
As a side note, let’s also not forget the fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers happened to be from Saudi Arabia, and Al-Qaeda’s former figurehead, Osama bin Laden, received an education steeped in radical ideology in the same country.
1. Saudi Arabia is the Number One Sponsor of Terrorism
Both citizens and the royal family are moral supporters and exuberant financiers of terrorism, though multiple government politicians are reluctant to (openly) acknowledge it. Certainly, American intelligence officials have known about the link between Saudi citizens and their support for international terrorism as evidence by the by the previous entry on this list. Nonetheless, most politicians won’t openly discuss it, including now President Donald Trump who once condemned the Saudis when campaigning during the 2016 presidential election, but has recently befriended the kingdom with a diplomatic visit and a 350 billion dollar arms deal.
However, thanks to Julian Assange and his fellows at Wikileaks numerous revelations have exposed House Saud to be a prime sponsor of terrorism in recent years. Supported by the testimony of the captured 20th 9/11 hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui, and the Wikileaks of Hillary Clinton’s State Department in 2009 along with the additional revelations of the Podesta emails which surfaced in 2016, one emerging trend is obvious: the Saudi royal family has been integral to funding and moral support of groups beyond al-Qaeda, but also Hamas, ISIS more recently, among other terrorist groups.
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