COMMENT: Al Saud: a despotic monarchy in decay —Lal Khan
During the 1950s and the 1960s when there was the rise of anti-imperialist Arab nationalism and left-wing currents were growing, the Saudi regime played a counter-revolutionary role
At the funeral of Crown Prince Sultan we had the spectacle not only of the Saudi monarchs but most of the rulers who had flown in to attend the ceremony. Fear of the mass revolt that has been raging in the region was palpable at the gathering. The hesitation of the sick octogenarian King Abdullah and his camarilla in nominating the new crown prince reveals the lack of confidence of these rulers facing the revolt of the masses, and also the deep fissures and ferocious conflicts within the Al Saud family made up of more than 10,000 princes and princelings that are involved in the massive plunder of the country’s wealth.
The unflinching support of the US and western Imperialism for this despotic regime is a blatant refutation of their charade of ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’. The criminal silence on the Saudi invasion and brutalities in Bahrain by the so-called ‘international community’ and the ‘free’ media shows the extreme of their hypocrisy and treachery. But after all, this pseudo-state and the monarchy were fabricated by these very imperialist powers to impose their hegemony in the region and to plunder its oil wealth. In fact, they carved out different states, most of them artificial, at the beginning of the last century. The implanted rulers used these rentier states for their own loot and extravagant lavish lifestyles.
In a plea of subservience sent to C A Kemball, the British resident in the Gulf from 1900-1904, the founder of the present ruling dynasty in Saudi Arabia, Ibn Saud, said, “May the eyes of the British government be fixed upon us and may we be considered as your protégés.” After the Treaty of Darea in 1915 with the British representative Sir Percy Cox, Ibn Saud’s realm was fundamentally reduced to the status of a British protectorate. After the capture of Hijaz in 1925, the monarchy was formally established with imperialist backing.
The Americans arrived in the 1930s. The businessman-philanthropist Charles Crane and oilman Lloyd Hamilton arrived with the ‘American invasion’ of Arabia in 1933. British business followed British colonialism, but with the Americans it was the oil companies. The American diplomats and politicians sought to initially accommodate local rulers to make money. Roosevelt did not smoke during his 1945 meeting with Ibn Saud, but the imperious Churchill would not refrain from doing so.
President Truman seconded the guarantee of the security of the royal family’s reign, originally proclaimed by President Roosevelt. This stipulation has prevailed till today. The US ceded the conduct of relations with Saudi Arabia to the oil companies. In 1947-48 the American government prevailed on ARAMCO (Arab American Oil Company) to expand its Government Relations Department and transferred crypto-diplomats and CIA agents to staff it. A tax break known as ‘The Golden Gimmick’ was awarded to the oil conglomerate. The US military base at the oil city of Dhahran was expanded. Washington-based senior CIA officials went to the Kingdom in the 1950s and advised the King on everything from the use of fly killers to hiring public relations firm Hill & Knowlton. The process is more advanced now.
Ibn Saud and his sons who have been the kings slavishly carried out the dictates of imperialism in the Middle East and the so-called Muslim countries. During the 1950s and the 1960s when there was the rise of anti-imperialist Arab nationalism and left-wing currents were growing, the Saudi regime played a counter-revolutionary role. The Saudis opposed Nasser in Egypt and the left-wing governments that came to power in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere. They used their money to prop up Wahabi Islam, which was the precursor of modern fundamentalism, from the Middle East to South East Asia to the South Asian subcontinent. They poured money into the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) to curb the left-wing within the Palestinian movement.
This monarchy had tried to develop its own imperialist hegemony throughout the region. Said K Aburish writes in his book, The House of Saud, “Saudi actions in the Muslim world followed the same line. Pakistan was supported so long as it followed a Saudi line and did not try to act independently and lead. Pakistani president Ali Bhutto’s refusal to follow this formula saw Saudi Arabia provide his army with financial help and promises of more to overthrow him.”
Domestically it is perhaps the most brutal regime on the planet. Beheadings, amputation of limbs and summary executions without trial are being carried out to this day. The elimination of opponents can take hideous forms. King Feisal ordered 29 air force officers suspected of conspiracy to be ejected from planes without parachutes. The King of Saudi Arabia in the order of importance he assigns to his functions, is head of the Al Saud family, the prime minister and chief executive of the central government, the supreme religious Imam, custodian of the Holy Ka’aba, commander-in-chief of the armed forces and the chief justice. There is no real executive, legislative or judicial authority to question his decisions.
These monarchs are also notorious for their hedonistic lifestyles. According to the German magazine Stern, King Fahd lost around $ 20 million in one evening in Monte Carlo. Apart from numerous palaces on the ground, his flying Palace, a Boeing 747, was fitted with a sauna, a lift, chandeliers and gold bathroom fixtures, and his $ 50 million yacht was equally lavish. According to an Arab journalist the 42 sons of Ibn Saud had more than 1,400 wives.
The conditions of the masses are appalling, especially for the millions of immigrant workers from Pakistan and other Asian countries. The vicious Saudi nouveau riche labour suppliers trade mercilessly in human commodities. They are then retailed to others. Workers cannot change employment without release from the employer who imports them. The retailers charge them up to 50 percent of their salary just for visas. Sleeping in discarded shipping containers, they have no social security coverage. The sick expatriate worker is at the mercy of his employer. Women are oppressed in pre-medieval fashion. Like slave owners these bosses are callous to the nth degree.
The first political revolts came from the oil workers of ARAMCO in Dhahran in the 1950s. There have been innumerable strikes and protests unreported by the media ever since. Most were crushed in blood. Now growth and construction are rapidly declining. Military expenditure and spending on the luxury of the House of Saud are a drag on the economy. There have been budget deficits for years in spite of high oil revenues. Unemployment is rising fast.
Few predicted the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. A revolutionary explosion in Saudi Arabia would smash the despotic monarchy and the capitalist system it is there to preserve. On this basis, the imperialist stranglehold on this region will be broken.
The writer is the editor of Asian Marxist Review and International Secretary of Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org