Book review. Kingdom of the Unjust: the US-Saudi connection by Medea Benjamin
by Ian Sinclair
Having campaigned against the ‘war on terror’ and penned a book on drone warfare in 2012, American CODEPINK activist Medea Benjamin has turned her attention to the United States’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, one of its closest allies.
Set out in an accessible self-answered Q&A-style format, the book’s first half summarises the political, economic and social conditions in the theocratic Gulf monarchy. All public gatherings are prohibited, with no freedom of worship and a near total intolerance of dissent. Trade unions are banned, the death penalty implemented for non-violent crimes and women continue to be treated as minors who must be supervised by a male relative. Reform is painfully slow. For example, women only gained the right to ride a bike in 2013, and only then in “recreational areas” accompanied by a male guardian.
Why would the self-proclaimed home of democracy and freedom support such an oppressive regime? Benjamin explains that US President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with the Saudi king in 1945 to agree access to the Kingdom’s vast oil supplies in return for security and military support. Since then, “one by one, US presidents promised to keep Saudi Islamist theocracy in power”, she notes. Under the US’s protective umbrella Saudi Arabia has spent huge sums of money exporting Wahhabism, their extremist version of Islam, most notably backing jihadists in Afghanistan in the 1980s. In 2014 the US Vice-President noted Saudi Arabia, along with Qatar and UAE, was financing and arming Al-Qaeda in Syria.
More broadly, Saudi Arabia has been a key counter-revolutionary force in the Arab Spring, acting to crush democratic movements in Bahrain and Egypt. In Yemen, the US-backed Saudi war on the Houthi rebels has caused thousands of civilian deaths and a deadly humanitarian emergency. “Experts say the [Saudi-led] coalition would be grounded if Washington withheld its support”, the New York Times noted recently.
Though largely ignored by the British media, the UK Government is also providing support to its close ally Saudi Arabia, and therefore also bears significant responsibility for the on-going Yemen catastrophe.
With Saudi Arabia very sensitive to international criticism, Benjamin urges concerned citizens in the West to support democratic activists in the Kingdom and put pressure on their own political masters. Our responsibility in the West is “to make sure our governments get of their way as they attempt to transform their own nation”, she argues.
A brilliant primer.
Kingdom of the Unjust: the US-Saudi connection by Medea Benjamin is published by OR books, priced £13.