America's Cozy Relationship With Saudi Arabia Shows Hypocrisy of U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East

Bahrain recently marked the one-year anniversary of its uprising, which has seen brutal oppression by a tyrannical monarchy quell largely peaceful protests. The uprising peaked last March, right before a coalition of Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) forces invaded Bahrain to brutally put down protests and preserve the Al-Khalifa regime. At the time, at least 200,000 Bahrainis (out of a population of 1.2 million) had at one point demonstrated. If proportionally the same number of Egyptians had demonstrated against Mubarak, there would have been around 13 million people in Tahrir Square. However, rather than vehemently condemn this outrageous state response, the U.S. applied its double standards of what it considers tyrannical.

Saudi Arabia has been one of America’s closest allies in the Middle East for some time. It is on a long list of oppressive Middle Eastern governments with whom it is strategically convenient to be allied, including, but not limited to: Morocco, Algeria, (formerly) Tunisia, (formerly) Egypt, Jordan, the PLO/PA, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. The likes of Syria or Iran have no place on this list, and rhetoric from the American government frequently paints those regimes as oppressive, tyrannical, and anti-human rights, all of which are pejoratives that could be applied to any of our Middle Eastern allies. However, because of mutually convenient alliances, U.S. pressure on governments in the Middle East to effect policy change has been lacking. Not a day goes by where one does not read about the unstable Iranians or brutal Alawite Syrians, but how often do you find stories of Saudi oppression, much less American condemnation of said oppression?

The Saudi government, along with its Gulfi counterparts, is one of the most hated regimes in the Arab world. It is arguably the most brutal of Arab dictatorships, much more so than Assad’s ever was (before March 2011) and has been complicit in putting down protests not only on its own soil, but internationally as well. Additionally, the GCC is historically the most staunchly pro-West. So it does not bode well for Arab public opinion of the U.S. when we allow the Saudis to violently oppress Bahrainis in exchange for support of our (and NATO’s) no-fly zone over Libya (with its transparent influence from potential oil interests).

The U.S. government has considerable interest in the Middle East, especially with those countries that either control large oil reserves or have potential influence over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. However, it has been our long-standing policy to ally ourselves with governments rather than the people. If the so-called Arab Spring has taught us one thing, it is that the tyrannical governments we support are inherently unstable. And once those governments get overthrown, we lose all ability to influence policy. This is best exemplified in Egypt, where a recent Gallup poll shows 70% of the population is in support of ending U.S. military and economic aid. Although in the short-term it may prove difficult, the U.S. needs to immediately end its support of all oppression in the Middle East, and decide humanitarianism is both a morally and strategically superior policy.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Karl Lindemann

After graduating from Tufts University, Karl spent a year in Syria studying Arabic. He slipped out just before the entire country exploded in uprisings against the oppressive Assad regime, and he currently resides in Washington, DC, where he is focused on Middle East policy and international development.

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