“”Outraged? I'm barely surprised. This is a country where women aren't allowed to drive a car. They're not allowed to be in the company of any man other than a close relative, they're required to adhere to a dress code that would make the Maryknoll nun look like Malibu Barbie. They beheaded 121 people last year for robbery, rape, and drug trafficking; they've no free press, no elected government, no political parties, and the royal family allows the religious police to travel in groups of six, carrying nightsticks and they freely and publicly beat women. But 'Brutus is an honorable man.' 17 schoolgirls were forced to burn alive because they weren't wearing the proper clothing. Am I outraged? No...that is Saudi Arabia, our partners in peace.
|—CJ Cregg, The West Wing|
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a big desert nation smack-dab in the center of the Middle East. It is an Islamic absolute monarchy ruled by the House of Saud and propped up by the United States government in exchange for gargantuan quantities of oil. Saudi Arabia, dominated by Wahhabi Islam, is one of the most repressive countries in the world, a close second to North Korea. In fact its running tally of people executed (including for such "crimes" as apostasy, homosexuality or adultery) is higher than that of Daesh, but the latter (while somewhat distracted by following the Saudi model and carving out a recognized state by military conquest) is trying to catch up fast.
Saudi Arabia, uniquely among OPEC member-nations, has permission to adjust their oil output on a short-term basis in order to tweak the market price. The rest of OPEC are constrained to the production levels agreed upon at periodic cartel meetings. In essence, Saudi Arabia is not so much a country, but an oil cooperation with associated real-estate. State-owned Saudi Aramco has variously been called the "biggest company in the world". With its population of 28 million, Riyadh currently has the third largest military budget - surpassing Russia, France, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Japan and India.
Nevertheless, the Saudis have been getting rather pissed at America for the recent "fuck you"s given to them by the Obama administration. Upset at the Americans' attempted rapprochement with Iran, lack of military action on Syria and their deal to remove Assad's chemical weapons, the Saudis rejected a chance to get a seat at the United Nations Security Council, are limiting diplomatic interactions with the West and have threatened to "shift away" from the United States. At this point it's unknown what anyone can actually do to get them to reform.
On September 2016, the United States Congress did the unthinkable: it overrode Obama's veto and passed a bill that allows the families of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi government for their alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks.
Amid all this, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Vice President Joe Biden both signaled Saudi support as one of the main reasons for the rise of Daesh and for the export of Wahhabi/Salafi extremism in the Middle East.
- 1 History
- 1.1 Founding and cementing tribal alliances, 1925
- 1.2 Arab-American Oil Co. formed, 1936
- 1.3 Saudi Arabia and America joined at the hip, 1943
- 1.4 Saudi Arabia joins the community of civilized nations, 1962
- 1.5 Assassination of Faisal, 1975
- 1.6 Anti-Soviet jihad, 1979-1988
- 1.7 Attack on the Grand Mosque, 1979
- 1.8 1987 Mecca massacre
- 1.9 Reaction to basing U.S. troops, 1991
- 2 So what's been happening lately?
- 3 Religion
- 4 Human rights
- 5 Human trafficking
- 6 Oil
- 7 Alternate names
- 8 On the other hand
- 9 Notes
- 10 References
Founding and cementing tribal alliances, 1925
Saudi Arabia was founded in 1925 by Ibn Saud and Jack Philby. As custom warrants in recognition of his Alpha male status, tribal chieftains offered their daughters to Ibn Saud, cementing alliances among the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula; Abdulaziz (his full name) fathered 42 sons. Unlike European monarchies handed down by generation, six of his sons — including the reigning King Salman — have succeeded the founder of the Saudi state.
Arab-American Oil Co. formed, 1936
In 1936 an oil concession was granted to the jointly owned Arabian-American Oil (Aramco), the forerunner of the modern Saudi Aramco, the world's richest corporation. While the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia owns the reserves, American operators provide the technology and operate the rigs.
Saudi Arabia and America joined at the hip, 1943
After the Sykes-Picot agreement, many Arabs in the region favored the Nazis during World War II. However, Ibn Saud took the unpopular position of supporting the Allied Powers of Britain and the United States. The oil embargo of Germany and Japan caused a drop in Saudi oil revenues, and the war itself caused a lag in attendance to the Hajj, making tourism and the economy suffer. So by 1943, President Franklin Roosevelt issued an Executive Order declaring Saudi Arabia vital to the strategic national interests of the United States, making them eligible to receive Lend Lease aid.
Saudi Arabia joins the community of civilized nations, 1962
The open air slave market in the city of Taif, just outside Mecca, was shut down in 1962; coincidentally, at the same time Saudi Arabia was allowed to represent itself in settling international trade accounts by being accepted into the IMF, WTO and "the community of civilized nations".
Assassination of Faisal, 1975
In 1975, in a harbinger of things to come in the following decades, the reformer and modernizing King Faisal was assassinated by his own nephew with a gun shot to the head at point blank range. The killer confessed he was motivated by Faisal allowing television in Saudi Arabia.
Anti-Soviet jihad, 1979-1988
In 1979, the Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abd al-Aziz bin Baz, issued a fatwa declaring it the collective duty of Muslims to travel to Afghanistan for the anti-Soviet jihad. In fact, the Saudis (both the state and private citizens) were one of the major financiers of the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan and many Muslims who went there to fight did so wholly or in part because bin Baz said so, not because of the US or cold war tensions. Bin Baz was also supportive of the rebels who took over the Grand Mosque in Mecca the same year. As we now know a religiously motivated invasion of Afghanistan was a bad idea and many, including Saudi born Osama bin Laden either radicalized before or during their time in Afghanistan.
Attack on the Grand Mosque, 1979
The Grand Mosque in Mecca (home of the Kaaba) was briefly taken over for a period of weeks by an obscure group led by a poorly educated Bedouin named Juhayman, whose theology was an early manifestation of modern violent Salafism. These believers did not embrace many aspects of modern society. They opposed identity cards and passports because these denote loyalty to an entity other than Allah. They were against images of living beings, not only on television and in photography but also on coins. The only previous violent encounter was when a group of young activists were caught smashing shop display windows showing female mannequins in the center of Medina in 1965. They also had peculiar views on ritual practices, setting them apart from other religious communities and the religious establishment.
The incident revealed the Saudi state was thoroughly unprepared to deal with a challenge to its legitimacy from conservative religious believers. After three days of fruitless negotiations, the Saudi's turned to external, non-Islamic "crusader" forces to dislodge the jihadis. Non-Muslims are not allowed within the city of Mecca, and bloodshed on the grounds of the temple is considered virtually an unpardonable sin; yet the Saudi state and its reigning religious establishment deputized, through a fatwa, the French Special Operations Forces to retake the mosque.
Official reports say that 255 fanatics, troops and pilgrims were killed, while 560 were injured. The rebels who survived were imprisoned or beheaded, with reports claiming 63 beheadings.
The respected imam Muhammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani, who abhorred violence, condemned Juhayman's attack; however one of his students, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, fell under the influence of Juhayman's thought. In coming years Maqdisi further developed the idea that the ruling Saudi clan were apostate Muslim infidels along with a rejection of the very idea of a nation state.
The year 1979 is also cited as the point in time when a member of the wealthy bin Laden clan (who made their fortune building stuff) began to develop his political ideology, and one central piece of said ideology is the "humiliation" of French forces having to bail out the "Muslim" Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden later went to Afghanistan to throw out another bunch of "infidels" from "Muslim land" and the Taliban regime his ilk helped establish gave him shelter and a safe haven, even though he was a wanted terrorist.
1987 Mecca massacre
In 1987 more than four hundred persons, mostly Iranian Shi'ite pilgrims and about 85 Saudis and security personnel, were killed during a demonstration against the "Enemies of Islam" (basically, the United States and Israel) in front of the Grand Mosque. Iranian hajj pilgrims traditionally make up the largest single contingent from any single country. Details about the incident and causes remain murky, with the official Saudi version contradicted by Iran's own investigation. 
Shock over violence just outside the Grand Mosque again sparked a debate across the Muslim world about the Saudis dual role as American ally and Custodian of the Islamic Holy Places. Ayatollah Khomeini condemned the "vile and ungodly Wahhabis" as "lackeys of the United States” and called for the overthrow of the House of Saud. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) formed a group known as Hezbollah al-Hejaz, more commonly known as Saudi Hezbollah, for this purpose.
It was in this atmosphere of anti-Saudi and anti-U.S. sentiment throughout the Muslim world that Saddam Hussein made his calculated gamble to challenge Saudi Arabia and the United States over Kuwait in 1990.
Reaction to basing U.S. troops, 1991
The decision by the Saudi ruling clan to allow the basing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia for an attack upon a neighboring Islamic state shook the Saudi domestic scene like an earthquake. Osama bin Laden offered to King Fahd his jihadis, fresh from victory in Afghanistan to aid in the liberation of Kuwait, and was rebuffed. Many mujaheddin fighters became further radicalized and embraced the Salafi-jihadist movement of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and others. Maqdisi had declared the Saudi rulers takfir, or unbelievers, two years earlier, granting a license to kill them by followers of his teaching. Allowing infidel Crusader armies to use Saudi territory for a war against other Muslims seemed to confirm the Salafist's teachings.
The 1991 Gulf war triggered a process whereby jihadists became more critical of the Saudi regime and more openly hostile to the United States. By the middle of the decade the World Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders was formed and Americans were targeted. In November 1995 a car bomb in central Riyadh killed five Americans and two Indians with scores injured. Four suspects confessed claiming they were inspired by Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, Mohammad al-Massari and Osama bin Laden.
So what's been happening lately?
Other than (supposedly) bankrolling groups like Daesh or Hamas, Saudi Arabia has understood to play a dual role as a seemingly "moderate" and "reasonable" force in international diplomacy (going so far as to propose a peace plan between Israel and Palestine despite never having recognized Israel as a state) while still being very similar in domestic policy to Daesh. Saudi Arabia remains the only country where women are not allowed to drive (despite drivers licenses from Bahrain saying they are valid "in all Gulf cooperation council countries" they aren't if you are female).[note 1] Saudi Arabia continues to behead gays, apostates, adulterers, people critical of the regime and even people who are or were under 18 at the time of the sentence or punishment. Lashes are also a frequently employed punishment for people accused of any minor crimes, including blogging. Still, the Saudi regime is often attacked and derided by more radical Muslims for being somehow "too soft", mostly due to Saudi Arabia's carefully maintained foreign policy image.
Mohammed bin Salman (locally known as MBS, also known as "The Naughty Bear), the son of current head of state King Salman has won the succession battle, MBS is wildly believed to be the real power behind the throne.
Only recently have a few, very few, U.S. consultants and decision makers dare to utter the unthinkable, "What if the Saudi regime doesn't survive?" A February 2016 commentary in Atlantic Media's influential Defense One noted, "Saudi Arabia is no state at all. There are two ways to describe it: as a political enterprise with a clever but ultimately unsustainable business model, or so corrupt as to resemble in its functioning a vertically and horizontally integrated criminal organization."
Preview: A Theatre Coming Soon Near You
Saudi Arabia's state religion is Sunni Islam and as such, no other religion is tolerated. Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah says that he respects the right of other religions to worship in private, but this right is not respected in practice. In fact, signs of worship from other religions are commonly confiscated and discarded at immigration checks. In 2008 King Abdullah said that all religions of the world must unite to fight atheism.
There is a government agency charged with enforcing Sharia law - Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV); in effect, the religious police. Along with their more obvious duties of removing any signs of joy amongst the populace, this agency has an "anti-witchcraft unit" (no, seriously it does) charged with apprehending sorcerers and removing their spells. Unsurprisingly, the Harry Potter books are banned in the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia is generally ranked, alongside North Korea, as one of the most repressive nations on Earth. Women and non-Sunnis are regarded as second-class citizens. Women are thought to be the property of their husbands, and so much as driving a car can earn a woman ten lashes of a whip. Since 2011, the country has begun to enter the
21st 19th Century by slowly allowing women to work in retail. This has been followed by an organized campaign by Abdullah Muhammad al-Dawood of sexual harassment of women retail workers. Saudi Arabia has played a large role in repressing the Arab Spring, with their violence towards Bahrain's Shi'a receiving particular coverage. Being openly atheist online can lead to 2,000 lashes and 10 years in prison.
The Saudi judicial system blames social media for causing an increase in 'deliberate' acts of homosexuality. Homosexuality is punishable by death. As of the first half of 2016, there were 35 people on death row in Saudi Arabia for sodomy.
Following in its long standing tradition of international hypocrisy, Saudi Arabia's deplorable human rights record has not stopped them from condemning the atrocities of the Syrian counterrevolution, and calling for Bashar al-Assad to step down. Nor have they shied away from accusing Israel of crimes against humanity for its bombardment of civilian areas in the Gaza Strip.
While slavery supposedly was abolished in 1962, human trafficking remains a big problem in Saudi Arabia, where thousands of children, men and women live as slaves. Foreign workers, especially women, are often subjected to sexual abuse and rape. This is exacerbated by the widespread — but erroneous — belief that Saudi employers are entitled to confiscate employees' passports upon entry to the country. Thousands of immigrants have fled their employers claiming to have been enslaved and abused.
“”You know what the business community thinks of you? They think that a hundred years ago you were living in tents out here in the desert chopping each other's heads off and that's where you'll be in another hundred years, so, yes, on behalf of my firm I accept your money.
Saudi Arabia has the largest known reserves of oil, and the greatest capacity for extracting it. The kingdom has so heavily invested in excess capacity that it can very quickly, increase production by about 2 million barrels per day, or about the output of most other major oil exporting countries, giving it a great deal of power over the world's oil market. If another member of OPEC were to go offline, the Saudis could easily make up for it. If the other members of OPEC were to cheat on their quotas, the Saudis could flood them out (and thus cause prices to crash).
This has caused many to worry about their geopolitical power, but so far the few times the Saudis have tried to use the "oil weapon" it failed miserably.
- al-Mamlaka al-ʻArabiyya as-Suʻūdiyya
- The KSA
- Arabistan (informally)
- Sandy Arabia (by Genghis Khant's grandmother)
On the other hand
- As dictatorships go, it's been among the less murderous, at least on an official level. No Armenian Genocides, Iran-Iraq wars, Killing Fields, Syrian civil wars, etc. It has likely killed fewer Jews than Hezbollah or Hamas. However, on the foreign front, things look quite differently of course, just look at Yemen. On an unofficial level, there seems to be a tacit approval of funding by Saudis of Sunni Islamist militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
- Has free health care... if you happen to be a citizen.
- Will soon have the tallest building in the world — the Kingdom Tower
- Foreign women can likely show more skin in Saudi Arabia than Iran
- Has "work" for immigrants
- Gives more per capita aid than the US
- Beheadings are arguably not as bad as some of the other forms of execution that have been tried from time to time, e.g. death by lethal injection in "civilized" nations.
- In September 2017, King Salman issued a decree allowing women to drive. The royal order will be implemented by 24 June 2018. 
- "Enemies Foreign and Domestic," season 3. Sure, it's from a work of fiction, but it's still a startlingly accurate description.
- See List of countries by military expenditures
- Saudi Arabia warns of shift away from U.S. over Syria, Iran, Reuters
- Middle East Time Bomb: The Real Aim of ISIS Is to Replace the Saud Family as the New Emirs of Arabia, By Alastair Crooke, September 3, 2014.
- with $30 trillion in assets, or almost two times total U.S. GDP. Oil and Green Energy: Saudi Arabia's Aramco Has $30 Trillion in Assets, Sahit Muja, 11 April 2012.
- Those are of course relative terms, we are talking about one of the most repressive theocracies on earth, after all
- Hindsight's 20/20 isn't it?
- Review of The Siege of Mecca: The Forgotten Uprising in Islam's Holiest Shrine and the Birth of al Qaeda, Yaroslav Trofimov, Doubleday, 2007.
- Thomas Hegghammer and Stephane Lacroix. Rejectionist Islamism in Saudi Arabia: The Story of Juhayman al-Utaybi Revisited. International Journal of Middle East Studies, February 2007, pp 103-122, Cambridge University Press.
- Many details of the Mosque takeover remain officially classified Saudi state secrets. The Makkan Siege: In Defense of Juhayman, a collection of internet reports on the siege and excerpts of Juhayman's letters. Juhayman is considered to have provided more inspiration to the the modern jihadist movement than Osama bin Laden who left virtually no religious writings behind.
- Peterson, J.E. “Saudi Arabia: Internal Security Incidents Since 1979.” Arabian Peninsula Background Note, No. APBN-003. Published on www.JEPeterson.net, January 2004; updated 31 December 2007.
- Maqdisi's Community of Abraham is a further expansion of Juhayman's Clarification Concerning the Community of the One God Designated as Guide of the People; Awakening Islam, Stephane Lacroix & George Holoch, Harvard University Press, Aug 15, 2011, Page 101.
- US Saudi Arabia Diplomatic and Political Cooperation Handbook, USA International Business Publications, 2007, p. 178.
- The Muslim World League convened a conference in Mecca in October 1987 condemning Iran for the violence: Iran’s government--a government “accustomed to terrorism and a thirst for Muslim blood”--“solely bears the responsibility for the outrage in God’s holy mosque.” The conference endorsed the measures taken by the Saudi authorities “to quell the sedition and to contain the fires of wickedness.” Kramer, Khomeini’s Messengers.
- "Iran convened an “International Congress on Safeguarding the Sanctity and Security of the Great Mosque,” under the auspices of the ministry of Islamic guidance and the foreign ministry. Rafsanjani, in addressing the three hundred participants from 36 countries, called for the “liberation” of Mecca and the establishment of an “Islamic International” which would govern Mecca as a free city." Kramer, Khomeini’s Messengers.
- Political Islam, Edited by Fredric Volpi, Routledge, p. 5-6 pdf, et seqq.
- Start Preparing for the Collapse of the Saudi Kingdom, February 16, 2016, By Sarah Chayes & Alex de Waal, De3fense One.
- Saudi Arabia versus atheism
- Saudi Arabia's 'Anti-Witchcraft Unit' breaks another spell
- Saudi court orders woman to be whipped for driving car AP/NBC News
- New Employment Opportunities for Saudi Women
- Saudi Arabia 'pushes for homosexuals to be executed' amid fears social media is 'turning people gay', By Rhian Lubin, Mirror, 1 April 2016. www.mirror.co.uk
- Accusing Israel of real or imagined crimes to distract from their own crimes is of course a common hobby of all Arab despots
- Holding onto Employee Passports: Unlawful
- Kalami, Mehr A. Slavery Continues: Hope of Breaking the Chains. iUniverse, 2014.
- WikiLeaks cables portray Saudi Arabia as a cash machine for terrorists by Declan Walsh (Sunday 5 December 2010 10.30 EST) The Guardian