IntroductionOn and immense control over the Persian Gulf
IntroductionOn September 23rd 1932, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded by Abdulaziz ibn Muhammad al-Saud in conjunction with religious leader Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab’s tenets. Throughout the Islamic world, ibn Saud is known as Abdulaziz. Saudi Arabia is located in the center of the Arabian peninsula, the founding place of Islam, giving the kingdom significant importance throughout the Islamic world. With its oil reserves and immense control over the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, Saudi Arabia holds the same level of significance throughout the Western world. Many countries, especially the United States, have been criticized over their support of Saudi Arabia due to the country’s being an absolute monarchy and its official religion, Wahhabism, an ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam.The origins of the modern Saudi Arabian state began in 1902 when Abdulaziz took control of the Emirate of Riyadh, reinstating the Al Saud family as a power within the Arabian peninsula (BBC). The Al Saud family organized the Ikhwan as a religious military force in 1902 under the principles of Wahhabism to fight the Ottomans (BBC). Part of Abdulaziz’s success may come from portraying the fight against the Ottomans as a religious one instead of a political difference. After the Pan-Arab revolt of 1916, the Arabian peninsula was free of Ottoman control after their defeat in World War I (NZ History). The Al Saud royalty was able to expand their power and proclaimed the kingship of Abdulaziz in 1932.In 1933, Saudi Arabia allowed Standard Oil of California to search their country for oil, signifying the beginning of the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia (Aramco). The US-Saudi Alliance was consecrated during World War II, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt obtained permission to use Saudi airspace despite the country’s neutral stance (CFR). The United States’ alliance with the Kingdom is the only muslim gateway into Middle-Eastern politics after Iran’s pan-Islamist revolution in 1979 (CFR). Saudi Arabia is currently ruled by Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud; the crown prince, the next one to rule after Salman dies, is Muhammad bin Nayef. All monarchs of the Saudi Kingdom must delineate from Abdulaziz al-Saud, the founder of the House of Saud, known in the West as Ibn Saud (Reidal).Given the historical alliance and mutual benefits, the obvious decision would be to continue to support the Kingdom in order to further American interests in the Middle East, as Saudi Arabia is the epicenter of the Muslim world; America and Saudi Arabia have jointly supported the Muslim world in the Gulf War and through the Mujahideen in the Soviet-Afghan war. Even the upset during the World Trade Center attacks lead by Osama bin-Laden, a Saudi citizen, didn’t affect the status quo. Instead, Saudi Arabia’s prince Muhammad bin Nayef jointly cracked down on terrorism with the United States’ help, decimating deeply entrenched al-Qaeda networks throughout the Kingdom (Riedel).However, the differences between national ideals puts the essence of the relationship into question. The Kingdom’s overarching Islamic themes and oppressive regime contradict the guiding principles of the United States, namely freedom of religion, separation of church and state, and democracy. Saudi Arabia has come under criticism for human rights violations by the West, namely for treating women and “the kingdom’s Shiite minority… as second class citizens” (Riedel). The United States has also received a lot of flack for manipulating, threatening the sovereignty, and invading Middle-Eastern nations.Although Saudi Arabia provides an American foothold in Middle Eastern conflicts, the country’s oppressive monarchy and antagony with Iran limits the United States’ political and economic flexibility. The only major factors tying the United States and Saudi Arabia together is America’s need for cheap oil and the House of Saud’s need for stability. Yet to sacrifice the freedom of Saudi citizens is not only morally reprehensible but restricts America’s freedom to maneuver within the Middle-East through antagonizing Iran and extreme fundamentalist groups. Also, relying heavily on Saudi oil cripples local power production and control of the economy.The American Image in the Islamic WorldThe Middle East, being majority Muslim, is influenced by two overarching and competing sects: Sunni Islam and Shia Islam. Sunni Islam is predominant in the former Ottoman Empire and the Indian subcontinent, while Shia is sandwiched between the two in Iran. Although originating from a dispute over the prophet Muhammad’s succession, these branches of Islam have developed distinct customs and characteristics. For example, Shiites touch their “foreheads on silver-dollar-size clay tablets known as mohr” unlike Sunnis, making Shiite visitors to Mecca during the required pilgrimage feel like outsiders (Special Correspondent).This tension escalates to the global scale in confrontations between the two main theocracies of the region, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The execution of Shi’ite clergyman Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia during 2016 “resulted in the severing of diplomatic relations between Iran and the Kingdom” (Moban, 39). Unconditionally siding with the Sauds puts America in direct confrontation with Iran, a country already known for its anti-Western sentiments. According to Simon Moban, a professor for Middle Eastern and Political Studies at Lancaster University, “following the 1979 revolution in Iran, the rivalry between Tehran and Riyadh … took on an increasingly sectarian nature” (40-41). The Islamic political landscape is extremely complex and treacherous, and the Wahhabist Saudis refuse to take into account or accept religious differences when acting in the region.While religious differences do not fully account for the political instability, Islam is a powerful tool used by nations and even Jihadi groups such as al-Qaeda and Daesh (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) to legitimize their actions. According to a Saudi Jihadist, the idea of Muslim unity and fighting for Islam was a natural result of American and Saudi involvement in the region during the cold war. He specifically explains the logic of the fighters in the Yugoslavian wars:We realized we were a nation umma that had a distinguished place among nations. Otherwise, what would make me leave Saudi Arabia – and I am of Yemeni origin – to go and fight in Bosnia? The issue of nationalism qawmiyya was put out of our minds, and we acquired a wider view than that, namely the issue of the Muslim nation. (Hegghammer, 703)The idea of an umma directly excludes outside non-Muslims from this group. This exclusion of infidels as second-class citizens historically appeared in the Ottoman Empire as the jizya, a tax specifically on non-Muslim monotheists. The jizya, and the idea of fighting pagans, appears in the Quran verse 9:29 and is directly tied to a unified Muslim country. American influence in the Middle East is directly contradictory to the pan-Islamist, easily making the leap from pro-Muslim to anti-American values.The Kingdom’s pan-Islamist actions to promote regime stability resulted in anti-American sentiment as a global jihad. The United States direct involvement with Saudi Arabia, especially the Gulf War, has instead allowed Saudi Arabia to direct opposition against themselves towards America. Thomas Hegghammer, a researcher at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment in Oslo, argues that “the Saudi state tried both to compensate for its problems at home and to outdo its competitors abroad” by sending troops to foreign Muslim rebels, specifically Bosnia, and promoting pan-Islamism (704). In order to promote regime stability, the Sauds turned localized political conflicts – between groups like Bosnians, Croats, and Serbs or Afghans and Soviets – into ideological wars pitting Muslims against their enemies. It should come to no surprise that jihadis like Osama bin Laden eventually “wanted to expel the Americans from the Kingdom by force” (Hegghammer, 706). Instead of confronting the Saudi’s dangerously xenophobic actions that would lead to the biggest attack on US soil since Pearl Harbor, the American government simply focused on maintaining the status quo.