MBS’ Crackdown and the Noxious U.S.-Saudi Relationship
Saudi Arabia is stamping out traces of internal dissent in a far-reaching campaign targeting influential clerics, liberal thinkers and even princes as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman moves to consolidate power ahead of his expected accession to the throne.
In the past week, Saudi authorities have detained more than 30 people, roughly half of them clerics, according to activists and people close to those who have been detained. The campaign goes beyond many of the government’s past clampdowns, both in the scope of those targeted and the intense monitoring of social media posts by prominent figures. It is not known if any charges have been filed.
The latest crackdown is unusually extensive even by Saudi standards, and confirms for anyone that didn’t already know it that MBS is not the “reformist” and modernizer that his boosters have presented to Western audiences. Apparently the one thing linking all of the people detained is that they have not endorsed the stupid bullying of Qatar, so the crackdown is also an attempt to punish opponents of MBS’ reckless foreign policy adventurism. Human Rights Watch reports:
The reported arrests of Salman al-Awda, Awad al-Qarni, and more than a dozen others since September 10 are the latest in Saudi Arabia’s ongoing repression campaign against dissidents including peaceful activists, journalists, and writers. A prominent writer, Jamal Khashoggi, announced that his publication, al-Hayat, had banned him from writing regular opinion columns.
“These apparently politically motivated arrests are another sign that Mohammad bin Salman has no real interest in improving his country’s record on free speech and the rule of law,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
When the U.S. is tied as closely to a repressive client state as the U.S. is tied to Saudi Arabia, their suppression of dissent and detention of political critics necessarily become our concern. Saudi repression not only reflects poorly on the U.S. because of Washington’s unconditional support for the kingdom, but it reminds us that the U.S. has yoked itself to one of the most authoritarian regimes in the world for dubious reasons. Backing such a repressive regime would be a questionable trade-off at any time, but when the Saudis have proven that they are increasingly a liability to the U.S. it is time to reassess the entire relationship. The Saudis have become a regional menace and a destabilizing, destructive actor in recent years, and whatever benefit the U.S. derived from the relationship with them is outweighed by the large and growing costs the connection with Riyadh imposes on U.S. interests and other countries in the region.