In a recent press conference in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal blamed the Iraqi government for instability in Iraq. Among other things he said that, “Peace and security will not return to Iraq as long [as] it is ruled by sectarianism and divisive forces.”
This could be interpreted to mean that the Saudi government is behind the Iraq Sunni minority’s unrest and rejection of the democratically elected Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. It is the crowning of hypocrisy that the Saudi rulers accuse anyone of sectarianism, divisiveness, and religious intolerance.
Additionally, the Saudi rulers should be the last people in the world to criticize others for the use of religion to discriminate against segments of their societies. The Saudi/Wahhabi allies created their own religious dogma, known as Wahhabism, and imposed it on all of the people of their vast and tyrannically ruled kingdom with no regard for minority religious orientations.
As has been amply documented by human rights groups and governments, Saudi religious minorities are among the most oppressed and marginalized people in the world. One of Saudi Arabia’s major critics regarding this issue is its closest Western ally, the US government.
In its consecutive International Religious Freedom Report, the State Department wrote,
“Despite the diversity of individual views, the government continued to enforce its official interpretation of Sunni Islam. Some Muslims who did not adhere to this interpretation faced significant political, economic, legal, social, and religious discrimination, including limited employment and educational opportunities, underrepresentation in official institutions, restrictions on the practice of their faith, and on the building of places of worship and community centers. The largest group affected was the Shi’a.”
Saudi Arabia is one of a few countries that is declared by the State Department a “Country of Particular Concern” because of religious intolerance in general and severe oppression of its minorities.
Saud al-Faisal is in a position to know that security and stability in Iraq and harmony among the religiously and ethnically diverse Iraqi population will be hard to achieve as long as the Saudi government and its religious establishment continue to incite hatred against Shi’a and use Iraq’s Sunni minority to ensure its influence regardless who rule that beleaguered country.
Saudi clerics have called on all Sunni Muslims to kill Iraqi Shi’a, a call that has been heeded and carried out by mostly Saudi terrorists who have committed heinous crimes against worshipers at Shi’a mosques, neighborhoods and markets. This is happening while senior Shi’a clerics are demanding equality for their Sunni compatriots. “There must be agreement with the demands… Nobody can say that the government is clean from errors.”
The Saudi/Wahhabi ruling elites’ historical animosity toward Shi’a brand of Islam has transcended its original religious root. It has become a tool for geopolitical expansion as exemplified by the Saudi regime’s invasion of Bahrain and its support for the opposition Sunni groups in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Kuwait, Pakistan and Afghanistan, among other places. Saudi enmity toward Shi’a is not discreet, new, casual, or cheap. The Saudi rulers paid the former butcher of Baghdad, Saddam Hussein, $1 billion a month to wage and sustain a prolonged, bloody war against Shi’a Iran for eight years, 1980-1988.
As has been abundantly documented, Shi’a minorities are oppressed and massacred in Sunni-majority Muslim countries where Saudi influence ranks high as in Pakistan which has become a butcher house for Shi’a. As unabashedly described by an editorial in a Pakistani daily
“… Saudi Arabia was able to influence the Pakistani leadership due to the power of petro-dollars. By dazzling our leadership with its wealth and dangling the ‘Kadhimain-Haramain-Sharifain’ title in front of the Pakistani public, the Saudi monarchy was able to get what it wanted from Pakistan. Be it exporting terrorism to Iran, Saudi Arabia’s nemesis, by funding sectarian madrassas that are actually terror factories, fanning sectarian conflict inside Pakistan through these same madrassas, buying land in Pakistan to ensure food security in the barren kingdom, or hunting endangered animals and birds with their UAE brethren on Pakistani soil, the Arab sheikhs have lorded it in and over Pakistan.”
The editorial went on to say,
“Arab influence has already turned Pakistan into a blood-soaked battlefield… Pakistani society has become intolerant over the years because of various reasons, but most importantly because of Saudi Arabia’s powerful influence in our internal matters. The growth of Wahabism and extremism in Pakistan is mostly because of funding by Arab sheikhs.”
The escalation of killing Shi’a minorities in majority Sunni Muslim countries is more likely to lead to more reprisals against Sunni minorities in Shi’a majority countries as in Iran and Iraq. Furthermore, the more atrocious attacks on and killing of Shi’a minorities escalate, the more likely that Shi’a will resort to deadly violence against the regimes that encourage religious intolerance.
However, one can only hope that the Iraqi Shi’a majority would take the high road and treat their minority Sunni compatriots with respect and dignity. They are Iraqi citizens and their religious orientation should not matter. The Iraqis can set a noble example for other Arab and Muslim societies and regimes that subjugate segments of their citizens because of their religious rituals.
To start, the Iraqis ought to vote Prime Minister Maliki out of office for discriminating against a segment of his society, if indeed the Saudi Foreign Minister claim is credible. The Iraqis, Shi’a and Sunnis are still struggling to put a just system in place through democratic process; a privilege unavailable to the Saudi people who suffer under autocratic and theocratic system.
Given the Saudi rulers’ oppression of their citizens, Sunnis and Shi’a, it’s difficult to accept that their superseding concern is justice for Iraq’s Sunni minority or for fear of Iraq becomes an Iranian colony. Rather, the Saudi elites’ daunting nightmare is the development of a united and thriving democratic Iraq with huge oil reserves on their border.
The most humane and very prudent policy toward Iraq is for the Saudi religious and political rulers to leave the Iraqis alone while they are trying to find solutions for their massive political, religious, ethnic, and economic problems.
Dr. Ali Alyami is the founder and executive director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, CDHR, in Washington, DC. CDHR focuses on promoting peaceful and incremental democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia, including empowerment of women, religious freedom, free flow of information, free movement, free press, privatization of government industries, free elections, non-sectarian constitution, and codified rule of law, transparency and accountability. Read other articles by Ali.