London’s burning. Wall Street’s burning. Global markets are burning. While Rome burns, the House of Saud fiddles – dreams of expanding torture and building a monster minaret coupled with scolding Syria for repressing its own people. The “international community” barely emits a peep; when you’re a Medieval family dynasty sitting on an ocean of oil, you can get away with virtually anything.
Ailing, Saudi King Abdullah’s official statement demanding an end to the bloodshed in Syria has already secured its place in the annals of 21st century hypocrisy. The king’s speech, referring to Bashar al-Assad’s rule, points out “either it chooses wisdom willingly, or drifts into the depths of chaos and loss”. The king also calls for “quick and comprehensive reforms” in the face of protests that have claimed the lives of more than 1,600 people.
Even Monty Python in its heyday could not come up with a sketch of the mega-repressive House of Saud preaching democracy lessons to unsuspecting Arabs. .
This is a regime that gave refuge to ousted Tunisian dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali; was furious with the Barack Obama administration for abandoning Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak; invaded Bahrain in a neo-imperialist fit invoking a murky Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) military deal to save the al-Khalifa dynasty from pro-democracy protesters; pre-empted pro-democracy protests in Saudi Arabia itself; invited two other impoverished, oil-deprived Arab monarchies, Jordan and Morocco, to be part of the wealthy GCC; conducted a relentless counter-revolutionary drive to destroy any possibility of an Arab Spring in the Gulf; and is actively picking the next ruler in Yemen – imposing a GCC-devised “transition plan” that has nothing to do with the wishes of Yemeni pro-democracy protesters.
While preaching “reforms” in Syria, “reform” in Saudi Arabia itself means the king dispensing with tens of billions of dollars to buy up even the possibility of dissent. Moreover, the House of Saud despises the mere possibility of democracy in Syria. What it does want – badly – is Sunnis to monopolize power in Syria, preferably via the Muslim Brotherhood, to the detriment of Assad-linked Allawis in Syria and Shi’ites in Iran.
Damascus under Assad is closely aligned with Tehran. As much as it’s a nasty police state, Syria is a secular republic. The House of Saud despises secular Arab republics – from Assad’s Syria to Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya. No wonder the House of Saud – as well as Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates – have been financing the key Muslim Brotherhood strand of the Syrian opposition, as well as more unsavory Salafi elements.
The bottom line is King Abdullah – followed by the minions in the GCC, also known as the Gulf Counter-Revolutionary Club, and the toothless Arab League – has already positioned the wealthy Gulf monarchies for a Sunni-controlled, post-Assad Syria. Washington is not exactly unhappy, as it is about to give Assad its marching orders.
Reaching for the stars
Meanwhile, in Jeddah – against any economic or ecological justification – a $1.23 billion tower of over one kilometer in height will be built to celebrate Saudi primacy. You can’t make this stuff up; the builders will be none other than the Bin Laden Group. Dead Osama must be kicking in his Arabian Sea grave.
The project’s mastermind is Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a nephew of King Abdullah, the world’s 19th-wealthiest man, and the wealthiest Arab businessman, with hefty stakes, among others, in Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, Citigroup and Apple.
The tower, with a design inspired by a desert plant, will be the world’s tallest – beating Dubai’s 2009 Burj Khalifa by 172 meters. It’s open to debate whether this monster Saudi minaret reflects worship of Allah or worship of oil wealth and financial markets.
As it stands, all the world’s top towers are in Asia or in the Gulf. The Burj Khalifa, 828 meters high, is followed by the Canton Tower in Guangzhou (600 meters), Taipei 101 in Taipei (508 meters), the Shanghai World Financial Center (492 meters) and the IFC in Hong Kong (484 meters). The days of primacy by the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur (410 meters) are long gone.
Torture in da house
Yet the towering achievement of the House of Saud has got to be what it has in store in terms of criminalizing any possibility of dissent in the kingdom. New “anti-terrorism” legislation still to be approved will condemn to at least 10 years in jail anyone who doubts the integrity of the king or the crown prince.
The Ministry of Interior – led by sinister Prince Nayef – will have virtually unlimited powers. Torture – already in effect – will be virtually institutionalized. Detention and isolation – with no access to lawyers – will be extended to 120 days, or ad infinitum, depending on the judgment of a special court, under charges that range from “endangering … national unity” to “harming the reputation of the state”. Beheadings – merrily dispensed especially against Asian workers – will proliferate.
Blame the House of Saud’s paranoia on the Arab Spring; the emergence of a Shi’ite-dominated Iraq; the resilience of the Islamic Republic of Iran; and the unshakeable perception in Riyadh of a Shi’ite conspiracy, organized by Tehran, to smash the GCC monarchies.
So this is what passes for “reform” in Saudi Arabia; an Arab version of “you’re either with us or against us”. Cynics will drink to the brotherhood of Saudi Arabia and the West Texas so beloved by George W Bush. Amnesty International gloomily forecasts massive violation of human rights lying ahead. Immersed in a torture-and-minarets daze, the House of Saud will solemnly ignore them all.