'Nauseating' Praise for Dead Saudi King Exposes Hypocrisy of West, Say Critics

In the wake of Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz’s death early Friday, human rights observers are calling attention to the hypocrisy of laudatory remembrances that appear to ignore the dictator’s disregard for the fundamental rights of Saudi citizens as well as his role in international conflicts.

Or, as journalist Glenn Greenwald puts it at The Intercept: “The effusive praise being heaped on the brutal Saudi despot by western media and political figures has been nothing short of nauseating.”

For the Guardian, diplomatic editor Julian Borger writes:

In fact, Human Rights Watch argues that King Abdullah’s royal initiatives “were largely symbolic and produced extremely modest concrete gains.” Under the dictator’s reign, Saudi authorities sought to halt political dissent through intimidation, arrests, prosecutions, and lengthy prison sentences; failed to end pervasive discrimination against women; and further curtailed the rights of religious minorities inside the kingdom, which does not allow public practice of any religion other than Islam.

Despite the fact that Abdullah appointed 30 women to the Shura Council, a consultative body that produces recommendations for the cabinet, authorities have not ended the discriminatory male guardianship system, under which women are forbidden from obtaining a passport, marrying, traveling, or accessing higher education without the approval of a male guardian—usually a husband, father, brother, or son. Women also remain forbidden from driving in Saudi Arabia, and authorities have arrested women who dared challenge the driving ban.

“King Abdullah came to power promising reforms, but his agenda fell far short of achieving lasting institutional gains on basic rights for Saudi citizens,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director for Human Rights Watch. “King Abdullah was a great champion of religious dialogue outside the kingdom, but these initiatives produced few benefits for Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority, who continue to face systematic discrimination and are treated as second-class citizens.”

At The Intercept, Greenwald highlighted the White House’s very different responses to the deaths of King Abdullah and the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

“At home, King Abdullah’s vision was dedicated to the education of his people and to greater engagement with the world,” President Barack Obama said in a four-paragraph statement on Friday. “As a leader, he was always candid and had the courage of his convictions.”

For comparison, here is the full statement released by the White House on March 5, 2013, following Chavez’s death:

“One obvious difference between the two leaders was that Chávez was elected and Abdullah was not,” Greenwald notes. “Another is that Chávez used the nation’s oil resources to attempt to improve the lives of the nation’s most impoverished while Abdullah used his to further enrich Saudi oligarchs and western elites. Another is that the severity of Abdullah’s human rights abuses and militarism makes Chávez look in comparison like Gandhi.”

Of course, the way Western officials talk about Saudi Arabia behind closed doors has been quite different from these public stances.