Oct 22nd, 2018, 11:46 PM

Stop Kissing up to Saudi Arabia

By Julie Boulet
Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman by Donkey Hotey
Our leaders are scared of an impotent country.

The death of Jamal Khashoggi is just another brick in the wall of shame surrounding Saudi Arabia. While Iran is pictured as the devil of the Middle East, Saudi Arabia seems to be getting away with virtually anything and is constantly violating human rights, financing terrorism and making a joke out of international conventions. Yet, Saudi Arabia remains an important ally of the West, selling oil, buying weapons. Mohammed Bin Salman, the crown prince, is praised by the international community for allowing women to drive while he is imprisoning and murdering his opponents. Why is the international community so afraid of Saudi Arabia? Why is no one boycotting them and taking a stand?

The "mysterious" death of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi has moved the entire world. After two weeks of denying the man's disappearance, Riyadh admitted the 59-year-old "lost his life" at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, allegedly during a fistfight. They then changed their minds once again to explain he was murdered in a rogue operation never ordered by the crown prince, a free excuse handed to them by Donald Trump. The round-trip of 15 Saudi statesmen affiliated to the crown prince, carrying a bone saw in their suitcase, and why one of the Saudis left the consulate wearing a fake beard and Khashoggi's clothes a few hours after the journalist's murder, remains unexplained.

Despite international calls to action, very little action has been taken against the Saudis. Governments throughout the western world have watched the events unfold in silence. Turkey seems to be the only country truly focusing on the events, not solely because it happened in Istanbul and violated international law, but to look better in the eyes of European allies after years of depriving journalists of their rights, having for instance imprisoned Die Welt's Deniz Yücel for over a year.

Donald Trump has had various reactions to the journalist's death: he expressed his sadness and promised to retaliate against Saudi Arabia if the allegations were found true while reminding America that the Saudis are spending billions on weapons. After Riyadh's acknowledgment of Khashoggi's death, Trump declared he would "accept" their excuse. Meanwhile, in Europe, very little has been heard from front row leaders such as French president Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. So, despite the outcry from the press and civil society, why is no leader able to stand up to Saudi Arabia and tell them enough is enough?

They are not a big trade partner

Saudi Arabia is a declining country. For decades, their economy has been relying on oil. Yet oil prices are dropping, it is a limited resource and will be less and less needed in the future as some of the world's biggest economies are preparing to switch to more sustainable energies. Saudi Arabia is only the US's 20th biggest trading partner, and outside their recent order of 110 billion dollars worth of weapons – presumably Trump's reason for not telling the country off-, Saudi participation in the US economy remains minimal.

As for Germany, Saudi Arabia is only 10th in oil deliveries to the Federal Republic. Saudi Arabia's exports to Germany are smaller than Kazakhstan's or Azerbaidjan's, and German exports to the kingdom are estimated at $8 billion dollars per year, making the country an insignificant trade partner. France faces even smaller numbers, exporting every year less than 5 billion dollars worth of goods or services, and while the kingdom orders weapons from France, they are still surpassed by India in arms deals. An economic impact so small that Saudi Arabia cannot afford to blackmail or pressure western countries.

They are a terrible ally in the region

Saudi Arabia's economic irrelevance matches their lack of geopolitical interest. Western leaders are hung up on the idea that the kingdom is a vital ally in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is seen as a stable country that counterbalances the influence of Iran and uses its military power to fight ISIS. Yet, Saudi Arabia has been for years suspected of financing terrorism, notably aiding Al-Qaïda, as Osama Bin Laden was a member of a prominent Saudi family. In Yemen, the kingdom's military is mistakenly dropping US-manufactured bombs on children's busses. Is their alliance worth overlooking constant human rights abuses? NO. For decades, Saudi Arabia has been making a joke out of international conventions and basic human decency.

Saudi Arabia does not have a bright future in front of them unless they manage to diversify their economy and make themselves more appealing and sympathetic. As a rentier state where no taxation equals no representation, the fall of the petrol industry will send the country into a turmoil if it remains authoritarian. Saudi Arabia needs to adapt not only its economy but also its political system, to survive once it calls on its citizens to keep the government's budget afloat.

In the meantime, we must refuse to accept that any of our countries kiss up to a barbaric prince and a despicable country that does not even respect its own citizens. Saudi Arabia, we are not afraid of you and your lack of economic and political powers. And we don't think our leaders should be either.