Looking beyond the popular hate against Saudi Arabia

javedMuhammad Javed is a university politics student, who is an aspiring journalist focusing on Middle Eastern and international political affairs.


Muslims must stop jumping onto the anti-Saudi bandwagon and ask themselves who are the main manufacturers and beneficiaries of this popular hate, writes Muhammad Javed.

Change is taking place, sides are shifting, and public opinion is being shaped. During the last decade or so, Saudi Arabia has been going through exactly that. Today, the Kingdom is reviled, insulted, humiliated, despised, and defamed globally in the Western mainstream media as well as in the general public.

What used to be muttered mainly by the Shias, Sufis, Islamophobes, and a select few media outlets of dubious credentials, is now spewed out shamelessly by the average Muslim – particularly mainstream Sunnis.

All it takes is a quick search of recent articles on Saudi Arabia and the comments below them to gauge public opinion on the Gulf monarchy, and the forces that shape that opinion. Take, for example, the hysterical and wildly exaggerated titles such as the Independent’s “The evil empire of Saudi Arabia is the West’s real enemy,” and the Daily Mail’s labelling of the country as “a kernel of evil in the Middle East.”

This anti-Saudi sphere – in which minorities, human rights campaigners, and the herd abounds – has become so popular and mainstream that to be sceptical of it and review the positive points of the Saudi government is seen almost as a blasphemy towards humanity, and countless Muslims have been tricked into supporting the exact same sentiments.

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A gradual and successful propaganda

To go through every popular accusation against Saudi Arabia in detail (and to counter them) would require an essay, dissertation or perhaps even an entire book, so that is certainly not the aim of this article.

An outline of the claims, however, include its alleged exportation of Salafism and extremist ideology, its funding and arming of Syrian rebels and jihadists, its racism against foreign workers and minorities, its human rights abuses and increasing use of capital punishment, and its idleness in the face of the crises in Palestine and countless other Muslim lands.

King Salman of Saudi Arabia
King Salman of Saudi Arabia

When one looks at a list like that, it’s easy to understand why people have such a grudge against the Kingdom, but like all well-executed propaganda, it leaves little incentive towards identifying and recognising the positive actions of the Saudi government or even attempting to research into the aforementioned accusations.

The public will not be told, for example, about Saudi Arabia taking a leading role in rebuilding Afghanistan and Gaza, and its commitment of sending hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to its people – the largest contributor by far –  not just once, but numerous times after every major conflict.

Nor will they be informed about the fact that “jihadists” and “extremist” rebel groups in Syria pose more of a danger to Saudi Arabia than the West, or the little-known alternative explanation that the West forces the Kingdom to fund the rebel groups in order that Saudi money can be spent, exploited, and tracked rather than Western money.

As for racism, that is certainly not a Saudi problem; intra-Muslim racism has existed for centuries, and is not endorsed by the Saudi government. It must be remembered that Britain and the US have a certain amount of control over the Kingdom through their guarantees of military protection, and so they are able to use that as a leverage to influence Saudi foreign and even domestic policy.

In a recent article on 5Pillars written by Arzu Merali, one of the founders of the Islamic Human Rights Commission – she brings to memory her first Hajj in 1987, using her experience to criticise the Kingdom’s alleged “mismanagement and callousness,” as well as the “segregation” of sects that it apparently enforces.

Well, allow me to also recall my experience of my first visit to Makkah and Madinah, not for Hajj (yet) but for Umrah in the spring of 2014. In those two holy cities, more importantly in the sanctity of the Masjid al-Haram in Makkah, I witnessed the complete opposite of “mismanagement”: the moving crowds were immediately accompanied by equally moving barriers and guards, each and every corner of the sanctity was cleaned and the carpets changed routinely every few hours or so, and amazingly no fights or conflicts broke out as would be expected in a crowd of millions. All was calm and in order, in an effective display of perfect organisation.

As for the sectarian segregation, that is due to the wishes of the various groups themselves. Doesn’t a Shia feel safe and in comfort with his fellow Shias? And won’t a Sunni naturally gravitate towards his fellow Sunnis? I saw groups of at least forty Indonesians walking together performing the rituals during my time there, as well as crowds of Iranians wrapped up in their chadors touring the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah. No one forced them to stay in their groups, it was simply a natural occurrence.

Iran’s stake

When discussing the “Saudi Question,” inevitably the issue of Iran comes into the equation. Iran, that great rival of the Kingdom, has for centuries stood in the corner, glaring daggers at the Arabs with clenched fists, with the memory of their defeat 1,400 years ago to those “desert dwellers” and “goat herders” eternally haunting them.

saudi iranThe Saudi-Iranian rivalry is essentially Arab-Persian enmity, incensed by the fact that Saudi Arabia’s Sunni orthodox monarchy stands in direct contrast to Iran’s Shia government.

For decades, Iran has been spreading its sphere of influence into its neighbouring Arab countries.

First in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories; then in Iraq, where they armed and trained Shia militias after the US-led invasion. Syria was inevitably next in line, with their support for the Alawite-dominated regime of Bashar Al-Assad; then came their current escapades in Yemen by funding and backing the Houthi rebels. The Western mainstream media fails to make any mention of this, yet is obsessed with insisting that Saudi Arabia is funding and exporting terrorism.

Another memory that remains clear in my mind from my Umrah visit two years ago is one evening after the Isha prayer, when a group of at least one hundred Iranians were protesting at one of the gates, shouting at the top of their voices in Farsi. They caused an unnecessary obstruction to worshippers trying to exit the mosque and needed a whole escort of police vans to contain that crowd. The holy cities are no strangers to Iranian upheavals.

Lessons unlearnt

Ultimately, the majority of Muslims have been tricked by subtle propaganda to turn against Saudi Arabia, of which the Western mainstream media made sure of. We have become the West’s foot soldiers and infantry, ready to march against that “evil” monarchy at the click of their fingers. All it would take is a spark to ignite the country, and we would see another Syria, Libya, and Iraq.

No doubt the Kingdom has major undeniable faults and flaws, just like every other country does, but let us hope that Muslims have enough sense not to shamelessly support a revolt or “revolution” against the Kingdom, as many openly admit they would. Otherwise it would seem that we have not learnt our lesson from the destruction of the Ottoman Caliphate, that old father figure of the Muslim world, and the consequences of our lands thereafter…which the Al Sauds have played a key role in.

5Pillars is committed to showcasing a variety of views on the website. As with all our opinion pieces, the views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the 5Pillars editorial board.

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