Saudi Arabia’s Zeal for Repression is Bad for Everyone

I’ve been saying for a while now that the Saudi role in suppressing Arab uprisings will have a far larger short- to medium-term negative impact on the region than any of Iran’s many machinations. Read Hossein Askari at the National Interest to get a better picture of why.

The irony is rich. By association, the U.S. is on the wrong side of history in Bahrain and, more importantly, with Riyadh. Note the analysis that Askari posits: Saudi repression of the Shia in Bahrain is more about repression in its own Shia Eastern province (where there’s oil) than about the spectre of Iranian meddling. Indeed, the aggressive Saudi game plan legitimizes Iran’s regional hegemonic aspirations.


Iran has no choice but to stand up for Shia rights if it wants to play a regional role now and in the future. The Saudi misstep affords Iran the perfect invitation to take on such a role more overtly and with much more justification than in the past. What sense of justice could allow Saudi Arabia to enter into Bahrain with force, to kill peaceful Shia protestors and rob them of their basic human rights, but outlaw Iran coming to the defense of oppressed Shia?

This lays bare the depravity of the proposed Israeli-Saudi alliance nonsense —¬†proffered by rightists in Israel and hardline neocons in the U.S. — which is bad for Israel and bad for the region. I understand Israel’s attraction to counter-revolutionary forces, inspired by vestiges of the notion that autocracies are actually stable and viable in the long term. And, of course, Saudi’s hostility toward Iran and indifference about the Palestinians must also be attractive. But it’s a Faustian bargain for a state which we are constantly reminded is the only liberal Western democracy in the region.

It also goes a long way toward showing that, if the people of Iran matter at all, the U.S. shouldn’t be giving a hoot what either the Israelis or the Saudis have to say about the Islamic Republic. Both U.S. allies have been exposed as caring little for democracy in the region. Perhaps, as Askari¬†recommends, at this critical juncture in Middle Eastern history, the U.S. should be putting some pressure on Saudi Arabia itself.

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.



  1. It never ceases to amaze how easily folks project their own motivations/behavior onto others and wind up drawing silly conclusions.

    Preemptive, preventative wars and humanitarian (kinetic) interventions may be all the rage in Western political discourse, but not anywhere else on the planet.

    Regarding Bahrain, like all other Arab Spring festivities, Iran will confine itself to rhetorical ‘moral’ support for the oppressed. That Saudis, and their friends insist on engaging in crimes and hubris should not be gauged as being helpful/detrimental to Iran, unless of course one is obsessed, and deluded.

    If the sadistic Saudi despots had not tainted themselves by a brutal crackdown in Bahrain, they would have done it some place else and used some other ‘ism’ as an excuse. It is in the nature of the beast.

  2. Is it fair to assume that Saudi/Bahrain repression actually helps unite the Iranian regime with the Iranian people, thus undermining the ‘green’ revolution?

  3. So Ali, how do you make Saudi Arabia, Democratic Arabic? How do you transfer the oil wealth to the people? Property is hard to confer equitably from the gov’t to the people. Aramco IS Saudi Arabia’s economy. Do you simply make all Saudi citizens shareholders in Aramco? Do you keep Saudi Arabia a socialized state? All these are/will be fraught with their own shortcomings. Who’s to say monarchy isn’t a legitimate governing model. How different is that than the Chinese? or even our own Plutocracy? What gov’t on Earth isn’t ultimately a plutocracy? Perhaps the Yanomamo, !Kung! bushmen?

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