Zeytinoglu: World leaders should not praise Abdullah


Ekin Zeytinoglu, Columnist

After 20 years of ruling, the leader of one of the world’s most atrocious regimes passed away Friday at the age of 90. King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud, the absolute monarch of Saudi Arabia, ruled by trying to extend the limits of outrageous behavior.

Abdullah has been depicted as a champion of modernity and peace. United States President Barack Obama declared Abdullah will be remembered for his “contribution to the search for peace in the region.” British Prime Minister David Cameron praised Abdullah for his “commitment to peace and for strengthening understanding between faiths.” Sen. McCain described the king as a “vocal advocate for peace,” and Secretary of State John Kerry eulogized him as a “revered leader.”

Flags in Turkey and England flew at half-mast, while Jordan’s Royal Court declared 40 days of mourning out of respect for Abdullah. Meanwhile, The New York Times characterized the king as a “shrewd force,” and CNN’s Fahad Nazer said the King left an “indelible imprint on the throne by articulating and implementing a clear vision.”

It’s seldom that an undemocratically elected leader receives public acclaim from world leaders and press. It’s even more baffling that Christine Lagarde, the first female managing director of the International Monetary Fund, regarded Abdullah as “an advocate for women,” in a country where a woman raped by seven men was sentenced to flogging because of adultery, a sentence which was later extended due to “her efforts to seek justice,” according to Human Rights Watch.

For years, Abdullah’s regime employed sectarian alienation, promoted wars, backed Syrian rebel factions, violently crushed uprisings and oppressed women. The Saudi Arabian regime executed 82 people, 28 of whom were foreign citizens, in 2012 for reasons varying from sorcery to non-violent drug-related crimes, according to Amnesty International. In 2014, a Saudi blogger, Raif Badawi, was sentenced by the Saudi court to 10 years in prison and 1,000 public lashes for insulting Islam.

There were, however, moments when Abdullah let women work in broader industries, as long as the women did not interact with men and their husbands drove them to work — because women aren’t allowed to do so.

Human Rights Watch has reported horrendous stories of women in critical condition being denied basic medical applications because there was not a male guardian present. In addition, Amnesty International reported millions of migrants being denied the right to leave the country and forced to work because their passports are confiscated.

I believe it is not out of sincere appreciation that Western leaders portray this anachronistic regime as modernizing, but it is out of self-interest. The Saudi regime has been a great ally to the U.S. economically, politically and militarily. Abdullah refused to decrease oil supply, breaking OPEC’s price-determining nature, which helps the U.S. Additionally, Abdullah defended regimes in the region against uprisings and promoted revolutions that were in America’s best interest and hosted a CIA drone base and operations.

Considering the nature of Saudi-American relations, it is unlikely there will be any changes with Crown Prince Salman, Abdullah’s younger brother, taking the crown. However brutal, oblivious and appalling the al Saud regime is, as long as it preserves American interest in the ever-unpredictable Middle East, the newly appointed king will undoubtedly be greeted with sympathy.

Preserving interests is a part of human nature. However, when greed starts shaping our judgment and clouding our humanity, we start losing our human decency and start applauding a brutal tyranny masquerading as a paragon of modernity. We should care about national interests but never at the expense of human rights and human lives.

Ekin Zeytinoglu is a McCormick sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].