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Omer Aziz says the Saudis are blocking an inquiry into one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent times

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: We are speaking about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen with Omer Aziz. He’s a writer fellow at Yale Information Society Project, and a student at the Yale Law School. Omer, thank you so much for joining us again. OMER AZIZ: Thanks for having me. PERIES: So before we broke in the first segment we were talking about the complexity of the fight that’s going on in Yemen, and all the different parties that are involved, not just the Houthis and the government, but now there are insurgency groups involved as well. Can you describe who they are and what role they’re playing? AZIZ: You have a, you have the Houthis and you have the coalition that’s led by Saudi Arabia. You also have smaller groups, many of them tribal, that have been allied with either side. They say that the Houthis now are also allied, or this is actually more than–this has been quite well established–with the former Saleh government was supporting them. Which his not unlike what we’ve seen in Syria, where the former members of Saddam Hussein’s security services became ISIS’s lead strategists. And we’ve also seen Al-Qaeda that’s been effective in Yemen. ISIS was there as well, along with a smattering of smaller groups. So this country, Yemen, is being torn apart by the violence. And we can see this continuing as groups continue the violence. You have to remember that before this war started, in fact, it’s ironic. Because the most effective combatants against ISIS or against Al-Qaeda were the Houthis. And they were actually driving them back. And now the Houthis, who again have committed their own war crimes and are not some liberal, moderate force. In fact, the UN inquiry that was stonewalled would have investigated them as well. But it behooves one, again, to ask exactly what is the purpose of this violence? Because there’s nothing more, there’s nothing worse than purposeless or senseless violence. And who are going to be the beneficiaries, and who are going to be the losers? I submit that this is going to be going on for a very long time. The ordinary citizen, individual, in Yemen is going to be suffering for a very long time. And what we’re going to do through this violence led by Saudi Arabia and supported by the United States is convert an entire generation into potential fanatics. This is not going to end when the bombs stop falling. This is going to be a generational conflict, now, because of the number of parents and the number of hospitals and the number of markets and villages that have been bombed. PERIES: Now, as you predict this is going to go on for a very long time, is there any relief that you can point to in terms of the suffering and the carnage that people are experiencing, and a stop to that in any immediate way? AZIZ: Well, the only silver lining, if I can use that kind of term for this, is I think that people in the United States and people in the West are beginning to ask some serious questions of the kind that they had not before, of just what kind of regime is running Saudi Arabia? Because the United States and the West are bombing ISIS, and Saudi Arabia and ISIS happen to share the exact same ideology. There in fact is no difference between how they operationalize their ideology. Just one is running a state while–in fact the other one is running a pseudo-state as well. And I think that members of the security community and at least the journalism community are beginning to ask some serious questions, like why is Saudi Arabia on the Human Rights Council, for one. Why did it stonewall an inquiry into what was happening, the level of carnage in Yemen? Why did it flog Raif Badawi in the streets? Why is it beheading people, 100 and counting, each year? In fact, it’s going to set an execution record. Why did a crane fall in Mecca? Why was that crane built by the Saudi Bin Laden Group? Why was there a stampede that killed 800 people? And after that stampede why did the clerics blame it on fate and on God, as if the leaders themselves are above the law and above politics and above decision making? After all, they run the country like it’s their private property. In fact, it is their private property. It’s named after themselves. This is a group of religious fundamentalists who have made a deal with a revivalist and reactionary cultish group known as Wahhabism, and they have been spreading carnage and ideological war across the world. And the more questions that we ask, and the answers to those questions will not be pretty, will not be convincing, I think, the more illumination we can bring to this benighted ideology and this regime. PERIES: Now, I think we can unpack each of those reasons that you stress here, but give us a sense of why these beheadings are still taking place. I mean, that’s captured the social media and media world in terms of incident. But these are regular, and this is punishment applied for sometimes very ordinary crimes. Why is this still, this archaic practice, still happening in Saudi Arabia? I know that’s a big question, but I was wondering if you could give us just some insight into that. AZIZ: The two poles of power in Saudi Arabia are the royal family and its inner core led by King Salman and now his son, Mohammad Salman, who is the minister of defense. But also the religious clerics, who in some instances, if not all, are actually more conservative than the royal family and think that the royal family might, in fact, be closet liberals. If that is true they’ve kept that secret very well hidden. But look, there are punishments that are outlined in the Quran and in the hadith that most Muslims don’t follow, because it seems absurd to enact or to implement a medieval punishment from 1400 years ago in 2015. When it’s not a–capital punishment by itself is an immoral and ineffective criminal encroachment by the state upon the dignity and liberty of the individual. And when it’s done in this kind of way, a beheading in the open street, and then a crucifixion so that, where they sew the head back on and they actually display the body so individuals can pass by and just remember who in fact controls them and what the punishment will be if they happen to be caught stealing something, or be caught in an adulterous relationship, or even taking drugs. Or even possessing drugs. This is what might happen to them. What the Saudis do, I think, the reason they do this is to maintain a firm grip of control and power over the mind of their people. This is a totalitarian regime that attempts to, by using every facet of power and leverage that it can to control the minds of the individual Saudi citizen. There’s no religious prescription to carry out a beheading in 2015. I’m sorry, and anyone who says that is to me not a morally serious individual. And ISIS says it. Al-Qaeda to some extent says it. The Saudis say it. And a few other, few other outlier regimes say it. But to me it’s absolutely reprehensible. There’s going to be an execution very soon of Ali al-Nimr, who participated in democratic protests when he was 17 years old against the Saudi regime. He is scheduled to be beheaded and crucified. Information on when the beheadings are supposed to be or how many people have been beheaded are very rare, because again like any totalitarian regime the Saudis have a very tight grip on information that is let out and what people can write and say. But this is something that is unconscionable. And there is absolutely no reason why Saudi Arabia should be an ally, much less a friend or a partner, of the United States. PERIES: Omer Aziz, thank you so much for joining us today and making this very important point of likening the Saudi Arabian state to the likes of Al-Qaeda, yes, and others. Thank you so much for joining us. AZIZ: Thanks for having me. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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