Western Governments Whitewash Saudi Dictator MBS as ‘Reformer’

While the U.S. and European governments claim Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is dedicated to “reform,” analyst Ali al-Ahmed says this is propaganda that covers up his crimes in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

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Story Transcript

BEN NORTON: It’s The Real News. I’m Ben Norton. Again, we’re joined by Ali al-Ahmed, who is a Saudi dissident and he leads and co-founded the Institute for Gulf Affairs in Washington, D.C.

In the first part of our interview here on The Real News, we discussed Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, and his trip to the UK, where he met with Prime Minister Theresa May and discussed increasing arms sales and increasing collaboration between the Saudi and British economies. Here in this segment, we’ll actually be joined Ali again to discuss what’s been going on domestically inside Saudi Arabia.

I’ll remind viewers that the United Nations, specifically UNICEF, has said that tens of thousands of Yemeni children have died from preventable causes. In fact, in the past two years, more than 100,000 Yemeni children have died from preventable causes, primarily malnutrition and starvation, and also preventable diseases. This is actually the largest humanitarian catastrophe in the world we’re talking about, in the world, in Yemen, and the UK has played a central role in that war.

Before we talk more about that, I actually want to talk a bit about what’s going on inside Saudi Arabia. It’s widely suspected in much of the world that King Salman is actually sick and he’s largely incapable of ruling. Mohammed bin Salman is technically just the crown prince, but he’s really the unofficial leader of the Saudi monarchy at the moment. He’s exercising a lot of control. He’s the one who’s going abroad and meeting with foreign leaders.

At the same time, Prince Mohammed has undertaken a massive propaganda campaign to depict himself as some kind of reformer. And many Western governments and media outlets have joined in and have been whitewashing Mohammed bin Salman.

Yet inside Saudi Arabia, we’ve seen that Prince Mohammed has been viciously clamping down on all forms of dissent. He purged and imprisoned his political rivals within the royal family. Even Human Rights Watch has called into question the Saudi monarchy’s supposed commitment to reform. In fact, during Prince Mohammed’s visit, Human Rights Watch said the UK should immediately cease all of its arms sales to the country and it released this video. We’ll play a clip of the video.

SPEAKER: Saudi’s crown prince and heir apparent, Mohammed bin Salman, is hailed as a champion of reform, but does Saudi Arabia really want reform? Saudi Arabia is stepping up arrests of Saudi activists, detaining citizens while brazenly flouting rule of law, promising more freedom for Saudi women while maintaining an abusive male guardianship system. Under Mohammed bin Salman’s rule, Saudi Arabia has launched a devastating war in Yemen, bombing homes, hospitals and markets in one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. And now the UK government is welcoming the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.

The UK government denies evidence from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty and the U.N. that the Saudi-led coalition may be committing war crimes in Yemen. And the UK government has sold billions of pounds of arms to Saudi Arabia since the war began in March 2015. The UK government should stop arming Saudi Arabia, demand real reforms for Saudi women and speak out for critics locked up in Saudi jails.

BEN NORTON: So Ali, what do you think? What are your thoughts on this? Clearly Human Rights Watch is not buying this narrative that Prince Mohammed is a reformer. So why do you think this narrative continues to dominate a lot of the media coverage?

ALI AL-AHMED: It’s very easy. You can buy a lot of this stuff, and that’s what’s happening in the media. Even the media in the UK have not really given this issue its fair coverage, and they didn’t call a spade a spade.

I am one of those few people who refuse to hear any lectures from the UK or US governments about human rights and refuse any intervention because we have seen in the past 50, 60 years that any attempt to interfere when it comes to human rights by the UK and the US government is really just to give themselves a positive image. They never really prove to help improve human rights in those countries.

In fact, I challenge any American or British official or any reporter out there to give me and list a single dollar that the US and the UK government has spent to improve human rights in Saudi Arabia or women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, vice versa. They did the opposite. It is because of the US and the UK support to the Saudi monarchy, human rights in Saudi Arabia and in the neighborhood has gotten worse and made these governments more emboldened to execute, and torture, and abuse their population.

I reject utterly any wordings that comes out of the US and the UK government regarding their concern for human rights. They are not concerned. They just want to express their feelings. This is in fact, any statement when somebody says, oh, I’m concerned about the death of children in Yemen, that is a very racist statement in my opinion because nobody is asking you how you feel. We’re asking you why have you supported these crimes. So, anybody who issues a statement of concern, they are basically self-centered who do not want to talk about the suffering and the feeling of the victims. They want to talk about themselves.

Human Rights Watch even, to be honest, what they said is watered down because the issues in Saudi Arabia is greater than what they mentioned, and it’s not about human rights anymore. Human rights has become really just something like a drug that everybody is drinking and they forget the fact that it is an absolute monarchy, that we need to have a political change.

You will have human rights abuses anytime, anywhere. But this is not the issue. This is the symptom. The issue is we have a political system that is ruled by a fleet of Saudi princes or now by one and supported by the West, especially the US and the UK. And we need that change to happen.

If the West is not going to help, that’s fine. I think it’s our responsibility as people of that country to change our government to our own desires and our own interests. Our national interest is to have a government by the people, of the people, for the people. Our people, not the British and American arms dealers.

BEN NORTON: Actually speaking of just the vast extent of British and American support of the Saudi regime, because you know, as you mentioned, even if Mohammed bin Salman is this reformer he claims to be, he’s not going to abolish the monarchy. He’s really at the end of the day just rearranging the ships on the Titanic.

A new report shows just how deeply embedded those governments are. The UK based Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed that a senior British diplomat, who is still currently employed by the government’s foreign office, is also simultaneously at the same time working for a public relations firm that is hired by Saudi Arabia to help to whitewash its image. Just how deep do you think the Saudi monarchy’s ties go?

We know, this has long been known, that it was, in fact, the British empire in the early 20th century that helped to create the Saudi monarchy and establish the Saudi state in the first place. So, how does Saudi Arabia serve British and American interests in the region? And why is this so systemic? Why do these ties go so deep that you have members of countries and heads of states of countries that claim to be democracies that refuse to even criticize what’s going on?

ALI AL-AHMED: You hit it on the head. It is about, it’s a problem within the Washington political regime and within the London political regime and culture because if it’s not about oil, in my mind, because Venezuela has more oil than Saudi Arabia and sends more oil to the United States than Saudi Arabia does. But yet, you see how much they go after the Venezuelan government. So, it’s not about that need.

The fact is I think it’s cultural. It’s the fact that the UK government especially, which made the Saudi monarchy and created it and if you notice that in our culture and history, we don’t have these titles, the royal titles, in the Arab history. These are translated titles from the English language, from Britain specifically. His royal highness and his majesty, these things are from the British, who imposed it in our country and brought their own people. Then the Americans took over as sponsors, of leading sponsors.

So really, you’re looking at a reflection of that colonial time when these governments saw and see the population of that country as the enemy, and the dictators in those countries like Saudi Arabia as the allies that they need to support in order to split the wealth.

You could be a ruler as long as you paid us and make your country and your government serve our interest, including self interest because lot of these politicians end up getting millions and millions of dollars, and they live in luxury from the purse of these nations while the country like Saudi Arabia, people suffer with high unemployment with, for example, huge poverty in Saudi Arabia. You’re talking about one third of the people live in poverty and 70 percent of the people live in rented houses because they can’t afford to buy a house in this large country and small population because of the corruption of the ruling family, supported knowingly by Western governments like the UK and the US.

So, really you’re talking about, to me, it’s much more about culture and supremacy than money because if it was about money, the UK would be very close allies with the Russians, which they need their gas and with the Venezuelans, which has a lot of oil. In fact, the largest oil reservoir is in Venezuela. So, it’s not about the money alone. It’s about culture and how they view brown and Asian and black people.

BEN NORTON: Well, thank you so much for joining us, Ali. I mean, your analysis is always invaluable. We’d love to have you on again.

ALI AL-AHMED: Thank you.

BEN NORTON: Thank you, viewers. Thanks for joining us on The Real News. I’m Ben Norton.