The Kingdom in Malaysia
“My biggest fear is that the enlightened Arab thinkers are going to leave the Arab world in search of fresh air: somewhere far away from the sword of the religious authorities.”
- Raif Badawi, ‘1,000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think’
A long-time reader of my writings and someone who has become a friend asked me what I thought about the visit of the House of Saud. “The prime minister must be really desperate,” he said and was taken aback when I disagreed.
In my opinion, Umno president Najib Abdul Razak is in a better position than the current monarch of Saudi Arabia. Maybe it is because Saudi Arabia is heading into (1) extremely choppy financial waters, (2) waging an ideological and proxy war with Iran, (3) leading a “coalition” against Yemen, and (4) promulgating its version of Islam which has resulted in blowback across the world
1) As reported by CNNMoney - “After years of raking in huge sums of oil money, these days Saudi Arabia is pulling out all the stops to raise cash. The kingdom is reportedly planning to take out a $10 billion loan from a group of banks, possibly paving the way for its first international bond sale.
“The problem is Saudi Arabia needs oil prices at over $100 a barrel to break even on its budget. The kingdom spends heavily on perks for its huge population of nearly 30 million. Now it's being forced to reverse some of those gifts, as highlighted by the recent 50 percent gas price hike. Saudi Arabia's ‘lavish social spending program is on a collision course’ with cheap oil, (Zach) Schreiber said.”
(Schreiber was CEO of hedge fund PointState Capital who walked away with US$1 billion after betting that oil prices would crash three years ago.)
2) Did anyone else read Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s op-ed piece in the New York Times, titled ‘Let Us Rid the World of Wahhabism’? I certainly did -
“Saudi Arabia’s effort to persuade its Western patrons to back its shortsighted tactics is based on the false premise that plunging the Arab world into further chaos will somehow damage Iran. The fanciful notions that regional instability will help to ‘contain’ Iran, and that supposed rivalries between Sunni and Shiite Muslims are fueling conflicts, are contradicted by the reality that the worst bloodshed in the region is caused by Wahhabists fighting fellow Arabs and murdering fellow Sunnis.”
3) Just last month the United Nations warned Saudi Arabia and its “allies” that war crimes may have been committed in the Yemen conflict - “A Saudi Arabia-led military coalition has carried out attacks in Yemen that ‘may amount to war crimes’”, UN sanctions monitors reported to the world body's Security Council, warning coalition allies including the United States, Britain and France that they are obligated to respect international humanitarian law.
4) Again, from the New York Times, last year - “Small details of Saudi practice can cause outsize trouble. For at least two decades, the kingdom has distributed an English translation of the Quran that in the first surah, or chapter, adds parenthetical references to Jews and Christians in addressing Allah: ‘those who earned your anger (such as the Jews), nor of those who went astray (such as the Christians).’ Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University and the editor-in-chief of the new Study Quran, an annotated English version, said the additions were ‘a complete heresy, with no basis in Islamic tradition’.”
Compared to the above, being labelled a kleptocrat at the centre of the country’s biggest financial scandal pales in comparison. Furthermore, unlike the wolves baying at the door of the House of Saud, the opposition towards this Najib regime is fractured, with certain members of the coalition still thinking they can deal with PAS.
It is pointless talking about the human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. It is pointless pointing out the fact that the so-called moderate form of Islam practiced in Malaysia is anathema to the kind of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia. It is pointless going over the so-called “donation” that was - or not to be - from the kingdom...