Saudi Summit Participants Launch Campaign to Challenge US-Saudi Ties
In Washington, D.C., at the 2016 Summit on Saudi Arabia on March 5 and 6, approximately 250 activists, human rights experts, diplomats, authors and scholars from the US, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Bahrain came together in this first-of-its-kind international summit to challenge the U.S. relationship with the theocratic dictatorship in Saudi Arabia. At the conclusion of the two-day summit on Saudi Arabia, the representatives announced the launch of a national campaign to challenge the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia, specifically by working to end the sale of billions of dollars worth of US weapons to Saudi Arabia.
CODEPINK, The Nation Magazine, the Gulf Institute, the Institute for Policy Studies, Peace Action, and many other organizations, attended the two-day summit to shed light on human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, Saudi’s war in Yemen, and U.S.-Saudi ties, including the Saudi lobby in Washington DC. to question the US- Saudi alliance, especially pertaining to US weapon sales.
“The European Union just voted for an EU-wide arms embargo to Saudi Arabia because of its bombing of civilians in Yemen, the UK ministry of justice pulled out of a multi-million dollar prison contract because of Saudi’s brutal treatment of nonviolent prisoners, and Belgium refused an export license to ship weapons,” said CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin. “Meanwhile, the US is transferring record amounts of weapons to the Saudi Arabia. We are launching this campaign to address this injustice and say that as American citizens, we will not sit by while our government sells billions of dollars in weapons to this regime.”
Medea Benjamin noted that CODEPINK invited US officials to appear at the summit, offering them an opportunity to give their side of the story. “We begged members of the Saudi embassy to speak,” she said, but no one agreed to do so.
Ali al-Ahmed, a renowned Saudi analyst and the founder of the independent think tank the Institute for Gulf Affairs, kicked off the summit, lamenting that the royal family has “hijacked our country, hijacked our religion.” Al-Ahmed noted “The largest concentration of absolute monarchies in the world are in the Gulf, and these oil-rich countries, especially Saudi Arabia, have a big influence on Western politics. ‘”He Proclaimed: “I am a Muslim, and in my religion monarchies are forbidden, Islam forbids monarchy. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you.”
Abdulaziz al-Hussan, a Saudi human rights lawyer, spoke of the plight of reformists in the kingdom. “If you support democracy in Saudi, you will be considered a terrorist.” Al-Hussan said “the 47 people executed by the Saudi regime in January were killed without due process and at the end of the day, nobody in Saudi absolute monarchy, outside of the royal family, has rights, regardless of whether they are Sunni or Shia.”
Saudi journalist Ebtihal Mubarak headed a panel on women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. She spoke of the “gender apartheid” that exists in the kingdom. ‘In Saudi society, women are essentially second-class citizens. They are banned from driving, can only travel when accompanied by a male guardian and face severe legal restrictions. In cases where women try to take legal action against male guardians for abuse, their male legal guardians can file counter-claims for disobedience, and send the woman to prison. Saudi men have all this power in their hands.”
Sharat Lin, an expert on the exploitation of migrant labor in Saudi Arabia, also spoke about the plight of mostly South Asian immigrants in the Saudi regime. Gulf regimes frequently rely heavy on migrant workers, whom they intensely exploit, sometimes in slave-like conditions. In Saudi Arabia, migrant workers are paid significantly less, and Saudi nationals are preferentially treated throughout the economy.
Sunjeev Bery, advocacy director for Middle East North Africa issues at Amnesty International USA, expressed special concerns about the brutal war Saudi Arabia has been leading in Yemen since March 2015. A coalition led by Saudi Arabia has relentlessly bombed civilian areas in Yemen for approximately a year. It has even dropped widely banned cluster munitions on civilian areas. Bery said “the Saudi regime declared an entire province in Yemen to be a legitimate military target, with no differentiation between military and civilian, in violation of the laws of war.”
Institute for Policy Studies analyst Phyllis Bennis spoke of the history of the U.S.-Saudi relationship. She detailed how Saudi Arabia’s position as an oil giant emerged, with the company Aramco, and argued the U.S.-Saudi oil pact “was not only about access; it was more about control.”
William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, detailed how the U.S. has ramped up enormous arms sales to Saudi Arabia in recent years. Likening the Obama Doctrine to the Nixon Doctrine, Hartung noted that there have been at least $195 billion arms sales under Obama, more than any administration since WWII, and that much of this has gone to the Saudi regime’
Bahraini politician and human rights activist Matar Matar spoke of Saudi influence over Bahrain, and the U.S.-backed invasion of Saudi troops in order to quell the 2011 pro-democracy uprising. He recalled Bahraini activist Ali Sager, who was imprisoned by the Western-allied regime and tortured to death.
Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini, the executive director of the International Civil Society Network, wrapped up the summit with a reflection on the Saudi regime’s egregious human rights record. She accused the Saudi regime of spreading “stealth sectarianism,” of framing its political conflict with Iran “as a sectarian issue,” while simultaneously “spreading Wahhabi sectarianism.” The growing conversation around challenging the close U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia, she added, is “the most important foreign policy discussion having right now, and it’s not on TV.”
Peace activists in the U.S. and around the world are hoping to change the U.S. relationship with the Saudi regime. “Hundreds of activists, experts and scholars met this weekend and agreed to launch a national campaign to stop weapons sales to this repressive regime,” said Alli McCracken, Co-Director of CODEPINK. “With so many documented gross violations of human rights in Yemen, the time has come for our government to abide by US law and suspend all further military sales to Saudi Arabia.”
On behalf of the entire CODEPINK team, we would like to thank you so much for attending the historic CODEPINK Saudi Summit this weekend. We are thrilled to have announced that the outcome of the Summit marks the beginning of a new campaign to suspend US weapons sales to the Kingdom and to establish an international coalition with groups in Europe and Canada to work towards a global weapons ban.
Some follow up information:
- Videos of all of the summit panels are available online via the Real News Network.
- Please fill out this survey to give us feedback about the conference!
- Check out this great coverage of the summit in Ben Norton’s article in Salon.
- We will be putting you in touch with members of your breakout groups in a separate email as soon as possible.
- We’re looking for someone to run our campaign targeting US weapons sales to Saudi Arabia. If you or anyone you know is interested in the position (based in DC), please send an email with information to Alli@codepink.org. If you can’t take on a full-time job but want to volunteer to work on the campaigns with us, email Alli but please specify what you would like to work on.
- Check out our CODEPINK website with petitions and resources to learn more about Saudi Arabia.
There is a lot of work still to be done, and we need all of you! Please email Alli@codepink.org with any follow up questions, comments, or concerns from the summit.
With a strong belief in people power,
Aida, Alice, Alli, Jodie, Marwa, Medea, Rebecca, Sergei, and Tighe (all pictured except Jodie!)
PS: Keep an eye out for Medea’s new book on Saudi Arabia that will be published in late May, which will incorporate a lot of the amazing information raised by our speakers and participants this weekend!
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