It’s one of the most secretive and repressive societies on the face of the earth.
Welcome to Saudi Arabia.
The totalitarian nature of the Saudi regime is graphically exposed in Saudi Arabia Uncovered, a British documentary now available on the Netflix streaming network.
The footage was shot by Saudi dissidents and British photographers with hidden cameras. The images of public beheadings, violence against women and crushing poverty in a country awash with oil are shocking but hardly surprising.
Saudi Arabia, a theocracy ruled with an iron hand by the House of Saud — a prime U.S. ally — falls far short of being a Jeffersonian democracy.
Western notions of human rights do not exist in the desert kingdom. Political dissent is equated with treason. Women are still forbidden to drive and are subjected to a long list of restrictions. The Shiite minority is kept under tight control. Until quite recently, school texts demeaned Christians and Jews.
Saudi kings maintain their grip through an alliance with deeply conservative clerics who impose an austere and reactionary form of Sunni Islam, known as Wahhabism, on the population. In cities ranging from Riyadh to Jeddah, a special religious police force strictly enforces the values of this backward-looking brand of Islam.
Despite its well-deserved reputation as a bastion of intolerance and xenophobia, Saudi Arabia, incredibly enough, once chaired the United Nations’ Human Rights Council. This travesty can be explained. Western nations are dependent on Saudi Arabia’s vast oil reserves. Saudi Arabia is a lucrative market for Western military equipment. The Saudis combat Al Qaeda and Islamic State terrorism.
Ironically, though, Saudi Arabia has long been regarded as a major incubator of radical Islam and a source of Al Qaeda funding, even though the Saudis seem to have cracked down on Muslim charities funnelling funds to terrorist groups.
And in case you’ve forgotten, 15 of the 19 Arab terrorists who carried out the horrendous attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001 were Saudi citizens, and its mastermind, Osama bin Laden, was a Saudi national.
What comes clearly across in this film is that Wahhabism is a mirror reflection of the militant Islam that inspires and drives Islamic State.
When the former director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, David Petraeus, is asked about Saudi Arabia’s dismal human rights record and association with terrorism, he flippantly replies that no nation is perfect. “Welcome to the real world,” he says sardonically.
Call it Realpolitik, if you will.
Yasser, the young Saudi dissident who supplied some of the footage for this revealing documentary, offers us insights into its dark underbelly, or “awful reality.”
He takes us to slums where sewage water runs freely through the streets. The Saudi government has spent billions of dollars on social welfare programs, but up to a quarter of Saudis remain mired in poverty. He shows us gruesome public executions, up to a point at least.
As the tour continues, Yasser catches members of the dreaded religious police harassing ordinary Saudis. And he interviews a Saudi woman who spent 73 days in prison because she had the audacity to drive a car.
The families of two Saudi dissidents, Raif Badawai and Ali Nimr, are interviewed, as is Hala al-Dosari, a women’s rights activist.
Very few Western tourists are allowed into Saudi Arabia, so it’s something of an enigma to the vast majority of foreigners. But Saudi Arabia Uncovered unmasks the bitter truth.