Speaking ill of the dead …
Saturday 31st January 2015
Paddy McGuffin assesses the legacy of the much-feted dead despot of Saudi Arabia, king Abdullah
Tyranny, as with election pledges, a wise man almost said is very much in the eye of the beholder.
Someone who appears to have had no problem with either of these issues is the late king Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
The brutally autocratic and totally unelected despot finally gave up the fags this week in what was probably the only truly populist move of his lengthy and blood-soaked reign.
This was a man who presided over one of the most savagely draconian and backward-thinking regimes in the world — unless you count certain states of the US, and North Korea — with a rod of iron.
His religious police rank among the most psychotically zealous security forces on the planet and could give the CIA a few tips on abuse and torture. In fact they did more than that.
As such his long overdue demise should have been a cause celebre. Except that is for two rather crucial factors.
First, any naive belief that Abdullah’s death would usher in a new era of reform and democracy was well and truly put to bed when his successor, his half-brother Crown Prince Salman, a mere spring chicken at the age of er … 79, was installed.
It is oft-times suggested that one should not speak ill of the dead. Not a proposal usually given credence by this column. But that certainly seemed to be the case with the great and not so good who lined up to eulogise him in such glowing terms that you would have thought we’d lost the best hope for humanity not a dodgy, reactionary old fascist with more blood on his hands than Jack the Ripper.
Thus we were treated to a seemingly endless line of toadying, lickspittle sycophants spewing out the type of hagiographic revisionism and blatant terminological inexactitudes we have now come to expect on the death of murderous megalomaniacs — well, the ones we sell arms to anyway.
Although even by conventional standards the obfuscation and reputational white-washing hit new levels of malignant mendacity.
Thus we witnessed the spectacle of the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, hailing the deceased dictator as an “advocate of women.”
Yeah, in the same way as Eric Pickles is an advocate of Travellers.
This was the former head of a country where women are banned from driving and must have a man’s permission to visit a doctor or even leave the house and then only when strictly “chaperoned.”
“In a very discreet way, he was a strong advocate of women. It was very gradual, appropriately so probably for the country. I discussed that issue with him several times and he was a strong believer,” Lagarde claimed.
Well, maybe, but as has been well documented, what goes on at Davos tends to stay at Davos.
Human rights campaigners, unsurprisingly, tended to disagree with Lagarde and others who had attempted to posthumously rebrand Abdullah as a proponent of women’s suffrage, pointing out that the royal initiatives during his reign were largely symbolic and produced extremely modest gains.
“King Abdullah came to power promising reforms, but his agenda fell far short of achieving lasting institutional gains for Saudi citizens,” one noted.
Of course Blair cropped up to pay his tributes.
“I knew him well and admired him greatly,” he said. “Despite the turmoil of events in the region around him, he remained a stable and sound ally.”
Yes, so much so that Blair as prime minister personally intervened to pull the plug on the Serious Fraud Office’s investigation into the multibillion-pound Al-Yamamah arms and bribery scandal.
At the time Blair stated that “any proposal that the investigation be resolved by parties pleading guilty to certain charges would be unlikely to reduce the offence caused to the Saudi royal family, even if the deal were accepted, and the process would still drag out for a considerable period.”
It was further suggested that the Saudis had threatened Britain with the withholding of counter-terrorism intelligence if the investigation went ahead.
Which is a bit rich from a country that has spawned more terrorists than most. The majority of those who carried out the September 11 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre were Saudi nationals, as of course was Bin Laden himself.
With friends like these…
There was much talk of Abdullah being a “patient and skilful moderniser.”
Yes, well it’s quite easy to be patient when you are the absolute ruler sitting on a personal fortune of billions. Less so if your head’s on the executioner’s block.
He also didn’t seem to be overly patient or tolerant of modernisation when he sent the tanks into Bahrain to quash the democratic uprising there.
Nor when blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes for criticising the country’s clerics, the first 50 of which were inflicted this month.
Every government building in London flew their flags at half-mast to mark the occasion of Abdullah’s death. You could understand it from the DTI, whose arms wing had more dealings with the House of Saud than most, but this was surely somewhat excessive.
Likewise BAE systems is probably in deep mourning and, this column is reliably informed, is planning to name its latest range of death dealing technology after the late monarch — the King Abdullah Kill Vehicle has a certain ring to it.
The US government went even further than their Brit counterparts with the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff declaring the establishment of an essay-writing competition in honour of Abdullah.
Presumably, in keeping with his legacy, women need not apply.
Imprisoned Al Qaeda operative claims that Saudi royalty were tied to 9/11 attacks: here.
A SAUDI LINK INCREASES PRESSURE TO DECLASSIFY 9/11 REPORT: “A still-classified section of the investigation by congressional intelligence committees into the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has taken on an almost mythic quality over the past 13 years — 28 pages that examine crucial support given the hijackers and that by all accounts implicate prominent Saudis in financing terrorism. Now new claims by Zacarias Moussaoui, a convicted former member of Al Qaeda, that he had high-level contact with officials of the Saudi Arabian government in the prelude to Sept. 11 have brought renewed attention to the inquiry’s withheld findings, which lawmakers and relatives of those killed in the attacks have tried unsuccessfully to declassify.” [NYT]