Column: The illusion of Saudi reciprocity

Recently, Saudi Arabia announced it would begin fingerprinting Americans entering their country. I first questioned whether they were suggesting that Americans are a security threat to their country. I learned that earlier this month the State Department began requiring all Saudis entering the U.S. to be fingerprinted.

“Our dealings will be reciprocal, we’ll deal with every country in the same way they deal with us,” Saudi Interior Minister, Prince Naif, told reporters. I think this is the first time that anybody has ever used the word “reciprocity” in the context of American/Saudi relations.

Our current relationship with Saudi Arabia is anything but reciprocal. From the Gulf War to the bombing of the Khobar Towers, hundreds of Americans have died defending Saudi Arabian security. How many Saudis citizens have died defending U.S. security? We give them advanced weapons – they give us oil. We give them technology and training, they give us oil. We help guarantee their security against both external and internal threats and they give us oil. So it goes.

Healthy relationships are often based on mutual respect and a view toward a better future. The Saudis have little empathy for our Western, materialistic and secular culture. At the same time, we blame their intolerant Wahhabi school of Islam for September 11 and anti-Americanism all over the Muslim world. As for the future, we have no real goals regarding Saudi Arabia. In Latin America we try and promote development, education and political and economic liberalization. U.S. goals for Saudi Arabia, past, present and future can be summed up in one sentence – preserving the rule of the House of Saud at any cost.

This column is meant to be more of an indictment of American policy than an anti-Saudi tirade. For one thing, the conditions I have described in Saudi Arabia are widespread throughout the Middle East, especially in places such as Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. The rather bleak picture I paint speaks to the unfortunate world in which the average Middle Eastern citizen lives.

The despotic governments of the Middle East deny their people political, economic and social opportunity, offering instead hatred, ignorance and fear. Meanwhile, the beacon of freedom and democracy simply ignores them. Promoting democracy has long been a hallmark of American policy, but the Middle East has had the bad luck of being exempt from that policy.

This policy of warming up to dictators in the Middle East is a mistake for three reasons. First, it is not fair to the people of the Middle East. If we could support Polish Solidarity and Nelson Mandela in South Africa, then we can also support Middle Eastern democrats.

Second, as a democracy, we have no business actively supporting corrupt despots who share none of our political values. Finally, look at the future implications of our support of dictators in the Middle East. The Shah of Iran was a dictator that we fully supported and from whom we greatly benefited, at least for a while. When he was overthrown, a virulently anti-American government came into power. This government was the expression of the hatred that Iran’s people felt for the country that empowered the man who brutally oppressed them.

I am not saying that we should totally abandon all the “friendly dictatorial” states of the Middle East. I am saying that the next time they ask for a tank or a fighter jet, that we give them a school or a factory instead. We must stay true to our values and try to help the average Middle Eastern citizen.

-The writer, a senior majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.

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