Europe needs to toughen up on its Saudi ally

Europe needs to toughen up on its Saudi ally

On December 10, Marietje Schaake, Euro MP, wrote a strong opinion piece in Politico concerning Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia, an important member of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL was recently described as “Daesh that has made it.” Its sectarian regime beheads one person every two days. It is a place where women’s rights are trampled and atheist bloggers are flogged. Yet Saudi Arabia has been successfully placing itself at the heart of international diplomatic efforts to promote human rights and counter-terrorism with which its own practices are not at all in line.

The EU cooperates closely with the Persian Gulf States on issues ranging from security to energy and trade. Saudi Arabia hosts the Gulf Cooperation Council Thursday in Riyadh. But is Saudi Arabia really the security and counter-terrorism partner the EU needs? It’s time to talk about the elephant in the room.

Until now the EU member states’ relationship with Saudi Arabia has been one where few questions were asked. Even a resolution condemning the flogging of Saudi liberal blogger Raif Badawi was opposed by the largest political group in the European Parliament, although he was recognized with the Sakharov Prize.

The EU doesn’t ask questions about how the Saudi regimes uses weapons exported from European countries. It doesn’t demand transparency about the extent to which Saudi inhabitants finance international terrorist groups. In a country where freedom of speech is severely limited, it is hard to imagine how individuals can oppose the government without its knowledge, reprimand or punishment. Given these worrying facts, it is time to thoroughly rethink the EU’s relationship with Saudi Arabia.

saudi tanks

Within the framework of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, the United States, Italy, and Saudi Arabia together are leading the Counter-ISIL Finance Group (CIFG), which coordinates the actions of 65 countries to shut down the terror group’s financing and funding. Perhaps that explains why few questions are asked about the ongoing production, financing and spreading of Wahhabism, an ideology that preaches hate towards “non-believers” and is at the root of ISIL’s ideology.

The Saudi government has detained thousands of terrorists, shares intelligence with European states and has barred clerics who have praised terrorist attacks. But there is still a big paradox at the heart of Saudi Arabia’s actions: It professes to want to stop violence, but continues to be an exporter of the dogma increasingly used to justify ethnic separation and violence.

Saudi Arabia continues to finance preachers, mosques and madrassas to spread Salafist and Wahhabist ideology internationally. A U.S. diplomatic cable in 2009 describes how “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”

A European Parliament report estimates that Saudi Arabia alone has spent over $10 billion to promote Wahhabism through Saudi charitable foundations. The Saudi Ministry of Religion prints and distributes polarizing Wahhabi doctrinal texts to Muslim communities throughout the Middle East, Africa, Indonesia, the United States and Europe.

As the terrible consequences of terrorism and extremism are becoming an ever greater threat to Europe, it is high time for the European Union to address the uncomfortable truth.

The EU is the largest trading partner of the Gulf Cooperation Council, of which Saudi Arabia is a key member. It is time to broaden the scope of the EU-GCC ministerial meetings into a platform for serious political discussions that include foreign policy and human rights. Our ally has become a source of instability in the Middle East and in Europe, and our strategy needs to change now.



Marietje Schaake is a member of the European Parliament for the Dutch Democratic Party D66 with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. She is a member of the Foreign Affairs and Human Rights Committee, as well as a member of the EU delegation for relations with the Arab Peninsula.

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