MbS even rounded up bloggers and journalists after the launch of the economic and political campaign against Qatar because they failed to shower the ruling al‐Sauds in praise. Silence was insufficient. Lavish, unquestioning praise was required.
Religious liberty is similarly restricted, that is, nonexistent. Not a single church, synagogue, or temple operates in the Kingdom. The U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom continued to label Saudi Arabia a Country of Particular Concern. Promises of reform have been made, but, the Commission warned, so far the regime “maintained a ban on non‐Muslim public religious observance and continued to arrest, detain, and harass individuals for dissent, blasphemy, and apostasy. The Saudi government continued to violate the rights of Shi’a Muslims and non‐Muslim minorities, and to advocate a doctrine of religious intolerance.” Indeed, “after more than 15 years of incremental progress, the Saudi government showed backsliding on improvements to its textbooks that continued to propagate intolerance and advocate violence against religious minorities, women, and the [gay] community.”
In its report on religious freedom, State made similar points. Quite simply, “freedom of religion is not provided under the law.” The law criminalizes many things, “including non‐Islamic public worship, public display of non‐Islamic religious symbols, conversion by Muslim to another religion, and proselytizing by a non‐Muslim.” Even Muslims, minority Shiites, suffered serious repression. And despite MbS’s much‐heralded reforms, the religious police, or so‐called Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, still “monitored social behavior.” The KSA is one of the very few Muslim nations to completely ban other faiths.
Yet for this regime, so hostile to U.S. interests and values, the Trump administration is hiring out America’s soldiers. Like the other Persian Gulf states, the Saudi royal family pays outsiders to do most of the serious work. About 30 percent of the population is foreign, with expatriates doing the work Saudis prefer not to do (barely 1 percent are Western). Most important on that list is the military. The regime purchases lots of fancy airplanes and pays Washington to teach its flyers, like the one who killed three Americans at Pensacola’s Naval Air Station. But the royals fear their personnel are better at slaughtering Yemeni civilians than defeating Iranian irregulars.
President Trump knows better than to bow to the Saudis. During the campaign, he criticized the royals. But when he made Riyadh his first foreign visit, he appeared to come away bewitched. Some observers blamed the impact of the fabled sword dance, which he participated in. Others pointed to the Sauronesque orb at the new counter‐terrorism center, which he visited. Perhaps he peered into the modern Evil Eye when no one was watching him.
Whatever the cause, his willingness to subordinate U.S. interests and values to Saudi Arabia violates his promise to follow an America‐first policy. It is well past time to kick the royals off the U.S. defense dole.