It’s Not U.S. It’s You

It Is Time to Question Our Relationship with Saudi Arabia

What's Going On? | Mary Brosnan | April 8, 2016

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Udai Faisal was five months old when he died of malnutrition in Yemen. A photo of Udai Faisal from the Associated Press shows him shortly before he died and it is a haunting image, showing the human cost of the ongoing civil war in Yemen. Many people in Yemen are suffering from hunger and disease, lacking access to adequate food or medical care due to the ongoing conflict between the Houthi (who are also Shi’ite) rebels and the Sunni government of Yemen. Saudi Arabia (a Sunni country) supports the government forces, and to that end has launched devastating airstrikes on sites in Yemen which have resulted in civilian casualties and worsening conditions. But Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Yemen is only the most recent reason that should cause the U.S. to reconsider its support of Saudi Arabia.

Causes For Concern

  1. Saudi Actions in Yemen

A Human Rights Watch report (HRW) claims that the Saudi coalition used bombs supplied to them from the U.S. to carry out strikes on a busy market in Yemen, killing 97 civilians, including 25 children. Saudi strikes on targets in Yemen have resulted in significant civilian causalities and deteriorating conditions for the Yemeni people.

Flag of the Republic of Yemen
Flag of the Republic of Yemen


  1. Treatment of Women in Saudi Arabia

According to a 2015 HRW profile, women in Saudi Arabia have to have permission from a male guardian before, “obtaining a passport, marrying, traveling, or accessing higher education”. Women also cannot drive in Saudi Arabia.

  1. Saudi Executions

Saudi Arabia has also been accused of jailing political dissidents and discriminating against the minority Shi’ite population in Saudi Arabia. Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a Shi’ite cleric who criticized the Saudi government, was executed along with 46 other people described as terrorists, some with links to Al-Qaeda, by Saudi officials. Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr denied ever calling for violent action. The executions were carried out via beheadings and firing squads.

In an interview with The Atlantic, President Obama spoke candidly about his frustrations with Saudi Arabia. But then why does the U.S. continue to support Saudi Arabia? It seems almost as if there is some lag preventing American politicians who realize that Saudi Arabia is a problematic ally, from taking any action to move away from supporting Saudi Arabia. Regardless of why the U.S. supports Saudi Arabia, when the U.S. allies with those who do not respect human rights, American credibility is terribly undercut.

Taking sides in a conflict that is at least partly influenced by centuries old religious sectarianism is not smart.

Supporting a country with a dubious human rights record is not smart.

Saudi Arabia’s conduct in Yemen, treatment of women, and executions should prompt us to seriously question American support of Saudi Arabia going forward.