By Joan Smith
Sucking up to the Saudis didn’t stop the 9/11 attacks, the Chibok kidnappings, or Paris
What do you call the unelected leader of a state that beheads people in public, permits only one faith and exports an extreme form of Islam to other countries? If he happens to be Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, self-appointed caliph of Islamic State (Isis), the answer is one of the world’s most wanted terrorists. If he is King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, the proper form of address is “Your Majesty”. Are we all clear about that? Me neither.
Yesterday, the Prince of Wales and the Prime Minister turned up in Riyadh to pay their respects to Salman’s half-brother, King Abdullah, whose death was announced on Friday. Abdullah’s demise, at the age of 90, unleashed a nauseating display of hypocrisy among world leaders.
Flags flew at half-mast in Whitehall while David Cameron – sorry, pass-the-sick-bag moment coming up – praised the deceased despot’s efforts towards “strengthening understanding between faiths”. I wonder if the PM could show me any evidence that the Saudi regime, which does not allow distribution of non-Muslim texts and regards apostasy as a capital crime, is remotely interested in understanding other faiths?
This is the same David Cameron who marched in Paris two weeks ago in solidarity with the victims of al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism. Then, there was much talk about human rights and free expression, both of which get short shrift in Saudi Arabia. Barack Obama, a conspicuous no-show in Paris, found the time to praise the absolute monarch and hailed the US-Saudi relationship “as a force for stability and security in the Middle East”. His Secretary of State, John Kerry, tweeted that the dead tyrant was “a man of wisdom & vision”. He even – I’m sorry, but that sick bag is about to overflow – claimed that the world “has lost a revered leader”.