ALL is not well in the longstanding alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia. Earlier this month, the Saudi regime sided with Russia – a fellow member of OPEC (the Organisation of Petrol Exporting Countries) – in defying the US’s call for increased oil production.

Instead, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al Saud (known commonly as MBS) – the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, on account of the poor health of his father King Salman – voted with the Russians to decrease the output of oil. The Americans had sought an increase in order to bring down the global oil price, which had risen, partly as a consequence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

President Joe Biden’s White House talked darkly of “consequences” for Saudi Arabia. For their part, the Saudis insisted that they had simply acted in their own economic self-interest.

This low-point in American-Saudi relations stood in stark contrast to the bonhomie between Biden and MBS that was on display back in the summer. In July, when Biden arrived in Jeddah for a meeting with the Saudi leader, the two greeted each other with a now an infamous fist bump.

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The infamy came from the fact that, in November 2019, then presidential candidate Biden (aware, no doubt, of the strong record on human rights of his socialist challenger Bernie Sanders) had said that the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi “was murdered and dismembered... on the orders of the Crown Prince.” Khashoggi, let’s remember, was the dissident Saudi journalist who – when keeping an appointment to collect documents at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018 – was murdered inside the consular building by operatives of the Saudi security services, who are believed to have then dismembered his body using meat cutting equipment.

This heinous and gruesome crime, said candidate Biden, put the US’s ally in Riyadh beyond the pale. If elected president, he pledged, he would make the Saudi regime “the pariah that they are.”

It took American comedian Stephen Colbert, presenter of The Late Show on CBS, to get to the nub of the massive disparity between Biden’s stated intention and his eventual dealings with the Saudi regime. “The Crown Prince is infamously, and I’m putting it delicately here, a murderer”, the TV host commented, before adding, “but on the other hand, gas is five bucks a gallon.”

Therein lies the towering hypocrisy, not to say the moral vacuum, at the heart of the US’s relationship (and, it should be said, also the UK’s relationship) with the vicious, theocratic dictatorship in Riyadh. Regardless of whatever lip service is paid to human rights in Saudi Arabia in Washington DC and London, the fact is that the Western powers will tolerate the Saudi regime’s brutal executions of, and lengthy prison sentences for, its opponents (including human rights defenders and women’s rights activists) just as long as it keeps the oil flowing in the right direction – ours.

There is no other way of reading the massive contrast between the US’s recent howls of indignation over the OPEC vote and the ignominious collapse of Biden’s promised ethical stance over the Khashoggi murder back in July. If Biden had been sincere in his promise to ostracise Saudi Arabia from the family of nations on human rights grounds, he would have had no shortage of grounds for doing so.

The Amnesty International report on the state of human rights in Saudi Arabia in 2021 makes for sobering reading. “The Specialised Criminal Court handed down heavy prison terms to individuals for their human rights work and expression of dissenting views”, the report says.

“Among those arbitrarily detained, prosecuted or sentenced were human rights defenders, government critics and other political activists. Women human rights defenders were subjected to judicially imposed travel bans following conditional release from prison.

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“Courts resorted extensively to the death penalty and people were executed for a wide range of crimes... Prison authorities violated the right to health of human rights defenders and others imprisoned after grossly unfair trials.”

The ideology underpinning this infrastructure of state terror is the Saudi theocratic regime’s austere version of the Wahhabi variant of Sunni Islam. The House of Saud’s interpretation of Wahhabism may underpin the entire apparatus of the state, but that doesn’t mean that members of the ruling family abide by the religious strictures themselves.

Tales of Saudi Arabia’s “playboy princes” abound. In 2010, Prince Saud Abdulaziz bin Nasser al Saud was given a life sentence by an English court for the alcohol-fuelled murder in a London hotel room of his servant Bandar Abdulaziz (with whom the prince was alleged to have been having a sexual relationship).

The Saudi regime tried to get the aristocrat off the hook by claiming, erroneously, that he had diplomatic immunity. It is speculated that, if he is finally released from prison, the prince will seek asylum in the UK on the premise that his homosexuality would be grounds for his execution in Saudi Arabia.

The fact that US and UK governments – going back decades – have happily backed the Saudi regime should stand as conclusive evidence that the West has no moral authority in the Middle East. Arms sales to Saudi Arabia are very lucrative business for US and UK-based weapons manufacturers.

Indeed, without Western arms, it is highly doubtful that the Saudis would be able to carry on with their bloody war in Yemen. In that conflict, the desperate civilian population continues to pay the most appalling price in a regional power struggle between the Houthi rebels (who are supported by Iran) and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government of Rashad al-Alimi.

All of which places into highly dubious context the recent pronouncements of moral outrage against Iran from Washington and London. In stark contrast to their moral cowardice over Saudi human rights abuses, the US and UK governments have styled themselves paragons of justice following the killing of the young Kurdish woman Jina Amini (also known as Mahsa) by the Iranian morality police.

The Iranian regime’s appallingly violent suppression of the great uprising for the rights of women and girls that has followed Amini’s death has prompted unequivocal statements from the American and British governments. The UK’s foreign secretary James Cleverly, for instance, was scandalised.

“The violence levelled at protestors in Iran by the security forces is truly shocking”, he said. “Instead of blaming external actors for the unrest, [the Iranian government] should take responsibility for their actions and listen to the concerns of their people.”

Now, I defer to no-one in my moral repugnance of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which – through its bleak interpretation of Shia Islam – has created a horribly repressive theocracy that, ironically, mirrors its Saudi enemy. I would dearly love to see the Iranian people topple their corrupt and brutal government and create the flourishing democracy that has been denied to them, not only by the current regime, but also, before the Islamic revolution of 1979, by the US-backed dictatorship of the Shah.

However, I will take no lessons in human rights, in the Middle East or anywhere else, from morally hypocritical Western governments whose foreign policy positions are dictated, not by ethics, but their own perceived geopolitical and economic interests. When Sumner Welles – secretary of state to US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt – said of the Nicaraguan dictator, “Somoza’s a bastard!”, Roosevelt is believed to have replied, “yes, but he’s our bastard.”

Likewise, for Biden and, no doubt, whichever discredited Tory clambers into 10 Downing Street next week, the Saudi regime are “our bastards”. We need to be free of such disgraceful, counter-productive cynicism.

The governments of the US and the UK (and, soon we hope, an independent Scotland) must oppose the dictatorships in Riyadh and Tehran with equal force and sincerity. Not until then can the people of the Middle East be expected to have the slightest respect for the West.