As we sat in the taxi on our way to Mecca from Jeddah in the summer of 2012, my brother and I were surprised to see King Abdullah’s photo or name plastered at every corner. My uncle turned around and handed us his phone. “Be quiet or the taxi driver might drop us all off in the middle of a desert,” it read.
This shouldn’t be surprising. Saudi Arabia does not permit freedom of expression and detains or imprisons those who criticize the government or even advocate for human rights. Minorities, women and migrants face discrimination and receive inadequate protection against violence.
During his presidential campaign, Trump condemned Saudi Arabia on social media for its treatment of women and gays, and heaped constant criticism of Islam. While Saudi Arabia would likely imprison someone in their jurisdiction who espoused such views, Donald Trump received a lavish welcome by the Saudi government this week.
Ironically, even the British parliament has debated whether Trump should be allowed to visit given his immigration policies and stance on Muslims. This did not seem to bother Saudi Arabia, which spent $68 million on Trump’s two-day visit.
Meanwhile, thousands of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia have not been paid wages for months due to the collapse in oil revenues. Many of those who protested were sentenced to four months in prison and 300 lashes.
But Trump has been hypocritical as well. While he condemned Saudi Arabia last year, he did not encourage the Saudis to implement human rights or protect Yemeni civilians during his meeting with Saudi leaders or during his speech at the Arab Islamic American Summit.
Rather, Trump upheld Saudi leadership and called on Saudi Arabia — and other Muslim countries present — to fight against terrorism.
While I appreciate elements of Trump’s speech, especially his recognition that the biggest victims of terrorism are other Muslims and that this is not a battle between civilizations, are words enough? Saudi Arabia has funded ISIS and al-Qaeda militants in Iraq and Syria. Saudi Arabia has committed war crimes against civilians in Yemen. In its fight against Yemen, over 10,000 people have been killed and 19 million Yemenis are in need of aid.
A $110 billion arms deal means prolonging the war in Yemen and the deaths of several thousand more civilians. It also risks U.S. weapons ending up in the hands of terrorists.
ISIS propaganda also seeks to promote that its vision of an Islamic State is a better alternative to corruption and regimes that are puppets of Western governments. Trump’s lavishly received visit by the Saudi government — especially while many workers have not been paid — risks bolstering ISIS’s propaganda.
In short, Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia shows that the two countries’ leaders have something in common. They do not care for morals, ideals or upholding their positions. They simply care about money and power. Saudi Arabia wants to continue selling oil while the United States wants to continue selling weapons. Both feel threatened by Iran, and thus both brokered a deal.
While I am grateful for the freedom of speech in the United States, I would not be surprised if my uncle notices “Trump” plastered at every corner and hotel the next time he visits.
Iman Siddiqi is a third-year political science and Global Middle East Studies double major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.