With friends like these, who needs enemies? Saudi Arabia is out of control. After the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, most likely on direct orders from the Saudi Crown Prince and de facto ruler Mohammed Bin Salman, it’s time for the West to sever ties with this regime of criminal despots. The House of Saud assassinates journalists and imprisons dissidents. Its military indiscriminately bombs civilians in the cruel war against Yemen, which has led to a massive humanitarian catastrophe with an estimated 85,000 children dying of starvation. And that’s not to mention the Saudi regime’s oppression of women and religious minorities, or its troubling support for Islamist fundamentalism around the world. Saudi Arabia has long been accused of backing terrorist organisations and funding the extremist schools that provide them with recruits and influence. Saudi Arabia is a menace, and the West should end its alliance with this pernicious regime.
That’s the high-minded reasoning of the Saudi-bashers. But no matter how much we abhor the behaviour of the Saudi government, shouldn’t we consider our own interests before ending a hugely beneficial decades-old partnership? After all, as more pragmatically-minded people point out, Saudi Arabia is a crucial bulwark against the dangerous influence of Iran, which threatens the region with its expansionist ambitions. Saudi Arabia also provides the West with vital intelligence in the fight against groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. And while we may not like the conservative form of Islam practised in the Kingdom, is that any of our business? If it is, shouldn’t we support its reform-minded Crown Prince? After all, he has lifted the ban on Saudi women driving, allowed cinemas to reopen for the first time in 35 years, and has promised to introduce a more moderate form of Islam to the Kingdom. Shouldn’t the West give him a chance?
The BBC’s star international correspondent Lyse Doucet chaired a line-up of Middle East experts. Who’s right and who’s wrong? Hear the arguments and decide for yourself.