The custodians of Islam’s two holiest sites have conveniently distanced themselves from many issues affecting Muslims.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia claims to be the seat of Islam in great part because it oversees the maintenance of Mecca and Medina – where the two holiest mosques for Muslims are located — and hosts hajj, an annual pilgrimage.
Over the years, the Kingdom has faced criticism for not taking up the issues that affect Muslims worldwide, leaving an impression that its political ideology is more in sync with states like Israel and the US — both have waged pointless wars against Muslim-majority countries.
In its most recent move, the Saudi Kingdom reportedly made desperate attempts to jeopardise a summit in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, which focused on bringing together leaders of various countries and discussing the problems that trouble majority Muslim countries.
As Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan was scheduled to attend the summit, the Saudi Kingdom and its close ally the UAE allegedly mounted pressure on Khan, asking him to back off from the event.
Khan, who initially promoted the summit, eventually gave in and cancelled his trip to Malaysia at the last minute.
“Unfortunately, we see that Saudi Arabia pressures Pakistan. Now, there are promises that the country has given to Pakistan regarding the central bank (fund deposits). However, more than that, 4 million Pakistanis are working in Saudi Arabia. They [threaten that they] would send [Pakistanis] back,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was one of the main engineers of the meeting, told reporters after the summit.
From both material and political aspects, the Saudi Kingdom has immensely benefited from being the custodian of Mecca and Medina. More than two million Muslims visit the two holy sites each year to complete the hajj, an essential ritual in Islam, which brings together people from different colours, backgrounds and ethnicities.
Saudis and the OIC
The Kingdom gains political legitimacy from one of the key Islamic institutions, its Jeddah-based Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which was founded in 1969 when the al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, Islam’s third most sacred site, came under an attack from Israel.
With 57 members, the OIC became the second largest international body but its influence gradually decreased with time partly because of Riyadh and its allies’ passive political stances regarding Muslim causes, from Palestine to Kashmir.
Rather than seeking ways to strenghten the OIC to help liberate the Muslim communities from occupying forces, the Kingdom’s inexperienced Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (known as MBS) forged friendships with controversial figures like Jared Kushner, a Jewish American supporter of the Zionist state, who is also the son-in-law of the US President Donald Trump.
MBS has come under intense criticism from the international community for his alleged role in orchestrating the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and an international campaigner of Muslim causes, in the Kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.
For decades, the Saudi military, which does not have a real war experience, has been trained and equipped by the US.
Anti-Muslim foreign policy
Saudis have also helped enable dictators like Abdel Fattah al Sisi, Egypt’s general-turned-president, who ousted the country’s first democratically-elected president, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, in 2013 in a military coup.
Both the UAE and Saudi monarchies perceive the Muslim Brotherhood, a religiously-minded movement, which exercises democracy and peaceful political activism rather than armed struggle against autocratic regimes, as an existential threat to their oppressive rule.
In Libya, like Egypt, the Kingdom also shows its authoritarian nature, backing a 75-year-old warlord Khalifa Haftar against the UN-recognised Tripoli government.
Riyadh has also been part of Yemen’s brutal civil war, bombing civilian areas occasionally and becoming one of the root causes of the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.
The Kingdom has also given a muted response to India’s aggressive military stance on Kashmir, a UN-mandated disputed territory, whose semi-autonomous status was recently violated by New Delhi. Instead of mounting pressure on India and holding the country accountable for growing human rights abuses in Kashmir, Riyadh and the UAE are more keen on building strong businessties with India’s right-wing government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been accused of being complicit in the massacre of several thousand Muslims when he led the state of Gujarat.