The astounding Western hypocrisy in King Abdullah’s obituaries

It is amazing what aligning with US foreign policy can do for a country’s image.

The New York Time’s obituary is a masterpiece of pure ideology. In short: a moderate who loved beheadings. A modernizer who had unshrouded women beaten. A seeker of balance.


Following this “cautious reformer” label and Tony Blair’s “patient moderniser”, we’ve got a nice #AbdullahEuphemisms hashtag going on Twitter. The best ones so far: “reluctant beheader”, “ambivalent amputator”, “half-hearted homophobe”.

“He was loved by his people and will be deeply missed,” was written in a statement from the former British pm‘s office. But why readers might almost be lead to believe that political evaluations of King Abdullah and Saudi Arabia are driven by political and economic interests, rather than unbiased analysis?

A quick look on Riyadh’s record on human rights and judicial system will help. According to info graphics by the website Middle East Eye, the Islamic State (IS) and Saudi Arabia prescribe near-identical punishments for a host of crimes, according to documents circulated by the militant group. 

Crime and punishment in the Islamic State and Saudia Arabia © Middle East Eye 2014 – all rights reserved.

“But while IS has actively sought exposure for their brutal punishments, Saudi Arabia has worked to keep evidence of their actions within the conservative kingdom. Authorities on Saturday arrested a police officer accused of videoing a woman being publicly beheaded in Mecca. The video went viral – prosecutors later said he had violated the Gulf state’s cybercrimes law.”

According to many historians and analysts, IS and Saudi Arabia’s use of punishments rooted in Wahhabi doctrine is not replicated anywhere else in the region, and experts say its implementation is “ahistorical”.

So why so much leniency with an unelected tyrant who presided over one of the most backward countries? It would be interesting to compare to the Times’ obit of Chavez, the “dictator” who was popularly elected four times.


  • NYT on Abdullah: “Nudged Saudi Arabia Forward” “earned a reputation as a cautious reformer” “a force of moderation”
  • NYT on Chavez: “A Polarizing Figure Who Led a Movement” “strutting like the strongman in a caudillo novel”

And here’s the Master of Mediocrity himself:

  • John Kerry on King Abdullah: “King Abdullah was a man of wisdom & vision.”
  • John Kerry on Hugo Chavez: “Throughout his time in office, President Chavez has repeatedly undermined democratic institutions by using extra-legal means, including politically motivated incarcerations, to consolidate power.”

But probably my absolute favourite is IMF chief Christine Lagarde, according to whom the king was “a discreeet but strong advocate of women.”

Here’s another comparison between the statement President Obama issued about the 2013 death of President Chávez and the one he issued today about the Saudi ruler:

As Glenn Greenwald has pointed out:

One obvious difference between the two leaders was that Chávez was elected and Abdullah was not. Another is that Chávez used the nation’s oil resources to attempt to improve the lives of the nation’s most improverished while Abdullah used his to further enrich Saudi oligarchs and western elites. Another is that the severity of Abdullah’s human rights abuses and militarism makes Chávez look in comparison like Gandhi.

But when it comes to western political and media discourse, the only difference that matters is that Chávez was a U.S. adversary while Abdullah was a loyal U.S. ally – which, by itself for purposes of the U.S. and British media, converts the former into an evil villainous monster and the latter into a beloved symbol of peace, reform and progress.

King Abdullah’s departure, following the weeks of platitudinous pleas for tolerance issued by some of the most ambiguous governments on Earth, shows actually how politics actually matters much more than economics in Western policies. Venezuela has a slightly larger share of the world’s oil reserves than Saudi Arabia, and would be much convenient for the US to redirect its energy interests to the Continent they belongs. But, as we know, Venezuela bad, Saudia Arabia good.


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