Conference Examines the U.S.' 'Special Relationship' With Human Rights Abuser Saudi Arabia

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From the brutal 10-month war in Yemen to the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters within its own borders, the Saudi Arabian government plays a critical role in driving wars and repression across the Middle East. The Gulf state is also one of America’s oldest and closest allies in the region, as well as the number one importer of U.S. weapons, including cluster bombs and bunker busters.

Now growing numbers of human rights campaigners, grassroots organizers, scholars and journalists are sounding the alarm over the close U.S.-Saudi ties and the region-wide harm this relationship unleashes. Many of those critics will gather in Washington, D.C. on March 3-4 for a two-day international summit aimed examining the Kingdom and disrupting its harmful collaboration with Washington.

“Without the U.S. support for the absolute Saudi monarchy, that monarchy would not have been able to withstand the domestic pressure for change and continue to abuse the population,” Ali al Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, told AlterNet. “It would not have been able to invade Bahrain, in cahoots with the United States. It would not be able to continue the bombing of Yemen, which the U.S. is fully supporting with continued assistance and weapons.”

“Unfortunately,” al Ahmed said, “we must address and expose the American culprit in supporting this monarchy.”

Some of those directly impacted by the monarchy will be in attendance, including Mohammed Al-Nimr, the son of the protest leader and Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr, whose recent execution touched off global outrage and region-wide protests. Author, activist and scholar Vijay Prashad will deliver a keynote address at the summit, which will feature numerous grassroots human rights campaigners, including Yemeni activists.

High on the agenda is the question of how to stop U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which continue despite calls for an arms embargo, over concerns that the Saudi-led coalition is committing widespread war crimes in Yemen.

"The European Union just voted for an EU-wide arms embargo to Saudi Arabia because of its bombing of civilians in Yemen, the UK ministry of justice pulled out of a multimillion-dollar prison contract because of Saudi's brutal treatment of nonviolent prisoners, and Belgium refused an export license to ship weapons because of the January 2 execution of 47 prisoners," noted CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin. "Meanwhile, the U.S. is sending record amounts of weapons to the Saudi regime.”

Raed Jarrar, government relations manager for the American Friends Service Committee, told AlterNet that the summit “represents an important political moment where many of our organizations are opposing wars in the Middle East, including the war in Yemen.”

“It also comes at a moment where Islamophobia is on the rise,” he added. “I hope discussions this weekend will help re-think the U.S.-Saudi relationship while recognizing the anti-Muslim sentiments in the U.S.”

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