Abby Martin Presents the Real House of Saud

The Real House of Saud

TeleSur (2015)

Film Review

This documentary was released following the appointment of Saudi Arabia to head the UN Panel of Human Rights in 2015. Its primary purpose is to highlight Saudi Arabia’s scandalous human rights record and the utter hypocrisy of the Obama administration in supporting their appointment to this role. Saudi Arabia’s recent economic attack (via economic sanctions and a boycott) on its former ally Qatar – coupled with its demand they shut down Al Jazeera – serves to remind us of their abysmal record in the area of civil and human rights.

The totalitarian Saudi dictatorship executes its citizens (via head chopping, stoning or crucifixion) at the rate of one every other day. Limb amputation and severe lashings are also frequent punishments. It’s common for women who report being raped to be punished via lashing.

Human rights groups are illegal in Saudi Arabia. In addition to an absolute prohibition on women driving, they need permission from a male relative to work, attend school or seek heath care. Seventy per cent of Saudi women who have graduated university – including 1,000 PhDs – are unemployed.

Only one family, the House of Saud, has ruled Saudi Arabia since its founding in 1925. Saudi princes live in opulent luxury from the country’s oil revenues, while 20% of Saudi citizens live in abject poverty. Youth unemployment is 30%.

Thirty percent of the Saudi population are migrant workers, subject to a slave-like system of indentured servitude in which they must work fifteen hour days, even if they’re sick and often without payment. They’re subject to arrest if they try to leave their employers, as well as being subject to execution for minor offenses.

The most interesting part of the documentary concerns the sordid history of US political and military support for Saudi’s ruthless dictatorship – including their open funding of international terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda, ISIS and the Taliban – for the sake of cheap oil concessions for US oil companies. This support includes training by the CIA in suppressing unions and other grassroots organizations.

I was very surprised to learn that despite this brutal totalitarian control, popular uprisings are still fairly common, especially in Eastern Saudi Arabia, where much of Saudi Arab’s Shia minority reside. At the time of filming, Eastern Saudi Arabia was under virtual martial law to suppress mass protests inspired by the Arab Spring revolutions.

The Crusades: Europe’s First Imperialist War of Colonization

The Crusades: An Arab Perspective

Al Jazeera (2016)

Film Review

The Crusades is a fascinating history of a subject that was quite new to me, as Americans rarely study the Crusades in school. Despite the title, the expert commentators represent a balance of French and English historians, as well as Muslim scholars from various Middle Eastern universities. Most of the documentary series consists of historical re-enactment of papal enclaves, battles, sieges, treaty signings and other historical events. The filmmakers use a series of maps to plot the progress of European occupation of Jerusalem and the Levantine* coast, as well the eventual liberation of these territories in the 13th century.

The documentary leaves absolutely no doubt that the Crusades were an imperialist campaign of colonization – and not religious wars, as is commonly claimed. Whenever European crusaders conquered a specific city or region, they indiscriminately slaughtered most of the inhabitants, whether they were Muslims, Jews or fellow Christians. The entire fourth Crusade (1203) was devoted to sacking the greatest Christian city in the world (Constantinople), whose residents were mainly Byzantine Greeks.

Part 4 is my favorite because it focuses on the role of the Crusades and Muslim influence in facilitating the European Renaissance of the 14th-15th centuries. When the Crusades began in 1085, the vast majority of Europeans (99%) were illiterate, whereas Middle East cities enjoyed an advanced flourishing civilization (as did India, China, Africa and North and South America prior to European colonization). When occupying crusaders were finally defeated and forced to return to Europe in 1291, they took with them advanced knowledge of Arab military tactics and agriculture, sugar cultivation, medicine, algebra, glass manufacturing and Greek philosophers ( whose work had been translated and preserved by Muslim scholars.

Part 1 – covers the role of Pope Gregory and Pope Irwin in instigating the disastrous Peoples Crusade and the first Crusade (1086-1099), resulting in the sacking and occupation of Jerusalem (lasting nearly 200 years).

Part 2 – covers the fragmented Muslim resistance to the expansion of European occupation, hindered by both religious (Sunni vs Shia) conflict and tribal rivalries. It’s during this period (1100-1127) the term hashshashin (origin of the English words assassin and hashish) came into usage, owing to the Shia assassins hired to secretly kill Sunni military commanders. Between 1127-1143 a Muslim revival led to the liberation of numerous crusader strongholds, and the launch of a second crusade by Pope Eugene, Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany.

Part 3 – describes the rise of Salah Ad-Din (known in in Europe as Saladin), who unified rival Muslim armies and by 1187 retook all crusader strongholds except Jerusalem. This led to the launch of the third Crusade by Philip II (France), Frederick I (Germany) and Richard the Lion Hearted (England) This was followed by the fourth Crusade, which sacked Constantinople; the failed fifth Crusade (1213); the sixth Crusade in which Frederick II (Germany) retook Jerusalem by treaty and the failed seventh Crusade, led by Louis IX of France (1248). In 1244, Muslim armies retook Jerusalem, which remained under their control until it became part of the British protectorate of Palestine with the defeat of the Ottoman Empire.

Part 4 – in addition to outlining the cultural riches Europe gained from the Crusades, Part 4 also explores how Europe’s medieval colonization of the Middle East laid the groundwork for the eventual European colonization of North Africa and the Middle East (in 1917), with the formation of the state of Israel in 1948 representing a major milestone in this re-colonization.


*Levantine – a term describing a region on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea north of the Arabian Peninsula and south of Turkey, usually including the area of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria.

Inside the Brutal Reality of Saudi Arabia

Inside the Dark Kingdom: Butchery, Slavery and History of Revolt

Abby Martin (2015)

Film Review

Inside the Dark Kingdom is a documentary celebrating the irony of Saudi Arabia’s selection to head the UN Panel of Human Rights. The blatant hypocrisy of the (successful) US campaign for this tyrannical kingdom to champion global human rights is obvious from the simple statement of facts. As is the duplicity of trying to depose the so-called “bloody dictator” of Syria while openly supporting the Saudi reign of terror.

The film investigates Saudi Arabia’s brutal and arbitrary criminal justice system, their brutal oppression of women, their virtual enslavement of migrant workers, their recent invasion of Yemen, their role in 9-11 and their reliance on US military assistance to suppress human rights organizing.

Saudi trials take place in secret, often without legal representation for the accused. Saudi subjects can be beheaded, stoned or crucified for crimes such as adultery, blasphemy, homosexuality and drug use and imprisoned and lashed for human rights advocacy or being victimized by sexual assault (typically rape victims receive more lashes than the men who rape them). Forty-five percent of Saudi executions are for non-violent drug crimes.

Saudi Uprisings

You rarely hear about Saudi Arabia’s long history of popular uprisings (and their brutal suppression) in the corporate media. The US first began collaborating with the Saudi royal family to suppress human rights in 1953, when Aramco (Arabian Oil Company workers) went on strike demanding a union. The US responded by establishing the US Training Mission in Saudi Arabia, which assisted the Saudi government in torturing and assassinating union leaders.

Saudi Arabia had their first failed revolution in 1962, when a Shia-led uprising demanded that oil profits be used to address poverty rather than to increase the wealth of American oil companies and the Saudi royal family.

Inspired by the 1979 revolution in Iran, rebels in the eastern Shia region of Saudi people launched massive street protests. These were crushed when the government tortured and assassinated key leaders and destroyed (via bombing) of dissident civilian enclaves.

The Saudi Arab Spring

Following the Arab Spring rebellions that blossomed in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011, there were Arab Spring rebellions in three major Saudi cities. The royal family responded by declaring martial law and banning any mainstream or social media favorable to the Arab Spring or unfavorable to the royal family. After arresting, torturing and/or assassinating of key organizers (and their families), the government immediately quadrupled their arms imports from the US.

The primary purpose of all this military hardware is to suppress dissent, not only in Saudi Arabia, but in Bahrain (the Saudi Army invaded Bahrain to suppress their Arab Spring uprising) and Yemen. Since April, 150,000 Saudi troops have invaded Yemen and killed 4,000 Yemenis – more than half of them civilians.

The 1945 Oil Protection Agreement

Martin also traces the history of the unique US-Saudi relationship, which started in 1945 with the signing of an official Oil Protection Agreement and the installation of a US naval base.

Dating back to 1988 the last four US presidents have had close business and personal relationships with the Saudi royal family. At present the Saudi princes are major donors to the Clinton Foundation.