If there ever were a state that suffered from a collective superiority complex, it would be Saudi Arabia. Their overreaction to Canada’s call to release women’s rights activists is emblematic of the deep insecurities they harbor within them.
Failure to take criticism, inability to engage in a civil discourse and unwillingness to admit one’s mistakes is beyond the intellectual capacity of Saudi monarchs. Their pride is so fragile that they feel that giving up a sliver of patriarchal supremacy would cause their kingdom to come crashing down.
When the Canadian Government urged the Saudi government to release a Canadian citizen, Saudi Arabia expelled the ambassador and severed all ties with Canada. The international community largely stayed quiet except expressing ‘grave concerns’ and calls for the two nations to ‘engage in dialogue’.
Compared to the ire human rights abuses against Iranian feminists drew, Saudi Arabia’s blatant act of aggression went unnoticed. Where dissidents in Iran, North Korea, Russia, and China are praised for their bravery, Saudi activists are hardly even mentioned.
Imran Khan, who will take the oath of Prime Minister’s office in the next few days, has maintained a liberal persona through his political career. Female empowerment was one of the main issues of his election campaign. As the ruling part of the state of KPK, Khan paid special attention to female education and introduced measures that made it easier for women to file police reports against domestic violence. He successfully campaigned for a merger of historically marginalized areas with closest provinces offering the indigenous people the incentives they had been denied for decades.
Therefore, it wasn’t unreasonable to expect or rather hope that he would be the voice of the marginalized in the Muslim world. When he offered to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran, millions of Yemenis who had lived in fear for a year and a half, felt optimistic.
But Khan proved that like his predecessors he is human and will capitulate to the same forces that subjugated his predecessors.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Pakistan released a statement in which they expressed ‘immense concern’ over the recent spat between Canada and Saudi Arabia. At no point did the Ministry make any reference to the women’s rights activists currently in Saudi prisons. Instead, they expressed ‘solidarity with Saudi Arabia’ and touted the ‘principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states’.
Taking sides in an international dispute is far beyond the scope of a caretaker government; therefore, such a statement couldn’t have been released without Imran Khan’s consent. The fact that Khan did not refute the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ statement only substantiates the argument.
Khan maintained in his first public address after the election win that he wouldn’t pick sides in an international conflict and would choose only to mediate. So what explains such a blatant reversal?
Well, it might have something to do with the economic crisis facing his incoming government. With foreign reserves at critically low levels, Pakistan is very close to defaulting on its’ financial obligations. To steer Khan’s government clear of a financial disaster, a Saudi bank activated a $4.5 billion loan for Pakistan.
Under these circumstances, Khan couldn’t keep with his principles and had to sacrifice them just like his predecessors had done. Succumbing to the Saudi pressure, Pakistan released a short but concise statement expressing support for Saudi Arabia.
But if Khan capitulated to Saudi pressure, who is to say that he wouldn’t to American, British, Russian, Indian, or Chinese pressure?
His life in the opposition was easy. His political opponents lacked the backbone to take a rightful and firm stand. By comparison, he was firm, stern, and principled or at least he appeared to be. But a week before he even takes office, he has completely reinvented himself.
Where expressing support Saudi feminists seemed too much of a political risk for him to take, he has not even condemned or expressed sadness over the deaths of Yemeni children killed by Saudi airstrikes yesterday.
If Imran Khan follows in the footsteps of his predecessors who judged everything in terms of whether or not it was politically beneficial to them, maybe the ‘change’ that Khan promised was just the change of faces, not one of principles or priorities.