Is it a matter that concerns the House of Saud only or does it have wider ramifications for Palestinians and Muslims globally? Not much different to slogans in vogue back then such as “Swart deelname meen swart oorname”, warning the Afrikaner volk (clan) that black participation will result in black takeover. Such rhetoric reflected a period in South Africa’s race-riddled history during which the battle for the heart and soul of Afrikanerdom reigned supreme.
Ultimately forces of reason prevailed which finally saw the emergence of a democratic dispensation, and notwithstanding the scare tactics unleashed by a host of reactionary forces, South Africa remains on a trajectory to hopefully fulfill the just aspirations of all its people.
The context of Saudi Arabia’s “toenadering” with Israel, is entirely different and thus essential to illustrate it.
For instance, Palestinians who are aggrieved by it and naturally opposed to it cannot by any stretch of the imagination be categorised as rightwingers. In fact the converse is true. Saudi Arabia is an unelected despotic regime while Israel is the embodiment of apartheid. Both share credentials as repressive, autocratic, belligerent and military powers. Both have a strong ally in the United States, which in turn invests heavily in equipping them with weapons of mass destruction.
In the case of Israel, resistance movements such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad are criminalised as terrorists. So too in the case of Saudi Arabia, where internal dissent is crushed and groups such as Ikhwanul Muslimeen (Muslim Brotherhood) are declared as terrorists. Such deceptive policies are expediently justified as fulfilling the West’s desire to rid the world of terrorists.
The other major difference is that “toenadering” with the ANC resulted in the end of apartheid, whereas Saudi overtures are meant to fortify apartheid in Israel and prevent the kingdom from falling into the hands of progressive, democratic forces.
Ganging up against the “Arab Spring” as both did, is especially evident in Egypt. Not only did they conspire to undermine a democratically elected government headed by president Morsi, both Saudi Arabia and Israel actively participated in facilitating the military coup led by General al-Sisi.
This was a huge setback, for following the Libyan invasion and murder of Muammar Gaddafi, it effectively curtailed any hope that democratic processes would be allowed to survive.
Indeed it is, especially for those who are caught up in the perception that the House of Saud would be antagonistic towards Zionist occupiers of Masjid al-Aqsa. And more so for Muslims who foolishly believed (many still do) that the Saudi monarchy would lead its liberation.
Now that this vain hope has been dashed amidst signs that the “toenadering” is actually worse than it appears; a gradual, almost reluctant whisper is heard which is beginning to become louder and more articulate. In a clear and coherent voice, it accuses the house of Saud of nothing less than betrayal!
A betrayal of the Palestinian cause and of global Muslim aspiration to free al-Aqsa.
Since the illegal imposition of a colonial-settler regime on the land of Palestine and the subsequent occupation of Jerusalem (al-Quds) which is home to al-Aqsa, Muslims across the world shared a common loss.
Liberation of al-Aqsa thus became synonymous with Palestine’s freedom struggle and has remained so.
As Saudi Arabia edges closer to a process of normalisation with Israel, it hopes that its policy of buying support in Muslim communities from Johannesburg to Jakarta and from London to Lisbon, will immunise it from blow backs.
Being default gatekeepers of the holy Ka’aba in Mecca and the Mosque of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in Medina, allows the Saudi kingdom leverage over Muslims. Holding the power to decide who and how many Muslims are permitted entry to these sacred sites, is a deeply flawed tool wielded by them to keep the faithful in awe of the ruling elite.
Palestinians on the other hand, while disappointed with Saudi impotency, will not be entirely surprised nor shocked. Their experience with Arab dictators, whether Egypt or Saudi Arabia, informs them not to expect much from traitors. As a collective, the Arab League has a proven unenvious record of complacency and utter lack of backbone.
These constraints fortunately do not apply to Palestinian activists, writers, scholars and it’s highly politicised civil society. Nor does it apply to Muslims across the world. They are able to confront Saudi betrayal in solidarity with Palestine’s quest for freedom and justice, and many will do so even at the risk of being barred from pilgrimage to Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem.
Iqbal Jassat is an executive member of the Media Review Network, a think tank based in Johannesburg. Twitter him @ijassat