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As Saudi Arabia Destroys Religious Sites, One Rights Group Seeks to Save a Culture

Saudi Arabia is destroying religious and cultural sites across the country, but one group, the Al Baqee Organization, is fighting to preserve a heritage.

October is not a good month for Saudi Arabia … but then again the Kingdom somewhat had it coming if we consider the violence it has so freely dispensed over the decades. If Saudi Arabia managed to buy loyalties and influence – none stronger than that extended by the United States of America – Riyadh’s systematic disregard for human rights, nations’ sovereignty, and international law, are pushing many to reconsider their positions.

As the Associated Press puts it:

“The kingdom long has been known to grab rambunctious princes or opponents abroad and spirit them back to Riyadh on private planes. But the disappearance of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, who Turkish officials fear has been killed, potentially has taken the practice to a new, macabre level by grabbing a writer who could both navigate Saudi Arabia’s byzantine royal court and explain it to the West.”

The alleged murder of writer Jamal Khashoggi is of course but a small example of the cruelty of a regime whose barbarism has been emboldened by our collective silence – a silence rooted in greed since it was bought to the tune of billions of dollars.

Saudi Arabia’s lobbying activities took to new heights in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 when news transpired that 15 out the 19 terrorists were, in fact, Saudi citizens.

To protect its interests and avoid answering uncomfortable questions as to the doctrine of Wahhabism/Salafism it has imposed as ‘state religion’ on its citizens, the Kingdom went on to buy the world’s good graces. To better smooth corners and deflect blame away from its fanaticism – the fanaticism that remains the so-called Islamic radical outfits’ main ideological inspiration, Riyadh spent a reported $100 million over the next decade to improve public perceptions and retain influence in the U.S. capital.

A detailed report published in the Atlantic gives an overview of Saudi Arabia’s lobbying activities. It reads:

“A quick review of the FARA (Foreign Agents Registration Act) database, which is where lobbyists who advocate for foreign countries must announce themselves, shows that, among other Washington firms, Hill & Knowlton, Inc. has been lobbying for Saudi Arabia from 1982 until at least 2009. Qorvis Communications, LLC has received $60.3 million in Saudi money over the past decade, and is still doing communications work for Riyadh. Hogan Lovells U.S., L.L.P., which was called Hogan & Harston until May of this year, did work for the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in 2009. The Saudis paid the Loeffler Group, LLP, $10.5 million over the past 10 years, and gave Sandler Innocenzi, Inc. $8.9 million. Patton Boggs, LLP, another lobbying firm, also continues to do work for Saudi Arabia, and has earned a little over $3 million over the past decade.”

Riyadh’s push on Capitol Hill went into overdrive in 2015 after U.S. President Barack Obama decided to break bread with Iran by signing the now scrapped Nuclear Deal. The move that did not please Saudi Royals in the least as they view Iran as their arch enemy, mainly on the basis that they do not share Riyadh’s religious worldview.

To describe Saudi Arabia’s buying spree Ben Freeman writes:

In 2016, according to FARA records, they reported spending just under $10 million on lobbying firms; in 2017, that number had nearly tripled to $27.3 million. And that’s just a baseline figure for a far larger operation to buy influence in Washington, since it doesn’t include considerable sums given to elite universities or think tanks like the Arab Gulf States Institute, the Middle East Institute, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (to mention just a few of them).”

Risking Life and Freedom to Speak Out Against Saudi Arabia

Speaking against Saudi Arabia has become an almost impossible feat. Speaking against Saudi Arabia also entails some degree of danger as the Kingdom often resorts to violence to silence those voices it cannot coerce. If you recall, only weeks before Riyadh was lauded for finally allowing women to drive – what a breakthrough! – Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the arrest of several women’s rights activists including internationally recognized women’s rights activist Samar Badawi.

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“The arrests of Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah signal that the Saudi authorities see any peaceful dissent, whether past or present, as a threat to their autocratic rule,” warned Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch in August 2018.

She added: “After the recent arbitrary arrests of businesspeople, women’s rights activists, and reformist clerics, Saudi Arabia’s allies and partners should question what ‘reform’ really means in a country where the rule of law is disdainfully ignored.”

Indeed … many things in Saudi Arabia are perceived as direct attacks to Al Saud’s absolute rule, and all offenses are punishable by death.

Saudi Arabia’s Attempt to Eradicate History

But there is an aspect of Saudi Arabia’s intolerance that remains seldom talked about – that of religious and cultural persecution.

Under the direction of Al Saud’s clergy, so that the Wahhabism doctrine would never be challenged throughout the Islamic World, the Kingdom architected the destruction of all religious and cultural sites – thus denying a people and a faith their History.

If we do nothing Islam will be what Saudi Arabia dictates it is in just a few decades – the thought warrants a deep pause if we consider that all self-professed Islamic radicals claim Wahhabism/Salafism as their matrix.

Wahhabism/Salafism although posited as a legitimate interpretation of the Scriptures is in fact not a recognized school of thought, it sits as an aberration over 1.6 billion people by the virtue of the money it wields, the governments it owns, and the guns it points at its detractors.

In 2014 Carla Power published for the Times an exposé on Saudi Arabia’s “wider government campaign to rub out historical and religious sites across the Kingdom.”

She writes: “Over 98% of the Kingdom’s historical and religious sites have been destroyed since 1985, estimates the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation in London… In recent years, the twin forks of Wahhabi doctrine and urban development have speared most physical reminders of Islamic history in the heart of Mecca. The house of the Prophet’s first wife, Khadijah has made way for public toilets.”

Al Baqee Organization Defends Religious Heritage

Silence was broken this October on the floor of the United Nations Human Rights in Geneva and the United Nations headquarter in New York, as myself and other members of the Al Baqee Organization, a grassroots not-for-profit dedicated to the defense of religious freedom and the protection of the world religious heritage, broke the status quo by demanding that Saudi Arabia be held accountable for its many and grave cultural and religious violations.

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As per the UNESCO’s mandate: “Safeguarding and promoting cultural heritage in all its forms – tangible and intangible, cultural and natural, movable and immovable – are key to achieving dialogue, sustainable development and social cohesion.” Saudi Arabia has systematically and, as a matter of state policy, hacked away at such heritage so that it could imprint its worldview.


For the first time since Al Saud rose kings over Arabia, Muslims are speaking up against the abuses the silent and silenced majority has had to endure over the decades and centuries, so that they could be freed of the yoke of intolerance and fanaticism.


Catherine Perez-Shakdam

Catherine is a Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society and a former consultant to the UN Security Council on Yemen. Her work has been published in the Times of Israel, the Jerusalem Post, the Daily Express, Epoch Times and countless other media.

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