The Saudi town of Awamiya — like so many countless cities across Iraq, Syria and Yemen that are witnessing an unleashing of the ancient hatred of Sunni for Shia — now exists in name only. Last month, days before an assault on its Shia inhabitants by the Saudi regime, the UN designated it a place of unique cultural and religious significance. But under the guise of fighting Iran-backed terror cells, the Saudis then subjected Awamiya’s entire civilian population to the indiscriminate use of fighter jets, rocket-propelled grenades, snipers, heavy artillery, armoured assault vehicles and cold-blooded executions.
More than a dozen Shia, including a three-year-old boy, were killed. Hundreds of young men were rounded up. At least 500 homes were flattened, and 8,000 residents were forcibly removed from those that remained. Saudi soldiers recorded themselves dancing and singing amid the rubble of the town’s once-beautiful old city. They stomped on a poster of a revered Shia cleric from the eastern province, Nimr al-Nimr, beheaded last year for sedition. And they denigrated the town’s ‘cleansed’ local Shia as ‘rejectionists’ and ‘dogs’ — language identical to that of their fanatical Wahhabi brothers in Iraq and Syria, who rejoice in slaughtering Shia in the name of Isis. The mass beheading of 14 local Shia activists, including a severely disabled teenager, is said to be imminent.
In the wake of this sectarian carnage it seems preposterous that Donald Trump stood next to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman in Riyadh in May at the launch of a new centre to combat Islamic extremism. In a keynote speech, Trump had, just as bizarrely, singled out Iran and its Shia proxies as the instigators of terrorism and sectarian bloodshed in the region. In the past, such Saudi duplicity was laughed off in the name of selling the infantile princes billions of dollars in arms (from which they take massive kickbacks) and heightening their borderline-insane obsession with the supposedly existential threat posed by Iran to Israel and the latter’s despotic Sunni allies.
The joke isn’t funny any more.