WASHINGTON – The U.S. House voted to cut off all aid to Saudi Arabia despite the Bush administration's support for the country, accusing the close U.S. ally of religious intolerance and funding terrorism.
Legislators late Friday night slipped an amendment into the massive $34.2 billion dollar U.S. foreign spending bill for next year that would ban all form of aid to the oil-rich country. Although similar measures have previously passed the House, the amendment made sure to deny all fund transfer, including by the president for the war on terrorism.
"By cutting off aid and closing the loophole we send a clear message to the Saudi Arabian government that they must be a true ally in advancing peace in the Middle East," said the measure's main sponsor, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), according to Reuters.
Previously, the administration would waive the ban and provide small funding to the desert kingdom for training anti-terrorist soldiers and border security. The Bush administration gave more than $2.5 million to Saudi Arabia in fiscal 2005 and 2006 as part of their partnership in the war on terror, congressional officials told Agence France-Presse.
Saudi Arabia, however, is recognized for its religious intolerance by both the U.S. State Department and the persecuted Christian advocacy group Open Doors – which listed the country in its 2007 World Watch list as the second worst Christian persecutor in the world behind North Korea.
Furthermore, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – the independent, bipartisan government religious freedom monitor – recommended to the U.S. State Department again this year that Saudi Arabia be designated a Country of Particular Concern – the worst religious freedom violation label. The State Department has often criticized Saudi Arabia for religious intolerance and human rights abuses including a legal system with punishments such as flogging and amputation.
Last year, a report by Freedom House concluded that the Saudi Ministry of Education textbooks promoted an ideology of hatred towards non-Wahhabi Muslims.
"What is being taught today in Saudi public school textbooks about how Muslims should relate to other religious communities will poison the minds of a new generation of Saudis," said Nina Shea, then director of Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom.
The textbook commanded students to "hate" Christians, Jews, "polytheists" and other "unbelievers," including non-Wahhabi Muslims; taught students that "Jews and the Christians are enemies of the [Muslim] believers;" and the spread of Islam through jihad is a "religious duty" among other promotion of religious hatred.
In addition to religious intolerance, sponsors of the new amendment are also angry over Saudi Arabia's support for the anti-Israel Palestinian group Hamas – which the United States considers a terrorist group and which has taken control of the Gaza Strip. Lawmakers say Hamas received more than half of its financing from Saudi Arabia.
The amendment's sponsors also claim the Saudi government is making "no official move" to stop some 3,000 Saudis allegedly fighting U.S. troops in Iraq, according to AFP. Moreover, they claim as many as 61 percent of all suicide bombers in Iraq are of Saudi Arabian descent.
Saudi Arabia, the world's leading petroleum exporter, provides about 20 percent of the total U.S. imports of crude oil. It is also the largest U.S export market in the Middle East.
"With poor countries all over the globe begging us for help, why are we giving money to this oil-rich nation," questioned Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), according to Reuters.
The bill has not yet been debated by the Senate.