By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Monitoring
On Saturday 20 May, US President Donald Trump arrived in Saudi Arabia for what was to be the first stop on a nine-day tour of the Middle East and Western Europe. The tour included visits to religious centres Jerusalem (Judaism and Christianity) and the Vatican (Roman Catholicism), but not Islam’s Mecca, as infidels are not permitted there.
During his two day visit to Riyadh, President Trump participated (albeit uncomfortably) in a ceremonial sword dance, and delivered a 34-minute speech to an Arab Islamic American Summit attended by the leaders of more than 50 Muslim nations.
He applauded Turkey for its hosting of refugees, as if unaware that Turkey’s President Recip Tayyap Erdogan – who is also one of the world’s leading sponsors of Islamic jihad – bears much of the responsibility for creating most of the refugees he is hosting, refugees he uses as pawns in foreign policy.
But the trump card in Trump’s speech was his singling out of Iran, which he lambasted as the cause of all regional instability through its sponsorship of international terrorism and fuelling of sectarian conflict and chaos. In this regard he made specific mention of Tehran’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who alone stood accused of “unspeakable crimes”.
While in Riyadh President Trump also brokered a deal to sell Saudi Arabia some $460 million worth of precision-guided munitions: nearly $110 billion immediately, and $350 billion over 10 years – as if unaware that Saudi Arabia is funnelling arms to all manner of Sunni jihadists in Syria, and is responsible for the catastrophic humanitarian crisis in Yemen. [On Tuesday 13 June, the US Senate voted -- 53 to 47 -- in favour of supporting the arms deal.]
If President Trump thought his Iran-bashing would engender and consolidate Sunni unity, then he was gravely mistaken, and in truth, should have known better. Irrespective of whether the report that the Emir of Qatar had questioned the wisdom of isolating Iran was “fake news” or true, it detonated the tension in the Saudi-led bloc, exploding any pretense of unity.
[See also: “A Brief Guide to Middle Eastern Alliances”, by Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 28 June 2017.]
President Trump’s performance, speech and weapons deal in Riyadh might not have engendered Sunni unity, but it did send a message to Tehran: that the US will stand with its allies (Saudi Arabia and Israel) to resist Tehran, whom it will fight -- albeit indirectly -- even by toppling the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad.
It seems the conflict in Syria is about to move to a whole new level, and with it, the Christian crisis in the Middle East.
She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).