The extremist dictatorial regime in Saudi Arabia is confident that it has a friend in the White House.
Far-right President Donald Trump immediately kicked off his reign by ramping up aggression against Iran. In just two weeks, his administration, which is chock-full of vehemently anti-Iran hawks, imposed further sanctions on the country, publicly put it “on notice,” and accused it of being the world’s largest sponsor of terrorism.
Gulf monarchies, which have long seen Iran as their greatest enemy, are rejoicing. Saudi Arabia, in particular, can hardly contain its excitement. Popular Saudi social media accounts are portraying the racist, anti-Muslim U.S. president as a noble gladiator, gleefully gloating, “Trump will destroy Iran!”
President Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis have made it clear that they are going to pursue even closer ties with Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the Saudi monarchy, which frequently speaks of itself as the supposed protector of Islam, has offered no criticisms of Trump’s ban on refugees, nor has it said anything negative about his barring migrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. The fact that the Trump administration’s ban targets the primary enemies of Gulf regimes (namely, Iran, Iraq, and Syria) certainly should not go unnoticed.
For three days in a row, the front page story of the major Saudi regime newspaper Okaz highlighted Trump’s anti-Iranian statements. Okaz is one of the most popular newspapers in the country, and is closely linked to the Saudi royal family. On February 7, bold letters appeared on the front page reading, “Trump: Iran is the ‘number one’ terrorist.”
Turki Aldakhil, head of the Saudi media giant Al Arabiya, applauded the far-right, anti-Muslim president for ramping up aggression against supposed “Iranian terrorism.” On Twitter, Aldakhil told his nearly 4 million followers to tweet using the English hashtag #TrumpWarnsIranianTerrorism to thank Trump.
Aldakhil was by no means alone. He was part of a wave of Twitter users — many with photos of the Saudi flag and absolute monarch King Salman as their profile pictures — who praised Trump for his threats against Iran.
It appears that at least some of them are bots or paid trolls. Many of the accounts tweeting hashtags like this are full of Saudi propaganda and little other content. They recycle many of the same memes and talking points and use completely unrelated trending hashtags like #SuperBowl. Many were also only just founded recently and have thousands of largely fake followers despite only tweeting a few hundred times.
Users portrayed the far-right anti-Muslim US president as a brave knight in gilded armor, while depicting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as an ant and Ayatollah Khahmenei as a murdered dragon.
Even more extreme hashtags like #TrumpWillDestroyIran also became popular.
Many of the people responding to them with praise for Trump and Saudi Arabia likewise only have dozens of tweets and appears to be fake accounts.
Some accounts even tried to link Iran to the 9/11 attacks — although 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens, declassified pages from Congress’ 2002 joint inquiry show links between the attackers and Saudi Arabia, and convicted plotter Zacarias Moussaoui confessed in sworn testimony to American authorities that members of the Saudi royal family had funded al-Qaeda before the attack.
Al-Qaeda and ISIS are extremist Sunni militant groups that consider Muslims from the Shia minority sect to be non-Muslim apostates. Iran is one of the few Shia-majority countries, and has in fact been a leading force in the fighting against ISIS. (Iraq also has a majority Shia population, and Syria and Yemen have large Shia minorities. All of these countries are targeted by Trump’s Muslim ban.)
While the Trump administration and his Gulf supporters may accuse Iran of being a large sponsor of terrorism, secret internal U.S. documents have acknowledged that Saudi Arabia is the largest supporter of extremist Sunni-jihadist groups in the world. Moreover, a leaked 2014 email from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, citing Western intelligence sources, revealed that U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar have supported ISIS.