While Saudi Arabia may have some control over Muslims, as shown above during the annual Hajj pilgrimage, it needed to be reminded that it has little control over world politics, as shown today. (Image Source: Reuters)
Today, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia received an incredible amount of criticism at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, due to its human rights record. In particular, British delegation attacked the Saudi's law that maintains that men have "guardianship" over women, in that the latter can never have independent lives unless in very specific circumstances. Further attacks from the American delegation concerned the Saudis alleged use of forced labor against its 9 million migrant workers. While it has been an open secret that the Saudis' human rights records has been terrible, this instance may be the first time world powers are actually the ones complaining. Their efforts may have something to do with Saudi Arabia's snubbing of a seat on the UN Security Council, and a sign of the country's eroding stature.
Saudi Arabia maintains a high level of insulation and protection amongst the world powers, due to its primary export: Oil. By being the leading producer and exporter of oil, the Saudis still possess a great degree of influence among the likes of the United States and Europe, which still use oil to fuel their vehicles and power and/or heat their homes. The Saudis also sustain a great degree of influence over the oil trading bloc OPEC, which controls about 30% of the oil market.
However, the political situation has changed over the past year. The United States, Saudi Arabia's leading consumer, has begun to wean itself off Saudi oil through developments in fracking, which allowing for untapped American oil reserves to be reached, as well as attempts to expand oil imports from Canada through the Keystone XL pipeline project. Without the United States as a crutch, the Saudis have a weaker degree of influence over world politics, and thus are more vulnerable to scrutinity.
Still, the most dramatic situation to cause Saudi Arabia trouble is the Syrian civil war. While ostensibly a conflict between Bashar al-Assad's Alawite regime and the native Sunni Muslim populace, it has become part of a regional cold war between the Sunni Saudis, who support the rebels and call for Western intervention, and the Shia Muslim Iranians, who back Assad's regime and fund the paramilitary organization Hezbollah within the country.
Saudi Arabia's snubbing of a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council is supposedly based on the archaic structure of the Security Council and the need for reform. However, it has much more to do with the Security Council's efforts to stay out of the Syrian civil war, including making efforts to get rid of Syria's chemical weapons program.
Knowing the war as the primary reason for the snubbing, the United Nations saw no reason to continue covering for the Saudis, and have begun scrutinizing their human rights record. Let that be a lesson to everyone: Do not use the United Nations as a way to change your local political situation, unless you have a permanent seat with a veto on the Security Council.