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Islam and the West (10 Aug 2018 NewAgeIslam.Com)


Unlike Canada, America Has Shied Away From Invoking Human-Rights Issues with the Saudis



By Robin Wright

August 8, 2018

By social-media standards these days, a tweet sent last Thursday by Canada’s Foreign Minister, Chrystia Freeland, was hardly surprising—or a deviation from what other Western governments have said for years about Saudi Arabia’s egregious human-rights record. Her tweet addressed the case of siblings—Samar Badawi, a women’s-rights activist honoured by the Obama Administration as a “woman of courage,” and her brother, Raif, a blogger who has been imprisoned since 2012, after chastising the Saudi monarchy for things like banning Valentine’s Day. Freeland tweeted, “Very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi’s sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this difficult time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi.” The Canadian Foreign Ministry followed up with a tweet that called for the release of “all peaceful #humanrights activists” held by the Gulf monarchy. The Canadian Embassy in Riyadh then tweeted the message in Arabic.

The desert kingdom erupted in fury. Over the weekend, it expelled the Canadian Ambassador, recalled its own envoy, froze all new trade and investment, suspended flights by the state airline to Toronto, and ordered thousands of Saudi students to leave Canada and get their education in other countries. Its Foreign Ministry counter-tweeted, “The Canadian position is an overt and blatant interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of #SaudiArabia and is in contravention of the most basic international norms and all the charters governing relations between States.” Further, it issued a warning: “Any further step from the Canadian side in that direction will be considered as acknowledgment of our right to interfere in the Canadian domestic affairs.”

Canada stood its ground. “Let me be very clear, Canada will always stand up for human rights in Canada and around the world,” Freeland said, in Vancouver, on Monday.

The flap underscores the volatility—and potentially even the fragility—of the Saudi government under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the youthful and increasingly autocratic leader, who has been enthusiastically embraced by President Trump and has been consolidating power since his surprise appointment, a year ago. At thirty-two, he is one of the youngest leaders in the Middle East. His ailing father, King Salman, has the final word, but bin Salman rules political, economic, military, and diplomatic affairs day to day. M.B.S., as he’s widely known, has been increasingly intolerant of criticism at home and—now—from major foreign powers, according to Bruce Riedel, a former C.I.A., Pentagon, and National Security Council staffer who is now at the Brookings Institution. “He is very thin-skinned,” Riedel told me.

President Trump’s support, and a personal connection to Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, may have caused M.B.S. to feel that he has impunity to do as he pleases on the global stage. Trump’s first stop on his inaugural foreign trip as President was in Saudi Arabia, a visit orchestrated—with much fanfare—by the crown prince.

Unlike the government in Canada, the Trump Administration has shied away from invoking human-rights issues with the Saudis, despite a graphic State Department report, released in April, detailing the sweeping scope of violations in the kingdom. The section on Saudi Arabia in the State Department’s 2017 Human Rights Report runs long—more than fifty pages. It cites the most significant abuses as torture; arbitrary arrest; unlawful killings; execution without requisite due process; restrictions on freedom of expression, religion, and peaceful assembly; trafficking in persons; violence and discrimination against women; criminalization of same-sex sexual activity; and the inability of its people to choose a government through free and fair elections.

Jamal Khashoggi, a former Saudi editor, now in exile in Washington, said that the crown prince has already become more authoritarian than any of the previous six kings who have ruled since 1953, when Ibn Saud, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, died. “Today, he is in charge of Saudi Arabia. He thinks everyone should treat him as such,” Khashoggi told me.

During the past year, M.B.S. has run an intensive charm offensive in the United States and Europe—courting political leaders, tech titans, celebrities, society names, and academics. At the same time, the crown prince is behind the most aggressive foreign policy since Ibn Saud conquered rival tribes on the Arabian Peninsula to create the current kingdom. The gambits in international affairs by M.B.S., who is the first member of the royal family’s third generation to be chosen as heir, have been widely criticized.

“The Canadian campaign is the latest in a series of disastrous foreign-policy initiatives from M.B.S.,” Riedel told me. In 2015, in the role of Saudi Defense Minister, the crown prince launched a costly military intervention in Yemen, in turn producing the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Twenty-two million Yemenis—eighty per cent of the population—now depend on humanitarian aid for daily survival. Sixteen million people lack access to fresh water. Eight million are believed to be on the brink of starvation. Yemen is also suffering the largest outbreak of cholera in recent history—more than a million cases.

In 2017, M.B.S. masterminded the air, sea, and land blockade of Qatar, a small neighbouring sheikdom, which the crown prince reportedly wanted to invade. A few months later, M.B.S. summoned Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, and pressured him to resign—on Saudi television.

“They are all hasty and uncalculated decisions,” Khashoggi told me. “The crown prince is a poor decision-maker with a track record of incompetence,” Riedel said.

M.B.S. is also daring to confront Western nations, including countries important to Saudi security and economic development. In 2015, the year his ailing father ascended the throne, Saudi Arabia recalled its Ambassador to Sweden—also in a dispute about the case of the human-rights activist Raif Badawi. The young blogger had been sentenced to ten years in prison, a thousand lashes, and a fine of more than a quarter million dollars for mocking the kingdom’s rigid social restrictions on his Saudi Liberal Network Web site. Saudi officials charged the father of three with undermining national security. The lashes were supposed to be spread out—fifty per week for twenty weeks—though they were suspended after the first round. Sweden’s Foreign Minister, Margot Wallström, called the sentence “medieval” and suggested that the Royal House of Saud was a dictatorship.

Tensions deepened with Germany, too, in November, after Sigmar Gabriel, then the Foreign Minister, criticized “adventurism” in the Middle East in remarks that the kingdom took as a reference to its intervention in Yemen and as a suggestion that the Lebanese Prime Minister was being held in Saudi Arabia against his will. In January, Germany suspended arms exports to the Saudis, citing the war in Yemen. In May, M.B.S. decreed that no more government contracts were to be awarded to German companies, Der Spiegel reported.

The same impulsive anger triggered the response to the initial Canadian tweet—and translation into Arabic—of the Foreign Minister’s message, Khashoggi said. “It is the pattern of behaviour that has been dictating Saudi foreign policy since M.B.S. came to power,” he said. “It was taken as an offense on M.B.S.’s own turf. He saw it as an insult to his ability to control the Saudi masses.”

M.B.S.’s motive may also be part of a strategy to challenge nations that advocate a U.N.-led inquiry into Saudi abuses in Yemen, including air strikes that killed civilians. “Timing of Saudi crown prince’s lashing out at Canada for protesting his repression suggests his real aim is to dissuade governments next month from continuing the UN investigation of Saudi-led war crimes in Yemen,” Ken Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, tweeted, on Tuesday. “Time to redouble support for the UN probe.” The U.N. General Assembly, attended by dozens of heads of state, opens next month in New York.

The crown prince’s actions belie the image he is trying to create. He has grandiose plans for diversifying the kingdom economically, beyond the oil industry, but since last fall the government has arrested dozens of leading business figures. He has talked about “moderate Islam” even as some moderate clerics have been detained. And, as he opened the way, this month, for women to be allowed to drive, his government arrested several women’s-rights activists, including the lawyer Samar Badawi. She has challenged cultural restrictions, including rules that require women to get a male guardian’s permission to get advanced education, a job, or a passport to travel abroad.

Unlike Trump, Canadian leaders have consistently supported the Badawi family. In 2013, a year after Raif Badawi’s arrest, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, of the Conservative Party, granted Badawi’s wife and children political asylum in Canada. This summer, under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, of the Liberal Party, Canada granted them citizenship. After Canada called for the release Saudi Arabia’s peaceful activists, Marie-Pier Baril, a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, vowed, “Our government will never hesitate to promote these values.”

Robin Wright has been a contributing writer to The New Yorker since 1988. She is the author of “Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World.”Read more »

Source: newyorker.com/news/news-desk/saudi-arabias-crown-prince-picks-a-very-strange-fight-with-canada?mbid=nl

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/islam-and-the-west/robin-wright/unlike-canada,-america-has-shied-away-from-invoking-human-rights-issues-with-the-saudis/d/116087




TOTAL COMMENTS:-   1


  • For America both Saudi Arabia and Israel are above all criticism.  Human rights be damned!

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 8/10/2018 12:22:58 PM



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