Posts Tagged ‘Mohammad bin Salam’

Saudi Arabia’s barbaric plan to behead a human-rights activist

August 28, 2018

Israa al-Ghomgham has spent nearly three years in prison for her nonviolent advocacy of greater rights for Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority — and now her government wants to execute her.

It’s barbaric.

Ghomgham, 29, is to be tried before the Saudi terrorism tribunal on charges solely related to peaceful human-rights activism, according to a Human Rights Watch report.

New York Post

Along with five other Shiites, she faces beheading (the usual Saudi mode of execution) for fomenting protests in the Qatif area of Eastern Province — “crimes” that include chanting slogans hostile to the regime, filing protests, posting on social media, seeking to inflame public opinion and providing moral support to rioters.

Exercising what ought to be free speech, in other words. And none of it remotely related to terrorism — although the Specialized Criminal Court has already sent other protesters to the executioner.

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Mohammad bin Salam, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia

This comes amid a supposed push to liberalize Saudi Arabia under Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince who’s running the kingdom. Is MBS’s control that thin, or does he approve?

As Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East director, puts it: “Every day, the Saudi monarchy’s unrestrained despotism makes it harder for its public-relations teams to spin the fairy tale of ‘reform’ to allies and international business.”

The next hearing in the case is Oct. 28. If the prince is truly serious about reform, that date will bring the immediate release of Ghomgham and her co-defendants.

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Saudi Arabia, Canada and the summer of discontent — perplexing, even jarring

August 19, 2018

“It may just be that MBS has a prickly personality and takes these things as personal insults.” But  activists say the motivations are more Machiavellian.

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By Taylor Luck Correspondent
For Saudi watchers, the headlines out of the kingdom this summer – women’s activists jailed, clerics silenced, a diplomatic row with Canada – have been perplexing, even jarring.

After all, despite Saudi Arabia’s failing war in Yemen, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has an iron grip on power in the oil-rich kingdom and no serious internal rivals and remains in control over one of the wealthiest economies in the world.

Within the Saudi government, the crown prince controls the economy, defense, military, and foreign policy portfolios. It is a direct, top-down power structure; a one-man show.

And from the moment his father, King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, made him crown prince a year ago, ending a power struggle within his generation of the Saudi royal family, the young prince, MBS as he is known, has signaled that he is ushering the conservative kingdom into a dramatically more modern, and moderate, era.

In addition to distancing Saudi power structures from the strict Wahhabi strain of Islam that is associated with extremism and terrorism, he has pursued an agenda billed as the “future for the young generation,” allowing cinemas to open, opening the military to women, easing regulations for opening businesses, and ending a decades-long women’s driving ban.

In Canada’s spat with Saudi Arabia, signs of a trickier road for democracies

This spring, moreover, MBS took a triumphant, four-week, coast-to-coast goodwill tour of the United States during which he sold himself as a reformer, a modernizer, and a liberal.

But for critics and analysts, contradictions between his centralized hold on power and his presumed reformist inclinations have existed from the beginning.

Now this series of erratic – or what critics describe as over-reactive – policies has left analysts and diplomats alike wondering if we are witnessing the lashing out of a prince with a surprisingly fragile grip on power or the work of a savvy ruler outmaneuvering rivals while navigating competing local, regional, and international politics. Or, more darkly, the actions of a thin-skinned, but unchecked, strongman.

Crackdown on clerics

In September 2017, Saudi authorities quietly arrested several high-profile clerics, including Salman al-Odeh, an influential Islamic thinker with millions of social media followers.

This month, Riyadh renewed its crackdown on imams, jailing over one dozen prominent Islamic scholars and speakers including Safar al-Hawali and Nasser al-Omar.

A reason reportedly given by Saudi authorities to Western diplomats is that the jailed clerics were opposed to the liberal social reforms that the crown prince is trying to push through, including allowing women to drive, opening cinemas, and allowing mixed entertainment and sporting events.

Moreover, the Crown Prince’s office asserts, these clerics are opposed to his progressive view of a “moderate Islam” that rejects extremist tendencies associated with Wahhabism.

Observers and activists say the motivations are more Machiavellian.

Many of the jailed clerics such as Mr. Odeh and Mr. Hawali are leaders of the so-called Sahwa movement, a strain of Muslim Brotherhood-inspired Islamism where clerics use Islamic theory to call for democracy and human rights. The movement opposes Western military intervention in the region, but also opposes terrorism against civilians. It was split over the Sunni uprising against US forces in Iraq.

The Sahwa movement, while socially conservative, is ideologically at odds with the Wahhabi school over fealty to monarchs and dictators, and in the 1990s was at odds with the royal family, calling for democracy and organizing protests. In 2011, amid the Arab Spring, scholars such as Odeh used Twitter to reach millions of followers with calls for a constitution, an elected parliament, and the formation of professional associations and unions.

By locking up clerics, the crown prince has removed the few voices who would and could dare to challenge his increasingly autocratic grip on Saudi society.

“These clerics are the only guys that have the ability to challenge the regime,” says Stéphane Lacroix, associate professor of political science at Sciences Po in Paris and an expert on Saudi Islamist movements.

“If any political challenge to the regime should come from anywhere, this is it. It is this potential that scares MBS.”

The Qatar factor

Another of this summer’s puzzling Saudi fare was the stunning arrest of women’s rights activists at the very same time the regime says it is increasing women’s role in the work force, military, and public life.

In May, Saudi authorities rounded up 11 women’s rights activists, issuing travel bans and holding many without trial.

As part of an alleged state-sanctioned smear campaign, social media accounts began accusing these activists of crimes against the state; Saudi newspapers ran photos of women’s rights activists with the word “traitor” in a banner above their faces.

Oddly, the crackdown came one month before Riyadh’s announced an end to the ban on women driving, and only days after Mohammed bin Salman completed his much-hyped tour of the United States.

The Saudi regime has recently renewed its arrests of women activists, culminating in the July jailing of activist Samar Badawi, who was awarded the US State Department’s International Women of Courage Award by then-first lady Michele Obama in 2012 for her fights for women’s suffrage.

“It basically cancels out a lot of the good publicity Bin Salman got on his US trip, which means it was almost certainly aimed at a domestic or regional audience,” says F. Gregory Gause, professor of international affairs at Texas A&M and a longtime Saudi observer.

Professor Gause says a prime explanation for the regime’s actions is the kingdom’s longstanding feud with Qatar, which is driven by a resentment of Qatar’s attempts to rival Saudi Arabia’s influence through backing Islamist groups during the Arab Spring, and the fact that it harbors Saudi dissidents and critics.

“Looking at these arrests, I think you must go back to the issue of Qatar, and the overestimation of Qatar’s power and reach by some within the ruling circle,” he says.

According to the accounts of Arab and Western diplomats, the feud drives much of Riyadh’s domestic and foreign policies. Riyadh and the United Arab Emirates implemented a blockade of the rich emirate in 2017 and have even called for “regime change.”

For Riyadh, the crackdown on human rights activists was both a message that dissent will not be allowed, and a pre-emptive strike immobilizing any potential human rights critics at home that Qatar may try and support in order to pressure Saudi Arabia to lift its blockade.

The feud between Riyadh and Toronto came after the Canadian Foreign Ministry issued a Tweet Aug. 3 calling for the immediate release of Ms. Badawi, the acclaimed women’s activist, along with other human rights advocates.

In response, Saudi Arabia expelled the Canadian ambassador, froze trade deals, unloaded Canadian assets, and canceled direct flights to Toronto by the state-owned Saudia Airlines. Even more surreal for some, the kingdom also cancelled scholarships for 8,000 Saudi students studying in Canadian universities, ordering them to return home.

This time, the feud cannot be explained away by power politics or regional scheming.

“There is absolutely no way that a tweet from the Canadian Foreign Ministry will have any effect domestically or regionally on Saudi Arabia,” says Gause.

“This could just come down to personalities. Perhaps it is a case of where you get the crown prince on a bad day.”

Rather than a power play, it may be a symptom of a deeper upset of the system in Saudi Arabia.

Although by no means a democracy, modern Saudi Arabia was built on a careful system of checks and balances within the royal family and between the rulers and Saudi society at large.

The royal family would rule by committee, with the various princes and branches of the family, elites, clerics, and technocrats playing a role in the decisionmaking process.

But in the past two years, Saudi insiders say, as Bin Salman takes policy decisions alone, other royals, clerics, elites, and technocrats are “left in the dark” – and none are allowed to criticize or challenge a decision.

Without those informal restraints to keep a ruler’s worst impulses in check, analysts say, we may now be witnessing the whims of an unfiltered and unbound Saudi royal.

In an era of strongmen with thin skin, launching a trade war and a smear campaign to avenge a perceived personal slight is becoming a norm – and in Saudi Arabia there is no institution to moderate it.

“It may just be that MBS has a prickly personality and takes these things as personal insults,” Gause says. “This is the new Saudi Arabia.”

Canada got exactly what it deserved with its stand against Saudi Arabia

August 19, 2018

Isn’t it interesting that the Justin Trudeau government, which now represents Canada to the world, has adopted a foreign policy that is dominated by human rights concerns at a level of evangelical fervour.


This is not all bad. We are taking positive strides in correcting our own deficiencies in honouring the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights that we co-authored some 70 years ago. Unfortunately, many UN countries do not place individual human rights as important to their existential foundation. China for one.

Saudi Arabia is another. Historically, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as we know it today was founded by Ibn Sa’ud in 1932 as a religiously guided country. The alliance of the House of Sa’ud and the followers of a religious sheikh, ‘Abd al-Wahhab, dates back to 1744 when most of the Arabian Peninsula had deteriorated into violent chaos socially and politically. The Wahhabi’s mounted a religious war to save their civilization. They determined to stabilize the fragmentation of Islam by denouncing all and any religious concepts or practices that came into being after the third century of the Islamic Era. The House of Sa’ud became their military and political arm. Together, they conquered and united most of the Arabian Peninsula including the sacred cities of Mecca and Medina. While they were defeated themselves by the Ottoman Empire in 1819, the alliance re-emerged in the early 20th century. The Arabian Peninsula tribes were reunited when they captured Riyadh and established an absolute monarchy headed by the House of Sa’ud. Then they struck oil and became a global political force.

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And now we have Mohammad bin Salam, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, First Deputy Prime Minister, President of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs and the world’s youngest Minister of Defence. The country’s constitution is the Quran and the Sunnah, and he has to comply with Sharia Law. There is opposition from Sunni Islamists, the Shi’ite minority, tribal opponents, international civil rights movements, and fringe group terrorists. Wahhabi clerics oppose the actions he has started to improve the lives of women. Saudi Arabia has land borders with the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman and Yemen. It has sea boundaries with Egypt, Eritrea, Sudan, Bahrain and Iran. It is the world’s largest oil producer and exporter and the world’s second-largest arms importer. He embroiled his country in a civil war in Yemen when Iran intervened on the rebel side. Saudi Arabia is a complicated nation to manage internationally and internally. And he has a despotic personality.

As for Canada, we knew the recent trouble Germany and Sweden got into by attacking Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. We did nothing to come to their aid when the crown prince attacked them politically. Now it is our turn.

It is one thing to criticize and to take action in defence of any Canadian when being mistreated in another country. And it is important for Canadians to know that our government is acting positively on our behalf. However, when Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland directed the Canadian Embassy in Saudi Arabia to release her criticism on Twitter in Arabic so that it could be widely read by Saudis, we got exactly what we deserve.

Remember Charles de Gaulle and Quebec Libre?

How some Canadians see things:

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