Who will defend women against the Saudi regime? – Middle East Monitor
No doubt emboldened by US President Joe Biden’s recent visit and his fist bump with Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, a Saudi judge has just handed down the longest prison sentence ever for a peace and women’s rights activist for posting a few critical tweets about the regime: an obscene 34 years. If this had happened to Salma Al-Shehab in Afghanistan, there would have been global headlines and international outrage, and a weighty statement from the UN Secretary General, no doubt, but the draconian condemnation in Saudi Saudi Arabia only elicited a muted response.
Yet just two days ago, Biden expressed his anger over the attack on novelist Salman Rushdie and called it quits. his statement with these words about the freedom to share ideas without fear or favor: “These are the building blocks of any free and open society. And today, we reaffirm our commitment to these deeply American values in solidarity with Rushdie and all who defend freedom of expression.”
What about Salma Al-Shehab’s right to freedom of expression? What is the position of the most powerful man in the so-called free world on this? Or does the right to criticize those in power only extend to those of us who live in the West?
When it comes to women’s rights, Biden has a lot to say about Afghanistan, but like previous US presidents, he remains silent on human rights and women’s rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. Bin Salman is the kingdom’s de facto ruler and must have been very amused when Biden walked head in hand to his court in Jeddah last month after previously vowing to make Saudi Arabia a ‘pariah’ state. after the murder in October 2018 of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
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The extremely symbolic punch played in front of the media around the world was only the beginning of a ritual humiliation which has cost the Biden administration dearly. It was obvious that such a meeting would initiate the prince’s rehabilitation in the west, less than four years after the assassination of Khashoggi, for which the CIA blamed Bin Salman.
However, with oil prices at their highest in more than a decade and Washington trying to isolate Russia, Biden was like a drug addict desperate to score a hit. This oil-addicted president knew he had to publicly embrace and reconcile with the world’s largest exporter of crude oil. I’m just amazed that we didn’t see this encounter take place on Jeddah Corniche or Tahlia Street.
In fact, however, Biden left the kingdom without the reassurances he sought on human rights or oil, despite humiliating himself in the process. Sadly, it now appears that this thoughtless meeting has also had a negative impact on anyone seeking justice in Saudi courts. Emboldened by this cowardly display by Biden, the end result is reflected in the jail sentence handed down in Al-Shehab’s appeal against the original six-year sentence handed down last year.
She is a PhD student at the University of Leeds in Britain so once I am done writing this I will be straight to my local MP citing her educational link to this country to demand action from the Department of Business foreign. Of course, I already know that Whitehall’s response will be weak and lack the kind of courage and moral fiber that defines people like the courageous Salma Al-Shehab.
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I have previously written to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about my dear friend, Dr Ahmed Farid Moustapha, who was taken away by Saudi security forces during Ramadan 2020 when he was 82 years old. I also spoke about his fate on the terraces of new Saudi football club Newcastle United last season, telling the kingdom they were welcome to buy our club, but could not buy our silence on violations human rights. Dr Moustapha is still locked away somewhere in the brutal Saudi penal system along with thousands of other political prisoners who have dared to exercise their right to freedom of expression.
In addition to his prison sentence handed down by the Specialized Criminal Court of Appeal on August 9, Al-Shehab was handed a meaningless travel ban, also for 34 years. And we now know that after her arrest on January 15, 2021, she was subjected to lengthy interrogation over a period of 285 days before being brought to court. The charges against her by the prosecution included “aiding those who seek to disturb public order and undermine the security of the general public and the stability of the state, and the publication of false rumors and tendentious on Twitter”.
This was all done under various articles of the kingdom’s anti-terrorism law, plus one year under article 6 of the anti-cybercrime law, and five discretionary years added by the presiding judge who deserves his own place in hell for delivering such a vile phrase.
Until the international community finds the courage to stand up to Riyadh, it has no right or moral authority to lecture, punish or sanction anyone about the situation of women’s rights in the world today. Our rights cannot be selected at the whim of weak and irresponsible men like Joe Biden. We know he will never stand up for women in Saudi Arabia, so who will?
The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.