After uniting against the barbaric attacks against freedom of expression in Paris earlier this month; in the wake of the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, world leaders have shamed themselves by praising a dictator who repressed the personal liberties of his citizens. In Britain, the Union Jack of Whitehall was dropped to half mast, David Cameron sniffled that he was ‘deeply saddened’ and Prince Charles confirmed he would be flying south to pay respects to an old friend. Elsewhere, the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon praised Abdullah’s ‘generous humanitarian and developmental support’– in a country which refuses to sign the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Whilst in the US, Secretary of State John Kerry hailed Abdullah as ‘a man of wisdom and vision’. Such eulogies reflect a pathetic subservience to the Saudi regime, and ignore the reality of life in Saudi Arabia.
King Abdullah presided over a system of governance which stamped on the face of the liberties we in Britain take for granted. Common human rights for minorities remain non- existent. Homosexuals are murdered, as are those who refuse to follow the states orthodox Islamic ideology. For those who wish to argue against the state’s atrocities, they do so at the risk of having their liberty utterly deprived. A case in point is the treatment of the blogger Raif Badawi who, using the internet, championed secularism and free expression. The government responded by imprisoning Badawi for ten years. Additionally, he will be publicly tortured to the count of a 1000 lashes conducted on a weekly basis. His fate- to which world leaders, in their cowardice, have barely attempted to avert- is not uncommon. Some are even unluckier. The death penalty is frequently imposed, at least 79 people were killed in 2013, often for vague reasons including ‘witchcraft and sorcercy’- a euphemism for non- Islamic religious and cultural practices.
Employing the excesses of Islamic Sharia, women’s rights are extremely limited. They live as property of husbands and male relatives and face unequal status in the eyes of the law where a male witness is worth two females. Women are unable to travel without permission, will be arrested for attempting to drive and must conceal their individualities by masking themselves in a hijab. Abdullah himself imprisoned four of his own daughters for promoting women’s rights.
Our lack of solidarity with the likes of Raif Badawi, and other secular liberals in Saudi Arabia, serve only to encourage Abdullah’s successor Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud who has immediately asserted that social and political reform will not be prioritised. Perhaps real diplomatic pressure from democratic countries and the United Nations could help move Saudi Arabia away from barbarity, but this voice is yet to be found.
It is understandable why the status quo in Saudi Arabia is facilitated by western nations such as Britain. We allow ourselves to be bribed: the nation purchases British military exports to the value of £1.8 billion yearly, it is the largest producer of oil worldwide and has been mostly co- operative with western endeavours in the Middle East such as the ongoing air strikes against the Islamic State. However, regardless of how profitable Saudia Arabia may be to us and our allies; it remains an authoritarian dictatorship- an example of totalitarianism which must always be opposed.
By Matthew Webb
[Image Credit: Andrew A. Shenouda]