|Insiders: Members of Saudi royal family attend funeral |
of Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz in Mecca,
June 17, 2012. AFP/Saudi Press Agency
(If anyone out there is put off by that characterization, we wonder why. As the people at Freedom House who study these things point out:
"Saudi Arabia is not an electoral democracy. The 1992 Basic Law declares that the Koran and the Sunna (the guidance set by the deeds and sayings of the prophet Muhammad) are the country’s constitution. The cabinet, which is appointed by the king, passes legislation that becomes law once ratified by royal decree. The king also appoints a 150-member Majlis al-Shura (Consultative Council) every four years, though it serves only in an advisory capacity... Women are not treated as equal members of society, and many laws discriminate against them. They are not permitted to vote in municipal elections, drive cars, or travel within or outside of the country without a male relative... Islam is the official religion, and all Saudis are required by law to be Muslims. The government prohibits the public practice of any religion other than Islam... Academic freedom is restricted, and informers monitor classrooms for compliance with curriculum rules... The judiciary, which must coordinate its decisions with the executive branch, is not independent... The penal code bans torture, but allegations of torture by police and prison officials are common, and access to prisoners by independent human rights and legal organizations is strictly limited... Substantial prejudice against ethnic, religious, and national minorities prevails..."And so on. In their most recent ranking, Freedom House gave Saudi Arabia the lowest possible score on all three of their measures of freedom.)
This strikes us as a good moment to reflect on how the laws of some of the most powerful countries in the Arab world get less scrutiny than perhaps they deserve. To demonstrate this, we offer an extract from a startling review (published five weeks ago) of a new legislative initiative that focuses on Saudi prevention of terrorism, sort of:
Saudi Arabia's new terrorism law might look like a step forward, if only because it's written down. Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries with no written criminal penal code, and the penal regulations that authorities have issued are so vague that Saudis are mostly in the dark about what specific acts constitute crimes. The Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing (the "terrorism law") is the latest of a series of criminal laws that Saudi officials have created over the last five years, under international pressure to reform the criminal justice system. But instead of achieving their stated purpose of defining specific crimes, in practice these piecemeal reforms have created a veneer of legality for ongoing human rights abuses by Saudi criminal justice authorities. The terrorism law is no exception... Inside the kingdom, "terrorism" can evidently be non-violent—it comprises "any act" intended to, among other things, "insult the reputation of the state," "harm public order" or "shake the stability of the state," which the law fails to clearly define... The terrorism law is a vague, catch-all document that can—and probably will—be used to prosecute or jail anyone who criticizes the Saudi government and to violate their due process rights along the way... The law applies not only to Saudi citizens or residents, but to non-Saudi citizens outside the kingdom, who could face terrorism charges for aiming to "infringe on the interests of the kingdom, or its economy, or its national or social security"... [It allows Saudi authorities to send accused persons] including those who have not faced trial—to special "rehabilitation centers" that aim to "correct incorrect concepts" or "deepen patriotism" in lieu of detention and prosecution. [Source: "Terrorism to Ignore Due Process in Saudi Arabia", Adam Coogle, JURIST - Hotline, Feb. 22, 2014]according to Amnesty International's tally. Second was Iran with 1,663. And in third place, Saudi Arabia with 423, well ahead of fourth-ranked Iraq's 256.
The Saudis are also among the last four remaining countries, along with Iran, Syria and Yemen [source: Wikipedia], that carry out executions in public - including in the center of the capital, Riyadh.
Tomorrow's visit makes Saudi Arabia the only Middle Eastern or Gulf nation on Obama’s overseas itinerary. A serious opportunity for the Leader of the Free World to explain matters to his eager hosts, right?
We can think of some talking points (borrowed from this source) that we wish his speech-makers would consider adding to the presidential Powerpoint:
- "Saudi Arabia’s links to jihadist groups go back decades."
- Fifteen of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi.
- "The 9/11 Commission Report identified Saudi Arabia as the main source of al-Qaeda financing."
- "In 2010, WikiLeaks published U.S. diplomatic cables which identified Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups."
- "Members of Congress and human rights organizations have also been calling on Obama to address the kingdom’s treatment of women, religious minorities and political activists."
“Saudi Arabia is a close partner of the United States, and we have a bilateral relationship that is broad and deep and covers a range of areas.”