Sometimes when witnessing an argument, it’s not easy to figure out which side to support. Take the recent spat between Canada and Saudi Arabia. On the one hand, you have Canada asking Saudi Arabia for the release of peaceful human rights activists. On the other hand, you have Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most repressive regimes, completely melt down in response.
That’s a tough one.
To make things easier, an official Saudi government account then tweeted out an image of a jet heading toward a tall building in Toronto — as though the world needed a reminder that most of the 9/11 attackers hailed from Saudi Arabia and that the operation was funded by Saudi money.
Now deleted, here a screenshot of the threatening Saudi "infographic" featuring an airliner headed for the Toronto skyline. pic.twitter.com/LrkCLxxjFk
— Tobias Schneider (@tobiaschneider) August 6, 2018
In the kingdom’s defense, it later deleted the tweet and apologized for it — because Saudi rulers don’t have a problem with oppressing most of the country’s population but they’d rather not draw attention to their support for international terrorism.
While the tweet was deleted, the other over-the-top responses are still in place. Saudi Arabia kicked out Canada’s ambassador and recalled its own, canceled flights to Canada from its state airline, froze new trade and investment transactions between the countries and forced government-backed Saudis studying at Canadian universities to withdraw.
All of that simply because of this:
Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in #SaudiArabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists.
— Foreign Policy CAN (@CanadaFP) August 3, 2018
It’s almost as though Saudi Arabia doesn’t like it when others point out that the kingdom has a dismal human rights record.
But before we get to that, let’s give Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman his due. On some issues, the new force in Saudi Arabia’s power structure has brought the kingdom into the 19th century. For example, women are now allowed to drive. And, as part of bin Salman’s efforts to “modernize” the country, women are permitted to attend sporting events — in a whopping three of the country’s stadiums.
In case you are wondering, the kingdom has a lot more than three stadiums — but when you’re running a misogynistic regime, you can’t really expect men to be in the vicinity of women when they want to watch a soccer game.
And those are the areas in which Saudi Arabia is making progress.
It’s looking pretty bleak in others — both domestically and internationally. In Yemen’s civil war, the Saudis are trying to flex their military muscle at the head of a coalition fighting against the Shi’a Houthi rebels. In the process, they are accused of having committed various human rights violations, and coalition airstrikes have killed thousands of civilians.
At home, Saudi Arabia is no stranger to human rights violations. In fact, it would be much easier to list the people in the kingdom who are not subject to discrimination or persecution of some kind. As a good rule of thumb, unless you are a male, straight member of the royal family, who does not speak out about human rights abuses, you should probably always feel a bit uneasy.
Here are just some highlights from Amnesty International’s most recent report on Saudi Arabia:
- Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees remains common and widespread.
- Shi’a Muslims are discriminated against because of their faith, and their rights, including the rights to work and to access state services, may be restricted. Earlier this year, four Shi’a Muslims received a death sentence for protest-related offenses. (Speaking of the death penalty, in the midst of this row with Canada, Saudi Arabia crucified a man.)
- Peaceful demonstrations are prohibited.
- Although reforms may be coming in this area, women need to have the permission of a male guardian (e.g., their father, husband, brother, or son) to get a job, travel, or enroll in a university.
So here is a piece of advice (for which we would probably be arrested, stoned, tortured, and crucified if we were in Saudi Arabia): If you don’t like people pointing out that your human rights record sucks, maybe you should focus on not being a tyrannical regime instead of sanctioning countries whose leaders point out what is dismally apparent to the rest of the world.
The cartoon above was created by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy from these images: Mohammed bin Salman caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), MSB Body (The White House / Wikimedia), howitzer (DOD), public square (Qrmoo3 / Wikimedia – CC BY-SA 4.0), goose one (Randen Pederson / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), goose two (Phil Roeder / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), goose three (Courtesy of the photographer), hand (Robert L. Knudsen / Wikimedia), and flag (National Guard).