Friday, April 03, 2015

Blog #7: Saudi Officials Retaliate to Open Criticism of Non-Democratic Policies

Just recently, Sweden’s feminist human-rights activist Margot Wallstrom publicly criticized the Saudi authorities for their reducement of women in Saudi Arabia, and their recent trial of human-rights advocate Raif Badawi. He was was sentenced to a 10-year prison term and 1,000 public lashings for criticizing Saudi clerics. Not only did this open denouncement of Saudi practices make the Arab authorities angry, but also Quebec’s Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil said this past Wednesday, April 1st, that her province also would continue to root for Badawi’s release from prison, and with his wife and children having fled Saudi Arabia to Quebec in 2013, Quebec’s authorities in February had already decided on a resolution calling for his immediate release.

With insult from the foreign minister added to the prior public injury, Saudi authorities angrily denounced Weil, recalled their ambassador and announced a sudden, and immediately effective, travel ban on Swedes, which included any business relations.  Along with the foreign ministers of he Arab League, Saudi officials came up with a clean rebuttal, which denoted Weil’s public opinion as “incompatible with the fact that the constitution of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is based on Sharia law.”

As author of the article Harry Sterling puts it, Wallstrom was being told that the Saudi authorities (and their new king), and other Muslim leaders in the League would not stand for such criticism of their policies that been effective and primarily unchanged since the death of the prophet Mohammed in 632. In essence, the Saudis were making a clear stand that they were not subject to the same universal human rights commitments granted all people under the United Nations charter.

I think it’s important here to regard two factors in this debate. One: the open criticism is coming from two Westernized nations, and two: that the fingers pointed at Saudi Arabia have automatically been pointed to the other countries in the Arab League as well. I agree with Wallstrom and Weil; Saudi Arabia’s policies fit the definition of an extremist state. In fact in my own analysis, Saudi Arabia’s quick and rather harsh denouncement of the Swedish minister presents the argument that it could be one of the most extremist states of the Arab League. It is true that under strict Sharia Law and unchanged royal policies regarding women, criminal trials, and other things fit the characteristics of a very conservative state. However it is also unfair to quickly shun Saudi policies if they don’t quite fit the criteria of a democratic nation’s opinion of what an ideal institution. Openly criticizing Saudi Arabia (and by extension the surrounding Muslim nations) results in a risk of economic interests being broken. 

It is a bit of an issue that Saudi officials refuse to follow the policies of the United Nations charter, but according to the article, Saudi Arabia never signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s extremist ways present a critical problem for the social advancement of its people, but even with a lack of democracy and fundamental human rights, Saudi society itself is slowly evolving, both economically and socially. Increasing numbers of young Saudis are better educated, and are being allowed to study abroad, especially in Western democracies whose governments backed the continued oppressive rule of the Saud dynasty (and where does the United States lie in this matter, as one of the biggest democratic nations holding diplomatic relations with the country for twenty years or more now). There’s room for improvement is, in general, what Weil and Wallstrom were trying to say. However, light needs to be shed on the fact that Saudi Arabia’s conservative polices will be in place as long has their royal head holds power. 

Salwa Majeed
10:17 PM

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