To my astonishment and dismay, Western powers, human rights groups and international institutions have ganged-up against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia alleging “human rights abuses” over its execution of 47 terrorists, tried and sentenced for their crimes following lengthy transparent trials.
Rather than salute the Kingdom for its zero tolerance policy towards terrorists, many of Saudi’s so-called allies seek to undermine its efforts with scurrilous statements and condemnatory rhetoric. Such criticism not only has little basis, in fact in many cases it is spewed by some of the biggest human rights abusers on the planet.
No country has the right to interfere with another’s domestic affairs, let alone criticise its laws or judicial process. Every state must protect its people and state institutions from those who would do harm in the best way it sees fit – and this is especially pertinent in a region splintered by violence and conflict.
Firstly, Saudi Arabia, which borders war torn Yemen and Iraq and is being openly threatened by Iran, is in a particularly sensitive situation. As such, it cannot afford to turn a blind eye to snakes within that are plotting its downfall, no matter their religious persuasion.
Secondly, the Kingdom is the victim here when its embassy and consulate in Iran came under state-sponsored mob attacks; their computers and documents stolen even as diplomats called upon authorities for help which went unheeded. Yet, instead of condemning the Iranian government for once again breaching diplomatic norms, the United States, the United Kingdom and the United Nations are blaming Saudi Arabia for executing a Saudi Shi’a cleric who organised violent demonstrations against the government, supported terrorist cells and used his sermons to call for the overthrow of the state.
Thirdly, this is a case of people in glass houses. Take the US, whose invasion of Iraq spawned “Islamic State” (IS) and was the prime cause of the sectarian divisions Iraq and its neighbours now face. When we remember Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, renditions, torture and the ongoing extrajudicial assassinations, clearly President Barack Obama’s staff have taken courses in hypocrisy 101.
White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes has urged the Saudi government to show respect for human rights while senior administration figures slam Riyadh for “an apparent absence of due process” and “negligent disregard” for acting in ways that destabilise the region.
If there is one country to be blamed for inflaming the area, it is the United States that removed Saddam Hussein, a buffer between Iranian expansionism and Gulf states, toppled Muammar Gaddafi abandoning Libya to armed militias, and stood aside as IS swept over great swathes of Iraq and Syria. Those errors of judgment were compounded last year by Obama’s nuclear pact with Iran.
And how can anyone take US critics seriously when the country’s presidential candidates call for all Muslim visitors to be banned along with vetted refugees, including orphans as young as five-years-old? What moral right does the US have to wag its finger at others over the death penalty when 31 of its states variously hang condemned prisoners, place them before a firing squad, subject them to electrocution, gas them or finish them off with lethal injections which often go wrong? Last year a death row inmate Joseph Wood suffered one of the longest executions in US history, taking two hours to die from a botched lethal injection.
Since 1976, the US has executed 1,422 convicts, 28 this year and 35 in 2014. Analysis undertaken by legal experts in Michigan and Pennsylvania found that 4.1% were victims of a miscarriage of justice. Kudos to Obama for issuing an executive order related to gun control, but his tears for the victims of gun crimes merely echoed US double standards when it is the world’s greatest supplier of lethal weapons.
The EU, which never fails to jump to Washington’s command, has issued a statement asserting the execution of Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr raises “serious concerns regarding freedom of expression and the respect of basic civil and political rights”. That complaint rings hollow from countries with refugees fleeing bombs and terrorism stuck in the freezing cold without food on their borders pleading to be allowed entry when it is their duty to give them asylum under international refugee conventions.
As for basic civil and political rights, France rightly banned demonstrations in response to terrorist attacks while deploying the army to patrol its streets. When a country is threatened – as France was and Saudi Arabia is – it tightens its security to ensure its people’s safety.
Britain’s comments have been fairly low key, for which Prime Minister David Cameron is being criticised. However, the Foreign Office reiterated the UK’s opposition to the “death penalty in all circumstances” as undermining human dignity. That view is Britain’s prerogative, but why is the government singling out Saudi Arabia, when its closest ally, the US, is high on the death penalty statistics list, in company with Iran, Iraq and North Korea?
The same can be said for the United Nations. Its Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon has cited concerns over the nature of the charges and fairness of the judicial process, while urging Saudi Arabia to commute all death sentences. Who is he to judge the fairness of Saudi trials when he was not present – and why does he not address similar remarks to the governments of China, Iran and the US? The UN would do well to concentrate on its problems when its peacekeepers are being investigated for the sexual exploitation of underage girls and women in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Haiti, and South Sudan.
Criticisms from the leaderships of Iraq would be laughable if the matter was not as serious. “Violating human rights leads to repercussions on the security, stability and the social fabric of the peoples of the region,” said Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi. Well, he should know! His Shi’a-dominated government is one of the biggest violators of human rights and the greatest conductor of oppression and sectarian bias, having sold out the Iraqi people to Tehran. When Arab country after Arab country is breaking off relations with Iran, his Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari was in Tehran genuflecting before his masters.
Naturally, human rights organisations have jumped on the bash-Saudi bandwagon with enthusiasm. Human Rights Watch, accused of being a revolving door for the CIA, accuses Saudi of discriminating against Shi’a citizens, notwithstanding that Al-Nimr was the only Shi’a among 46 others. Reprieve urges the UK not to “turn a blind eye to such atrocities”. What atrocities; the execution of terrorists? Amnesty International, which prioritises the rights of terrorists over their victims, stated the carrying out of dozens of executions on the same day marks “a dizzying descent to yet another outrageous low for Saudi Arabia”. Would it have been acceptable if the executions had been stretched out over a year as they are in the US?
It is strange that these groups are focusing on the Kingdom, whereas over 700 individuals have been hanged by Iran this year alone (many of them Sunnis), a female cartoonist is on trial for the ‘crime’ of shaking hands with her lawyer, a woman was sentenced to be stoned to death as recently as last December and poets and writers are being rounded up and tried.
In short, countries with blood on their hands should mind their own business. Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies have had enough of foreign interference and are resolved to stand against Iranian plots whatever it takes. We will no longer listen to states that contributed to our dangerous neighbourhood. The reaction of Saudi’s fake allies is both disappointing and eye-opening. At least now we know which states to trust and those we cannot, a lesson I pray has been well learned.
Khalaf Al Habtoor is a businessman and chairman of Al Habtoor Group. Al Habtoor Group is a Dubai based cooperation with extensive business interests in the region and worldwide, including: hospitality, education, automotive and real estate.