The king of Saudi Fascist Arabia has died and his half-brother has replaced him. The New York Times gives some background.
Abdullah’s reign was a constant effort to balance desert traditions with the demands of the modern world, making him appear at times to be shifting from one to the other.
When popular movements and insurgencies overthrew or threatened long-established Arab rulers from Tunisia to Yemen in 2011, he reacted swiftly.
On his return from three months of treatment for a herniated disk and a blood clot in New York and Morocco, his government spent $130 billion to build 500,000 units of low-income housing, to bolster the salaries of government employees and to ensure the loyalty of religious organizations.
He also created a Facebook page, where citizens were invited to present their grievances directly to him, although it was not known how many entries actually reached him.
Was it known how many people ended up in prison for having grievances?
But in at least two telephone calls he castigated President Obama for encouraging democracy in the Middle East, saying it was dangerous. And he showed no tolerance in his country for the sort of dissent unfolding elsewhere.
The grand mufti, the kingdom’s highest religious official, proclaimed that Islam forbade street protests. Scores of protesters who failed to heed that message were arrested in the chiefly Shiite eastern provinces. A new law imposed crippling fines for offenses, like threatening national security, that could be broadly interpreted.
Imagine our surprise.
Abdullah’s Saudi Arabia had hurtled from tribal pastoralism to advanced capitalism in little more than a generation. The fundamentalist clerics who gave the family legitimacy remained a powerful force. Women who appeared in public without the required covering risked arrest or a beating from the religious police.
And Raif Badawi was tortured for uttering some thoughts about secularism and liberalism.
The king also grappled with domestic crises. The deaths of 15 girls in a dormitory fire in Mecca in 2002 caused an international uproar when it was learned that the religious police had not let them escape from the flames because they were not properly dressed. Furious, the king dismissed the head of women’s education.
In 2007, he pardoned a teenage girl who had been sentenced to six months in jail and 100 lashes after being raped. She was convicted after being found in a car alone with a man who was not her relative, a crime under Saudi law.
Though Abdullah made it clear that he thought the girl was guilty, pleasing the religious authorities, he pardoned her, he said, “for the greater good.”
The piece doesn’t mention Raif Badawi.