The latest excuse from Saudi Arabia for the death of Jamal Khashoggi is that he started it — he started a fist fight with a team of 15 professional killers, and they had to defend themselves by hacking him apart with a bonesaw. Our president* might well be willing to accept that story, but it’s out of character for Khashoggi and not compatible with the intent of Mohammed bin Salman and the ruling class of Saudi Arabia.
The murder is nothing new: the regime has been vicious and repressive for a long time, and this is just one case that has erupted into the public eye — it is actually a major error by Mohammed bin Salman, who has been trying to misrepresent himself as a progressive reformer. He’s not. He’s just another criminal thug who has been handed vast sums of money and excessive power by an archaic political system. We’ve seen all the warning signs that he was not a power for reform. Remember Raif Badawi?
The kingdom has long been an absolute monarchy that does not tolerate open dissent, but this kind of repression is new. In earlier times, Saudi rulers restricted behavior, often under severe interpretations of Islamic law, and carried out barbaric punishments. We have often called attention to the unjust treatment of blogger Raif Badawi, who was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to 1,000 lashes — 50 were delivered in a public square in Jeddah before it was stopped — and 10 years in prison for online posts that challenged the religious authorities to allow a more pluralistic and moderate practice of Islam. The system was intolerant and harsh.
The powers-that-be in Saudi Arabia have been reshaping their laws to allow themselves greater latitude to oppress.
Almost all prosecutions of political and human rights activists have been channeled through the Specialized Criminal Court, originally established in 2008 to handle terrorism cases, where defendants often do not have lawyers during the investigative phase, and pretrial detentions can be arbitrary and lengthy. In October 2017, the kingdom updated its counterterrorism law, which was already overly broad, to add a host of tripwires to criminalize free expression. For example, the definition of terrorism was extended to those who “describe” the king or crown prince “in any way offensive to religion or justice.”
Oh, great. Now I’m a terrorist, because I’m going to openly say that the king and crown prince are goddamn evil motherfuckers.
That actually felt good. I’m going to have to curse the elites of Saudia Arabian society more often.
I remember, once upon a time, feeling that maybe Saudi Arabia was making progress — like when they started allowing women to drive. I was mistaken. It seems that one good reason to allow women to drive is that it gives you an easy way to tag a female dissident.
A good example of how the environment has changed is the case of female activists who had long sought the right to drive, and to change the guardianship system, which gives men the authority to make critical decisions on behalf of their female relatives. For years, the women had carefully pushed for change while staying largely within bounds the government could accept. But the new crown prince could not tolerate their voices. He granted women the right to drive — and then punished those who had worked for that reform. In May, 11 of them were arrested. Several remain in jail, accused of serious crimes that could bring long prison sentences, including “suspicious contact with foreign parties” and undermining the “security and stability” of the state. They have been vilified in the media; a pro-government Twitter account posted images of those arrested with the word “traitor” splattered in red across their faces, Human Rights Watch reported.
Cancel that arms deal our goddamn evil motherfucker of a president is so proud of. It’s the least we can do. Unfortunately, our GEM of a president aspires to by the tyrant ruler of a pariah state, just like the Saudi king, and is going to do nothing.