King Abdullah, a feminist? Don’t make me laugh

January 23, 2015

[Notes below by Tom Gross]

I attach several articles on King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who died today. (I posted these earlier today on my public Facebook page.)

For those pressed for time, I recommend reading at least the first two. The first is a tough critique of the Saudi regime, and the second a good round-up of the sycophantic tributes paid to this despot.

In London, flags are being flown at half-mast on government buildings to mark Abdullah’s death, while there is still silence about the appalling punishment inflicted on human rights hero, Raif Badawi

As Andrew Brown points out in the article below, it is not only Saudis who have suffered: “Saudi’s influence on the outside world is almost wholly malign. The young men it sent to fight in Afghanistan turned into al-Qaida. The Sunni jihadis whom Saudis have funded in Iraq and Syria turned into Isis. It has spread a poisonous form of Islam throughout Europe with its subsidies, and corrupted western politicians and businessmen with its culture of bribery. The Saudis have always appealed to the worst forms of western imperialism: their contempt for other Muslims is as great as any American nationalist’s.”

Abdullah had around 30 wives, 15 sons and 20 daughters, two of have been imprisoned in the palace for the last 13 years.



1. “King Abdullah embodied the wickedness of Saudi Arabia’s regime” (By Andrew Brown, The Guardian, Jan. 23, 2015)
2. “Why is Westminster Abbey honouring the king of a country where Christianity is banned?” (By Ed West, The Spectator, Jan. 23, 2015)
3. “Our ally Saudi Arabia beheaded 10 people this month” (By David Keyes, The Daily Beast, Jan. 18, 2015)
4. “King Abdullah, a feminist? Don’t make me laugh” (By Anne Perkins, The Guardian, Jan. 23, 2015)


King Abdullah embodied the wickedness of Saudi Arabia’s regime

Change may be looming for Saudi Arabia, but reforming a country where torture, corruption and judicial murder are commonplace won’t be easy

By Andrew Brown
The Guardian
January 23, 2015

We can always look on the bright side of the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and the accession of Prince Salman. It shows that, if reports of his ill-health are true, dementia can’t stop you reaching the very top – at least if you have the right parents. It is a danger for many political systems that they end up being run by men whose faculties are no longer up to it: think of Pope John Paul II in his long decline, Churchill after his strokes, Ronald Reagan or the Soviet gerontocracy. But Saudi is unique in the modern world in choosing as leader a man believed to be in decline even before he comes to power.

It is a final touch of absurdity in a kingdom that is wicked in itself, and a source of wickedness and corruption elsewhere in the world. Saudi Arabia practices torture and arbitrary judicial murder. Women are beheaded in the street, liberal thought is punishable by flogging, which can be a death sentence even more horrific, because it is more prolonged than having your head hacked off with a sword. It is a raft of fear and hatred lashed together, floating on unimaginable amounts of money, at least for the lucky few. Among the poor, not all of whom are slaves or foreigners, there is tufshan, a special word defined by an anthropologist as “subtle and incapacitating torpor”.

Saudi’s influence on the outside world is almost wholly malign. The young men it sent to fight in Afghanistan turned into al-Qaida. The Sunni jihadis whom Saudis have funded in Iraq and Syria turned into Isis. It has spread a poisonous form of Islam throughout Europe with its subsidies, and corrupted western politicians and businessmen with its culture of bribery. The Saudis have always appealed to the worst forms of western imperialism: their contempt for other Muslims is as great as any American nationalist’s.

But it is very hard to see what reforms might make it better. The example of the Soviet Union shows how chaotic and dreadful the collapse of a totalitarian autocracy can be. Although the Saudis will still have Islam if their state collapses – the Soviets lost their ideology as well their empire – their narrow and puritanical interpretation of Islam can hardly lead to peace. Besides, they face Shia enemies in an arc from Syria in the north, through Iraq and Iran, all the way round to Yemen in the south, where an insurgency is steadily gaining strength; and there is a Shia minority, ruthlessly suppressed, in the kingdom itself.

All these threats must strengthen the apparatus of repression and the belief of the rulers that if they lose their grip they will fall and be trampled in their turn. They may very well be right. It will require a truly wise and skilled leader to navigate what lies ahead. The grovelling tributes paid to the late king by western politicians describe the imaginary Saudi king we need, not those we have had or are likely to get.



Why is Westminster Abbey honouring the king of a country where Christianity is banned?
By Ed West
The Spectator
January 23, 2015

Private Eye will have a field day when it comes to the tributes being paid to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia – it’ll be like beheading fish in a barrel (for adultery). Among the tributes paid to the people’s medieval theocrat was one by David Cameron, who said:

“I am deeply saddened to hear of the death of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abd Al Aziz Al Saud.

“He will be remembered for his long years of service to the Kingdom, for his commitment to peace and for strengthening understanding between faiths.

“I sincerely hope that the long and deep ties between our two Kingdoms will continue and that we can continue to work together to strengthen peace and prosperity in the world.”

“PS We’re having a special deal on Typhoons [fighter jets] at the moment – 6 for 5. D.C.”

Ok, he didn’t say that last bit.

Then there was Angela Merkel, who said King Abdullah’s policies “brought him and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia respect and recognition. With wisdom, foresight and great personal dedication, he strove for a cautious modernization of his country and for dialogue between the Islamic world and the West.” Considering women still aren’t allowed to drive, I think cautious is a bit of an understatement.

Likewise with the IMG’s Christine Lagarde, who said Saudi King Abdullah was a strong advocate of women “in a very discreet way”.

Indeed – very discreet! As for Tony Blair, who said that the king was a “staunch advocate of inter faith relations”, when they read that out in the office did all they burst out laughing like bad guys in 1980s action films?

I believe in showing respect to the dead but do world leaders have to openly grovel to a country that exports Islamism around the world, whose ideology has poisoned countries like Pakistan and Indonesia, and which has funded Islamist murderers in Syria and Iraq. Abdullah’s kingdom is currently half-way through flogging a man to death for blogging and holds public beheadings for such crimes as witchcraft and homosexuality. So let’s not fall over ourselves here.

The nicest thing that can be said about the Saudi royals is that the alternative would almost certainly be even more ghastly (an alternative created by the Saudis themselves, of course). Most craven of all is the decision by Westminster Abbey to fly a flag at half-mast, a church honouring the leader of a country where conversion to Christianity is a capital offence. It’s appropriate for the Foreign Office in Whitehall to mark the late king’s passing, but for a church to do so, when Saudi treats Christians so badly, is utterly pathetic. If the Saudis despise us for such craven behaviour, they are right to.

Of all the world leaders, the only one who comes out of this well is Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, who said:

“I wish a peaceful rest for the late King, patience for his family and I wish success for the people and the government of Saudi Arabia.”

An appropriate and dignified response to the death of a king.



Our Ally Saudi Arabia Beheaded 10 People This Month
By David Keyes
The Daily Beast
January 18, 2015

American diplomats pay lip service to human rights while tens of billions of dollars in arms are shipped to the Kingdom of Hate, where you can be executed for 'sorcery' or tweeting about Islam.
If there is one point of consensus from the many Middle Eastern freedom fighters I’ve spoken with over the last decade, it is that Saudi Arabia is the root of all evil. Everywhere one looks, the fruits of Saudi-backed extremism are clear.

In the past two weeks, Saudi Arabia beheaded 10 people. Last year it beheaded nearly 90, a sharp spike from 2013. The “crimes” vary but the absurdity of the theocratic judicial system does not. Critique of the king is banned by law. Liberals are flogged, women drivers jailed and dissidents tortured. Saudi religious police ban “tempting eyes” and assert the right to cover any woman’s seductive gaze. Women cannot travel without a man’s permission.

The names of the victims begin to run together and are quickly forgotten. Khaled Johani, jailed for calling for democracy. Amina bint Nasser, beheaded for being a witch. Hamza Kashgari, jailed for questioning Islam on Twitter. Manal al Sharif, imprisoned for driving. Raif Badawy, flogged for opening an online liberal forum. Waleed Abul Khair, locked away for defending rights. Abdul Hamid Al Fakki, head chopped off for sorcery.

Intolerance is Saudi Arabia’s greatest export. The country’s highest religious authority called to burn down all churches in Arabia. Saudi textbooks call Jews the decendents of “apes and pigs.” Christians are forbidden from wearing crosses, building churches or bringing in Bibles.

How does the world react? Total surrender and utter appeasement. Diplomats pay lip service to human rights while tens of billions of dollars in arms are shipped to the Kingdom of Hate. The King is lavished with praise.

The Saudi government, meanwhile, could not get more condescending. They lie through their teeth, confident that no one will lift a finger against them. The Saudi ambassador to the UN, Walid al Muallami, told hundreds of students at New York University that his country had no repression at all and is a “land of opportunity” for everyone. Sure, as long as you’re not gay, a woman, secular, Christian, Jewish, Shiite, liberal, dissident, atheist or a democrat.

No Saudi diplomat should be able to leave his embassy without being confronted with Badawy's name.

One of the main excuses for supporting Saudi Arabia is that they are needed to combat Iran. Relying on one hate-mongering, xenophobic tyranny to combat another is a very bad bet. Iran is undoubtedly one of the most dangerous regimes on Earth and the free world must apply enormous pressure against it, but backing Saudi Arabia is not the answer. Iran can be undermined without relying on the Kingdom of Hate.

I am told over and over that Saudi Arabia has no liberals. It is true that Saudi culture is deeply conservative and liberalism is not exactly teeming over. But what are democracies doing to support those few Saudi democrats who risk life and limb for a more tolerant future? The answer is next to nothing.

The leaders of the free world have abandoned Saudi liberals, but you need not. Raif Badawy’s wife posted on, Advancing Human Rights’ new crowd-sourcing platform, to alert the world that her husband could die if the lashes continue. Global pressure led the Kingdom to postpone the lashes. But if his life is to be saved, much more must be done. No Saudi diplomat should be able to leave his embassy without being confronted with Badawy’s name.

Support for Saudi Arabia has come at an enormous cost. Tens of millions of children have been indoctrinated with hatred and bigotry. Extremist groups have been funded throughout the region. Liberals have been viciously cut down. Any semblance of Western credibility has crumbled as democracy activists see unceasing support for one of the most tyrannical regimes on the planet.

Ordinary people around the world should stand in solidarity with Badawy and the many other political prisoners in Saudi Arabia. It is not only a moral duty, it is a strategic opportunity. Empowering Arab liberals and reformers, abandoned for decades, is the only hope for a more stable and peaceful Middle East.



King Abdullah, a feminist? Don’t make me laugh
Christine Lagarde has praised the Saudi despot’s contribution to women’s rights. But his record was dismal and the more we shout about it, the better

By Anne Perkins
The Guardian
January 23, 2015

Christine Lagarde, the first woman to head the IMF, has paid tribute to the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. He was a strong advocate of women, she said. This is almost certainly not what she thinks. She even hedged her remarks about with qualifiers like “discreet” and “appropriate”. There are constraints of diplomacy and obligations of leadership and navigating between them can be fraught. But this time there was only one thing to say. Abdullah led a country that abuses women’s rights, and indeed all human rights, in a way that places it beyond normal diplomacy.

The constraints and restrictions on Saudi women are too notorious and too numerous to itemise. Right now, two women are in prison for the offence of trying to drive over the border in to Saudi Arabia. It is not just the ban on driving. There is also the ban on going out alone, the ban on voting, the death penalty for adultery, and the total obliteration of public personality – almost of a sense of existence – by the obligatory veil. And there are the terrible punishments meted out to those who infringe these rules that are not written down but “interpreted” – Islam mediated through the conventions of a deeply conservative people.

Lagarde is right. King Abdullah did introduce reforms. Women can now work almost anywhere they want, although their husband brother or father will have to drive them there (and the children to school). They can now not just study law but practise as lawyers. There are women on the Sharia council and it was through their efforts that domestic violence has been criminalised. But enforcement is in the hands of courts that do not necessarily recognise the change. These look like reforms with all the substance of a Potemkin village, a flimsy structure to impress foreign opinion.

Pressure for change is driven by women themselves, exploiting social media by actions that range from the small, brave actions of defiance – posting images of women at the wheel (ovaries, despite men’s fears, apparently undamaged) – to the large-scale subversive gesture such as the YouTube TV programmes reported by the Economist.

But the point about the Lagarde remarks is that there are signs the Saudi authorities really can be sensitive to the rare criticism that comes from western governments, and the western media. Such protests may yet spare blogger Raif Badawi from further punishment for alleged blasphemy. Today’s lashing has been delayed for the third successive week .The Saudi authorities, like any despotic regime, are trying to appease their critics and contain the pressure for change that social media generates by conceding inch by inch so that, like the slow downhill creep of a glacier, the religious authorities and mainstream social opinion don’t notice it is happening.

But beyond Saudi’s borders, it is surely the duty of everyone who really does believe in equality and human rights to shout and finger point and criticise at every opportunity. Failing to do so is what makes Christine Lagarde’s remarks a betrayal of the women who literally risk everything to try to bring about change in the oppressive patriarchy in which they live. They are typical of the desire not to offend the world’s biggest oil producer and the west’s key Middle Eastern ally, a self-censorship that allows the Saudis to claim they respect human rights while breaching every known norm of behaviour.

Until people like Lagarde abandon the relativist talk that allowed her to claim that Abdullah was a strong advocate for women “in a very discreet way”, or laud the benefits of “gradual” change that is “appropriate” for the country, and simply condemn what should be condemned, millions of women will go on living and dying for want of the most basic rights.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.