France awards Legion d’Honneur to Saudi leader, as another Saudi liberal is sentenced to 2000 lashes

March 07, 2016

Francois Hollande with Mohammed bin Nayef in Paris on Friday shortly before the Saudi prince was awarded France’s highest honor


1. “Religion of peace”: 2000 lashes for saying you don’t believe in Allah
2. 39 Yemeni universities bombed, yet no “Saudi Apartheid Week”
3. UN elects Syrian government to lead key human rights committee
4. “France awards Legion d’Honneur to Saudi prince” (Guardian, March 7, 2016)
5. “Saudi Arabia sentences a man to 10 years in prison and 2,000 lashes for expressing his atheism on Twitter” (AP / Independent, Feb. 27, 2016)
6. “Saudi Arabia’s unholy war” (By Nasser Arrabyee, Carnegie Endowment for Peace, March 3, 2016)



[Notes by Tom Gross]

This is a follow-up to my recent dispatch “Raif Badawi’s wife pleads with the world not to forget her husband” in which I interviewed the wife of Saudi Arabia’s most famous political prisoner, the freedom of speech advocate Raif Badawi. (Video of my interview here.)

Since then, as I noted on the day of sentencing on my public Facebook page here, the Western-backed Saudi regime sentenced a man to 10 years in prison and (a life-threatening) 2,000 lashes for expressing his atheism in twitter messages.

And now Frances’s left-wing socialist party president Francois Hollande has awarded France’s highest honor, the Legion d’Honneur, to visiting Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef.

That’s how Hollande (and the French foreign service which advises him) thanks the King for all his efforts for “peace and democracy”. The French hypocrisy matches that of the British Foreign Office which advised the British government to elect Saudi Arabia to a key position on the UN Human Right Council recently.

Saudi Arabia yesterday carried out its 70th execution so far this year. Most people sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia are beheaded with a sword. Reports indicate that the Saudis have now beheaded at least as many, if not more, people so far this year than the Islamic State (which on Friday executed a teenager in northern Aleppo province for missing Friday prayers – picture below from an Islamist website).

* See also: Western politicians and journalists’ strange claim that Islam has always been a “religion of peace”




I attach two articles below, from the British papers The Guardian and Independent. Following that I attach a piece from the website of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace by the Yemeni journalist Nasser Arrabyee about the brutal Saudi war on Yemen. As I have pointed out several times over the past year in these dispatches, the war is being largely ignored by the western media, which is why I try and run pieces on it in these dispatches.

The Saudis and their gulf allies, using western weapons, have bombed airports, electric power stations, bridges, roads, markets, factories, stadiums, and hospitals.

39 universities have been bombed, and 810 primary and secondary schools damaged, according to the UN, and yet there is no “Saudi Apartheid Week” at American, Canadian and British universities.

About 85 percent of Yemen’s population of 27 million is in desperate need of food, water, and medicine. Over 2.5 million Yemenis have been turned into refugees, and more than 23,000 civilians (including thousands of women and children) have been killed or injured.

Yet there is near silence from all those “award-wining” Middle East “experts” and commentators working for the BBC and writing for “leading” newspapers such as The Financial Times and The New York Times.



Click here to see a video of the UN last week electing Syria to the leadership of its Decolonization Committee, and then the other UN ambassadors giving a big round of applause to this representative of the Assad regime, a regime which has been carrying out crimes of a genocidal nature and (according to Israeli military intelligence) is continuing to use chemical weapons in attacks carried out even since the “ceasefire” went into place a week ago.

-- Tom Gross


* Please “like” these dispatches on Facebook here, where you can also find other items that are not in these dispatches.



France awards Legion d’Honneur to Saudi prince ‘for terror fight’
March 7, 2016
The Guardian (UK)

President Francois Hollande has awarded the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest honour, to visiting Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef.

Nayef was cited for his “efforts in the fight against terrorism and extremism”, the Saudi news agency SPA reported on Sunday.

Hollande’s office did not make a statement about the visit on Friday but an aide to the president said Nayef, who is the Saudi interior minister, received the honour as a “foreign individual, a common protocol practice”. Hollande received Saudi Arabia’s top honour during one of his visits to the country, the aide said.

Ties between the countries are strong. As well as arms deals, Riyadh has backed in the fight against the Islamic State group which organised the terror attacks on Paris in November 2015.

But news of the bestowal of the Legion d’Honneur on Nayef sparked harsh criticism on social media in France from opponents to the death penalty, many tweeting using the hashtag “honte” (shame).

Saudi Arabia on Sunday carried out its 70th execution so far this year, beheading a man convicted of murder.

On 2 January, 47 people were executed for “terrorism”, including Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, a driving force behind protests that began in 2011 among the kingdom’s minority Shiites.

Most people sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia are beheaded with a sword.



An Associated Press story carried in The Independent (but ignored by many newspapers)

Saudi Arabia sentences a man to 10 years in prison and 2,000 lashes for expressing his atheism on Twitter
The court also fined him 20,000 riyals – or, just short of £4,000
Ashley Cowburn
Associated Press / The Independent
February 27, 2016

A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced a man to 10 years in prison and 2,000 lashes for expressing his atheism in hundreds of social media posts.

The report carried in Al-Watan says the 28-year-old man admitted to being an atheist and refused to repent, saying that what he wrote reflected his own beliefs and that he had the right to express them. The report did not name the man.

It added that ‘religious police’ in charge of monitoring social networks found more than 600 tweets denying the existence of God, ridiculing the Quranic verses, accusing all prophets of lies and saying their teaching fuelled hostilities. The court also fined him 20,000 riyals – or, just short of £4,000

In 2014 the oil-rich kingdom, under the late Saudi King Abdullah, introduced a series of new laws which defined atheists as terrorists, according to a report released from Human Rights Watch.

In a string of royal decrees and an overarching new piece of legislation to deal with terrorism generally, King Abdullah attempted to clamp down on all forms of political dissent and protests that could “harm public order”.

Article one of the new provisions defined terrorism as “calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based”.

Speaking at the time the new measures were introduced Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director of Human Rights Watch, said: “Saudi authorities have never tolerated criticism of their policies, but these recent laws and regulations turn almost any critical expression or independent association into crimes of terrorism.”



Saudi Arabia’s Unholy War
By Nasser Arrabyee
Carnegie Endowment for Peace
March 3, 2016

Since it began its war on the Houthis in March 2015, Saudi Arabia has justified its intervention as a broader holy duty to fight Shia and protect the government in exile. Yet Yemenis increasingly view Saudi intervention more as a campaign – in which they are collateral – to upgrade Riyadh’s own influence and an ill-conceived effort to promote Mohammed Bin Salman as a powerful future Saudi king. As such, Yemenis fail to see any moral or legal justification for the U.S.-backed Saudi war. What is evident to them is the deliberate destruction of people and capital – all to no end, as the war has failed to accomplish Saudi Arabia’s goal of weakening the Houthis. Instead, the airstrikes and blockade that form the core of Saudi Arabia’s strategy have increased anti-Saudi hatred, driving greater numbers of Yemenis to support the Houthis every day.

The war has done particular damage to infrastructure – including reservoirs, airports, electric power stations, bridges and roads, markets, factories, stadiums, and hospitals. The education sector has been hit especially hard, with 39 universities damaged, 810 primary and secondary schools damaged, and another 3,809 closed. About 85 percent of the population of 27 million is in dire need of food, water, medicine, and fuel. Over 2.5 million Yemenis are displaced, and the attacks have killed or injured more than 23,000 civilians – among them thousands of women and children – using internationally prohibited weapons such as cluster bombs, as documented by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Despite this devastation, Riyadh has failed to achieve its strategic goals. Its primary targets, Abdelmalek al-Houthi and Ali Abdullah Saleh, remain unharmed and able to move about the country relatively freely, and almost all well-known Houthi leaders are still alive. Abu Ali al-Hakem, the commander of Houthi forces who is sanctioned by UN, has had unrestricted movement in Yemen as he travels to Aden, Saada, and Hodeida, meeting with tribal leaders and holding pro-Houthi rallies. On Houthi-seized military bases, ballistic missiles – including SCUD, Tochka, and Qaher-1 missiles – are still intact and in use. As Saudis fail to take out targeted Houthis, it becomes clear that they lack a cohesive strategy or even the required intelligence to carry out operations within Yemen. When Houthis and their allies carry out operations in Najran, Jaizan, and Asir, frequently Saudi F-16 jets instead strike unrelated targets in Sanaa first – including army commanders’ homes they know are empty – rather than admit they don’t know whom to strike.

In addition to billions of dollars spent on the military war, Saudi Arabia has spent huge amounts supporting Yemeni actors they hope could carry the fight on their behalf, from President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi to thousands of tribesmen, politicians, and intellectuals in southern and northern Yemen. But this tactic has not been able to secure lasting loyalty, especially as Saudi Arabia is struggling to keep up rising expenses. In July 2015, Saudis promised to give 2000-rial ($530) salaries to every Yemeni soldier recruited for the popular resistance committees in Taiz, but they delayed payments for several months thereafter to confirm the names on the list.

In many ways the unrecognized government under Mohammed Ali al-Houthi is in a better position domestically than President Hadi and his Saudi-backed government. Hadi, currently in Riyadh, has become completely dependent on external support. By contrast, the Houthis, though they lack international legitimacy, have seen their popularity rise with every Saudi airstrike. Many Yemenis have already started to glorify those killed by the Saudi campaign. Hundreds of families turned their relatives’ funerals into wedding ceremonies. In some cases, the mothers of some young men killed celebrate as if they were in weddings and congratulate the dead sons as bridegrooms. The fathers boast that they are ready to give all their remaining sons as martyrs for the cause of Allah and the nation against Saudi “invaders and occupiers.”

Houthis are taking advantage of their newfound support to rally Yemenis who no longer have anything to lose. In May 2015, the Yemeni army, with tribal support, took control over many important strategic locations, villages, and cities in Najran, Jizan, and Asir. Since mid-December 2015, Yemeni forces have fired ballistic missiles on vital sites within Saudi Arabia like Jizan airport, Aramco oil installations, and the Faisal military base. Hundreds of Saudi soldiers were killed or injured and dozens arrested. Yemeni army spokesman Brigadier-General Sharaf Ghalib Luqman declared that the Saudi frontlines had fallen to the Yemeni army and that further attacks on these provinces would be considered a political decision, not a military one. This echoes Sayyid Abdul Malik al-Houthi’s statements in August 2015 that such advances on major Saudi cities were “strategic options” to put pressure on Riyadh if Saudi aggression does not stop.

To support this, many tribesmen – especially from the six provinces surrounding the capital Sanaa – signed the Houthi “tribal honor charter” in October 2015 to confront Saudi aggression. The Houthis aimed to have more than one million Yemenis back the charter through public rallies in cities and villages across the country, particularly in Taiz and Mareb. Since rallies began in early September 2015, the charter has also been signed by tribal leaders, politicians, and intellectuals from southern and eastern provinces currently based in Sanaa, many of whom have put aside inter-tribal disputes and have provided military and monetary support. This tribal support reflects increasing popularity for Houthis and their allies, while the government in exile is seen as largely propped up by external actors.

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