Criticism of the government of Saudi Arabia is shamefully rare and tepid in the West, especially given the extent to which the oil monarchy repudiates human rights, both in word and deed.
On Saturday, much was made of the fact that Saudi women were permitted to vote for the first time in the country’s history. It is endlessly depressing that this is viewed as systemic progress in any sense that is not symbolic.
A few quick reminders seem appropriate: The Saudi government is attempting to decide, at this very moment, whether a Sri Lankan maid should be stoned to death for committing adultery.
Women are not allowed to drive (by custom, not law), and every women must have a “guardian,” a male who ratifies her most important decisions, from whether or not to attend college to what career path to pursue.
The Saudi blogger and activist Raif Badawi, who was convicted in 2012 of “insulting Islam,” faces a decade in prison and 950 lashes, the first 50 having already been administered. All for the “crime” of thinking and speaking freely. He is currently on a hunger strike.
So far in 2015, Saudi Arabia has beheaded over 150 people, 63 for drug-related charges.
Where is the outrage from American political officials?
The crimes of “enemy” and rival states — from North Korea to China to Russia — are explored in detail, while our “ally” beheads, stones, and lashes those deemed criminal by a tyrannical court, facing little to no resistance.
The Saudi monarchy receives substantial military aid from the United States each year, assistance that in essence grants legitimacy to the House of Saud.
Several months ago President Obama signed a remarkable arms deal with the Kingdom worth over a billion dollars; these arms are fueling, among other things, the assault on Yemen that has dissolved into a horrific humanitarian crisis.
The press surrounding Saudi Arabia’s decision to grant women the vote should be used to explore how truly appalling the country’s human rights record is — particularly in terms of the regime’s treatment of women — and how truly appalling it is that American taxpayers are subsidizing such a regime.
As Kamel Daoud has noted, Saudi Arabia is “an ISIS that has made it,” and it is past time we recognize this fact; the expansion of the symbolic act of voting, particularly under a tyrannical regime that is by definition unresponsive to public pressure, will do nothing to change it.
Advocates for democracy in Saudi Arabia understand this better than anyone — their lives are at stake each time they dare to criticize the Kingdom.
To be sure, the fact that 17 women won local elections is significant, as it demonstrates the public’s desire for change. But without fundamental alterations of the political system that overshadows this achievement, one can’t help thinking it is all for show.