Saudi Arabia recently sentenced Noura bint Saeed al-Qahtani to 45 years of imprisonment after she expressed her opinion on social media. It comes just a couple of weeks after University of Leeds student Salma al-Shehab was sentenced to 34 years of imprisonment for using Twitter to retweet views of activists critical of the country.
There were a few small signs that Saudi Arabia was offering his women a few more freedoms in the past few years, but recent harsh prison sentences against women have sparked more debate about human rights violations in the country.
Despite these cases, the actual head of the country is Mohammed bin Salman was invited for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, although at the end a government minister attended in his stead. The bride of the murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Khatige Cengiz, criticized the invitation and its consequences: Britain and the international community turned a blind eye to the excesses of Saudi Arabia. Khashoggi was killed inside the country Istanbul Consulate in 2018.
One of the factors that mean that the West will now be less critical of Saudi Arabia is the war in Ukraine.
The Russian invasion led to rising gasoline pricesfailures in Art supply of natural gas also how inflation and other problemswhich left the West struggling – some mainland European states, including Germany, suddenly woke up to extremes dependence on Russian gas.
Although the UK and US are not as dependent on Russia as their allies in mainland Europe, their national economies and populations are also suffered a lot due to the globalization of markets and economic interdependence. There is also a need to fill the energy gap Russian oil has left, and Saudi Arabia is one of the states that can help in this.
The UK and US governments are trying to restore and ensure continued support and partnership with Saudi Arabia through carefully planned visits to maintain good relations. Just a couple of weeks after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Saudi Arabia to discuss oil and energy security.
While the US may be more energy independent Compared to other Western countries, inflation and the global recession resulting from the Russian war in Ukraine are still affecting energy prices.
US President Joe Biden followed Johnson to Saudi Arabia in mid-July to continue talks on energy security and eventually stabilize world markets. In the article writes the Washington PostBiden noted the strategic importance of Saudi Arabia: “Its energy resources are vital to mitigate the impact on global supplies of Russia’s war in Ukraine.”
Biden was more critical of the Saudi regime than his predecessor Donald Trump. As a result, Biden did not received a particularly warm welcome from the Saudis. But his determination to allow Saudi Arabia to participate in solving the global crisis gives Saudi Arabia more and more power.
Johnson’s visit to Saudi Arabia coincided with the execution of 81 people in Saudi Arabia. However, the Prime Minister’s office did not openly condemn the shootings, but only promised raise a question with the Saudis.
Saudi Arabia believes that his relative importance has grown to such an extent that the West no longer dares to harshly criticize it.
Taking the long view
The imprisonment of these two women, however, is only an extension of the regime’s years of oppression of women, while the West looks the other way.
The Trump administration avoided the problem, refraining from criticizing the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia. Trump has made Saudi Arabia part of his first trip abroad and further reaffirmed the longstanding US policy of maintaining a close partnership with Saudi Arabia. The Obama administration was more critical raised some concerns over human rights, although he still supported a stable working relationship with the Saudis.
The UK, as another key global actor, has more or less followed the same trajectory as the US. It cooperates with Saudi Arabia on various issues – political, military, economic and even arms sales to Saudi Arabia which the latter then used to indiscriminately attack Yemeni civilians.
Some might argue that the West has let Saudi Arabia get away with human rights abuses for years.
Saudi Arabia has had one of the worst human rights records in the world for decades. Year after year, such organizations as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International report human rights abuses by Saudi Arabia. Under Saudi Arabia many basic human rights, including freedom of speech and the right to a fair trial, are limited or denied by law.
While some symbolic advances made recently – for example, allowing women to drive – are merely symbolic efforts to mask reality. Women remain second class citizens. Saudi women still cannot marry or receive medical care without permission their male guardians, or pass citizenship to your children. this guardianship over women existed for decades and the world tolerated it.
Even the most shocking cases of human rights abuses by the Saudi regime are often met with very little international response. If Saudi Arabia 81 people were executed without a fair trial for one week in mid-March in the US barely condemned it. United Nations did condemn the lack of fair trials and express concern about the broad interpretation of “terrorism” in the law, but take no further action.
The UK has declared its commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights as set out in it review of foreign policy, defense and security of Great Britain, where it proudly announced that it had become the first European state to impose sanctions against Belarus for violating human rights.
The same document also said the UK would build on its close security partnership with Saudi Arabia, but made no mention of any human rights abuses in the country. Currently there is no UK financial sanctions against Saudi Arabia even if they are imposed by a different regime with arguably less appalling human rights records than Saudi Arabia.
Because of the war in Ukraine, Saudi Arabia violation record human rights is unlikely to improve and can even worse in the near future. But the west needs a friendly regime in Riyadh for all the reasons already discussed, and these problems are unlikely to disappear anytime soon.