,,Corporal punishment is unacceptable and contrary to human dignity,” said the statement of the EEAS as Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court has upheld the sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years of imprisonment on blogger Raif Badawi. How do you see this situation, please, would you say that the international community has some leverage (and what kind of, if any) on Riyadh to prevent the punishment? Read few comments.
Toby Jones, Assistant Professor of History, Rutgers University
1) The Saudis crack down on figures like Badawi because it’s an easy way for them to accommodate zealots domestically.
2) Having said this, Riyadh’s biggest fear is not terrorism, but rather than dissidents like Badawi and others will gain some popular traction. The kingdom’s rulers are quick to crush any kind of political criticism that they fear could united their subjects across sect and other kinds of identity. Badawi was not necessarily a popular figure, but he represented a familiar kind of frustration that is shared by many.
3) It does not seem that the international community is particularly bothered by these kinds of cases. There are dozens of well-known activists in Saudi prisons and probably thousands that we know nothing about. None of these generate much attention or concern. Of course, if there was actual concern, then I think much could be done. Riyadh does not want attention and rulers there are especially keen to avoid humiliation. Unfortunately, most global leaders prefer to pursue either geopolitical interest or profit when working with Saudi Arabia. Everything else, including gross violations of what should be basic rights, are set aside.
Shireen Tahmaasb Hunter, Visiting Professor and Lecturer in Political Science, Georgetown University
1) The verdict shows that the Saudi Government is determined to quash any dissent and will continue in its repressive policies. The difficulties that it is facing in Yemen, plus its problems in the Shia- inhabited Eastern Province are also adding to the Saudi anxieties about making any form of concession to dissidents. In the long run this policy is likely to cause more opposition to the regime.
2) International Community does have leverage on Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately it is unwilling to use it. For example the UN and the EU, including the EP could be more vocal in condemning the lack of human rights in Saudi Arabia. They might send a Special UN human rights reporter to Saudi Arabia as they have in Iran’s case etc. Unfortunately human rights argument is only used when it concerns governments with which the West has bad relations. It is totally ignored in those cases when in the country in question is politically and strategically is viewed as useful even if in reality it is not.
Thomas Lippman, Adjunct Scholar, Middle East Institute
There may be reasons why the king would spare Badawi from this punishment, but I don’t think outside pressure will make much difference. The Saudis have demonstrated many times that they don’t care what groups like Human Rights watch have to say, and at this point I don’t think the United States is going to push very hard.
Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, Research Fellow, Baker Institute, Associate Fellow, Chatham House
Saudi policy has become rather more hardline in recent months and has not been helped by the protracted nature of the conflict in Yemen. In the face of mounting challenges, the Kingdom has adopted a more assertive policy toward safeguarding its core domestic and regional interests. As a result, Saudi officials are unlikely to respond to pressure from the international community over this case.
David Romano, Associate Professor, Missouri State University
I frankly do not think the international community has any leverage to help a Saudi man against his own government in this case. Also, I’m not certain how much leverage the House of Saud even has with its own judiciary here. The pact behind the creation of Saudi Arabia in its modern guise gives the house of Saud things like the Finance Ministry, Foreign Affairs, Military and Ministry of Interior, but the Wahabi religious conservatives get things like Religious Affairs, Family Affairs, Education and the Judiciary (based on their own interpretation of Sharia’ law). This is the pact that underlies stability in the Kingdom. If the House of Saud wants to intervene in the Judiciary’s decision, it costs them political capital to do so. There is also the possibility that they already spent this political capital to intervene from the beginning and encourage a harsh verdict, in order to make an example of this fellow at a time when the Arab Spring and social media have many regimes nervous.