a.k.a. Saudi Arabia. Ali al-Ahmed, a US-based Saudi Arabian activist and writer—and opponent of the system there—had a piece in FP a week ago on the execution of the Saudi Seven and which I’ve been intending to post. Voilà the details
on the night of March 12… seven young men — all in their early twenties — were still alive and praying to God for some last-minute grace to save them from facing a firing squad outside the palatial offices of the governor of Saudi Arabia’s Aseer province, Faisal Ben Khalid, who ordered their execution.
Their prayers fell on deaf ears in the kingdom. The men, who were convicted of armed robbery, were executed on March 13, in a move denounced by Amnesty International as an “act of sheer brutality.”
Hundreds of people are executed in Saudi Arabia every year — because some executions are carried out in secret, no one knows the real numbers. In 2007, the newspaper Arab News reported that 400 people remained on death row in the province of Makka alone. There are 12 other regions in the kingdom, so the total number of people awaiting execution could easily reach several thousand.
The Saudi government runs one of the most backward and xenophobic judicial systems on the planet. There is no formal legal code. Judges must all espouse the government-approved Salafi version of Islam. Blacks, who make up around 10 percent of the population, are banned from judgeships — as are women and Muslims who observe a different version of the faith — because the monarchy’s religious tradition still views blacks as slaves, other Muslims as heretics, and women as half human. There is only one word to describe such a system: apartheid.
Apartheid…. Hmmm, unless I’ve missed it none of the numerous persons out there who have attached the apartheid label to Israel of late have also thought to do so to Saudi Arabia…
Continuing in this vein, al-Ahmed informs the reader that
The condemned men hail from the southern tribes of Saudi Arabia, which have been a target of the monarchy’s systematic discrimination. Since the foundation of Saudi Arabia in 1932, there has not been a single minister from the south, which composes 27 percent of the population and is inhabited largely by Sunni Muslims who follow the government-sanctioned Salafi doctrine. Before his death, one of the executed men, Saeed al-Shahrani, even refused to provide his photo for this article because he followed the government fatwas banning photos of live objects. That’s more than can be said of the members of the ruling family: The royals in the House of Saud are notorious for plastering pictures of themselves in every place possible.
The body of one of the men, Sarhan al-Mashayekh, was supposed to be put on public display for three days, according to the execution warrant. But because everything in Saudi Arabia is political, that did not happen. The government likely feared that such an act would attract international embarrassment, and possibly a violent reaction by the large southern tribes. The executed men came from five large tribes, and thousands of people gathered to protest when the men were killed — photos provided by an eyewitness showed hundreds of well-armed soldiers and dozens of armored vehicles protecting the scene of the execution.
The young men were sentenced for robbing several jewelry stores at gunpoint seven years ago. No one was killed, and the stolen gold was given back to the owners. Saeed, one of the convicted young men, who spoke to me daily since March 1 using a smuggled mobile phone, told me, “I was 15 and I did not carry a gun. I want to go to my family.”
Poverty was the biggest factor behind this crime. All seven were unemployed and came from poor families, reflecting the severe economic conditions faced by many in Saudi Arabia. The unemployment rate in the kingdom is among the highest in the Middle East — it runs over 40 percent among males and over 80 percent among females.
One gets the idea. Saudi Arabia is an evil, barbaric place. (I’m talking about the political system and socio-religious order, of course, not individuals; as for some of the fine individuals there, see the movie ‘Wadjda‘). The barbarism of those who call the shots in Saudi Arabia is demonstrated not only in the way they treat people but also their own historical patrimony. This is not exactly a recent development but the systematic destruction of the architectural patrimony of Mecca and Medina—of ancient mosques, buildings, monuments—is accelerating (see here, here, here, and here). The Saudis are hardly alone in this world—present and past—in taking bulldozers to their cultural and architectural heritage but still… What is happening in Mecca and Medina today would be akin to the French state razing the entire Île de la Cité—the Notre-Dame cathedral and all—to build a hotel and shopping mall complex. And brooking no discussion or debate on the matter. As when, e.g., the Saudis announced in 2002 that they were going to raze the 18th century Ottoman-era Ajyad fortress (Ecyad Kalesi) overlooking Mecca, to build a hotel complex. There were protests in Turkey over this but the Saudis told the Turks to f
BTW, the above photo is from the 1980 docudrama ‘Death of a Princess‘, which is unavailable on DVD, that has practically never been shown on television (and never in a cinema anywhere), and that few have seen (though I did, from a video cassette several years ago). It is a very interesting film and document. At some point I’ll do a post on it.