Blogs: The Skeptics

The Trump-Kim Summit Should Be Delayed (and the Reason Is Obvious)

Saudi Arabia Has Become a Geopolitical Loose Cannon

The Skeptics

The list of victims continues to lengthen on MbS’s watch. For instance, in January the founders of the Union for Human Rights, Abdullah al-Attawi and Mohammed al-Otaibi, were sentenced to seven years and fourteen years, respectively, in prison. More broadly, reported Human Rights Watch, last year “Saudi authorities continued their arbitrary arrests, trials, and convictions of peaceful dissidents. Dozens of human-rights defenders amid activists continued to serve long prison sentences for criticizing authorities or advocating political and rights reforms. Authorities continued to discriminate against women and religious minorities.”

In December Amnesty International observed that “in the months since the Crown Prince’s appointment, we have seen little to believe that his overtures are anything more than a slick PR exercise. In fact, the dire rights record in the country has far from improved. Witness the ongoing wave of arrest targeting journalists, critics and religious scholars. Virtually all the country’s prominent civil society activities and human rights defenders, including many who had been vocal on corruption, are currently behind bars. Just like his predecessors, the Crown Prince seems determined to crush the Kingdom’s human rights movement.”

Even onetime privileged elites are not exempt. Last fall MbS turned the Ritz-Carlton hotel into a prison and arrested a host of leading Saudis, including his cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef, ousted earlier in the year as crown prince. The price of their freedom was to sign over significant portions of their assets. Many were physically abused and required medical attention; one apparently died in custody. Some remain imprisoned, and no longer at a luxury hotel. Others have been barred from travel and monitored through ankle bracelets. MbS justified the shakedown as an anti-corruption campaign. But he spent a half billion dollars on a yacht and $300 million on a French chateau, and was rumored to be the anonymous buyer of the $450 million Leonardo da Vinci painting last year (Riyadh denied the latter). The entire exercise looks like a redistribution of stolen goods, with the chief crook grabbing more of the booty for himself.

Nor does being outside of the country insulate one from the tender mercies of Saudi “justice.” The Guardian and later BBC documented the kidnapping of at least three dissident princes living outside of Saudi Arabia. All were politically influential and turned critical. All disappeared in the KSA, never to be heard from again.

Nor is there any religious liberty in KSA. Explained the State Department: “Freedom of religion is not provided under the law and the government does not recognize the freedom to practice publicly any non-Muslim religion.” The regime criminalizes many acts, “including non-Islamic public worship, public display of non-Islamic religious symbols, conversion by a Muslim to another religion, and proselytizing by a non-Muslim. Shia clerics and activists who advocated for equal treatment of Shia Muslims were arrested.” State rated the Kingdom a “Country of Particular Concern.”

The Kingdom does sponsor an interfaith center—in Vienna, Austria. On his visit to the United Kingdom earlier this month the Archbishop of Canterbury said MBS “made a strong commitment to promote the flourishing of those of different faith traditions, and to interfaith dialogue within the Kingdom and beyond.” Yet in the KSA there is not one church, synagogue, temple, or other non-Muslim house of worship. Even private gatherings risk a raid by the security forces, which can result in arrest. And Human Rights Watch published a report last September detailing the extensive “government hate speech, especially speech by state clerics and in the country’s textbooks,” especially against Shia.

The ugly is most worrisome for the rest of the world. Over the last three decades Riyadh has spent roughly $100 billion to advance Wahhabism around the globe. This strain of Islam is intolerant, emphasizing “the other” and denigrating members of other faiths and less fundamentalist Muslims. As such, it fertilizes the ground in which terrorist seeds have been planted. So far MbS’s supposed commitment to religious moderation and dialogue has not shut this extremism spigot.

Moreover, MbS launched a reckless and aggressive campaign to extend Saudi influence in the Middle East, which proved to be more threatening than Iran’s activities. Whatever Tehran’s pretensions, the nation is a wreck: economically disabled, politically divided, internationally isolated. The supposedly vast empire that Iran is allegedly amassing is more cost than benefit: destroyed Syria, ravaged Yemen, hobbled Lebanon, enfeebled Iraq. Why would anyone want responsibility for such a list?

Yet Saudi Arabia has been actively destabilizing the region while actively promoting repression and tyranny. In Egypt Riyadh has underwritten the al-Sisi dictatorship, more brutal than the Mubarak regime at its worst. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has killed and arrested members of the Muslim Brotherhood, tried and imprisoned democracy activists and demonstrators, jailed critical journalists and student protestors, shuttered Egyptian and foreign NGOs, “disappeared” political activists, and arrested and tortured foreign critics, even murdering an Italian student investigating regime practices. The Saudis have generously sustained the dictatorship financially, collecting two disputed islands as recompense.

The 2011 Arab Spring encouraged democracy activists in Bahrain, a majority Shia nation ruled by a Sunni monarchy. The regime responded with repression and violence and was backed by Saudi troops. Manama nevertheless denounced Iran for the latter’s alleged interference, which was only made possible by the Bahraini ruling family’s refusal to accept even peaceful opposition.

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America Needs to Rethink Who It Sells Arms To

The Skeptics

The list of victims continues to lengthen on MbS’s watch. For instance, in January the founders of the Union for Human Rights, Abdullah al-Attawi and Mohammed al-Otaibi, were sentenced to seven years and fourteen years, respectively, in prison. More broadly, reported Human Rights Watch, last year “Saudi authorities continued their arbitrary arrests, trials, and convictions of peaceful dissidents. Dozens of human-rights defenders amid activists continued to serve long prison sentences for criticizing authorities or advocating political and rights reforms. Authorities continued to discriminate against women and religious minorities.”

In December Amnesty International observed that “in the months since the Crown Prince’s appointment, we have seen little to believe that his overtures are anything more than a slick PR exercise. In fact, the dire rights record in the country has far from improved. Witness the ongoing wave of arrest targeting journalists, critics and religious scholars. Virtually all the country’s prominent civil society activities and human rights defenders, including many who had been vocal on corruption, are currently behind bars. Just like his predecessors, the Crown Prince seems determined to crush the Kingdom’s human rights movement.”

Even onetime privileged elites are not exempt. Last fall MbS turned the Ritz-Carlton hotel into a prison and arrested a host of leading Saudis, including his cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef, ousted earlier in the year as crown prince. The price of their freedom was to sign over significant portions of their assets. Many were physically abused and required medical attention; one apparently died in custody. Some remain imprisoned, and no longer at a luxury hotel. Others have been barred from travel and monitored through ankle bracelets. MbS justified the shakedown as an anti-corruption campaign. But he spent a half billion dollars on a yacht and $300 million on a French chateau, and was rumored to be the anonymous buyer of the $450 million Leonardo da Vinci painting last year (Riyadh denied the latter). The entire exercise looks like a redistribution of stolen goods, with the chief crook grabbing more of the booty for himself.

Nor does being outside of the country insulate one from the tender mercies of Saudi “justice.” The Guardian and later BBC documented the kidnapping of at least three dissident princes living outside of Saudi Arabia. All were politically influential and turned critical. All disappeared in the KSA, never to be heard from again.

Nor is there any religious liberty in KSA. Explained the State Department: “Freedom of religion is not provided under the law and the government does not recognize the freedom to practice publicly any non-Muslim religion.” The regime criminalizes many acts, “including non-Islamic public worship, public display of non-Islamic religious symbols, conversion by a Muslim to another religion, and proselytizing by a non-Muslim. Shia clerics and activists who advocated for equal treatment of Shia Muslims were arrested.” State rated the Kingdom a “Country of Particular Concern.”

The Kingdom does sponsor an interfaith center—in Vienna, Austria. On his visit to the United Kingdom earlier this month the Archbishop of Canterbury said MBS “made a strong commitment to promote the flourishing of those of different faith traditions, and to interfaith dialogue within the Kingdom and beyond.” Yet in the KSA there is not one church, synagogue, temple, or other non-Muslim house of worship. Even private gatherings risk a raid by the security forces, which can result in arrest. And Human Rights Watch published a report last September detailing the extensive “government hate speech, especially speech by state clerics and in the country’s textbooks,” especially against Shia.

The ugly is most worrisome for the rest of the world. Over the last three decades Riyadh has spent roughly $100 billion to advance Wahhabism around the globe. This strain of Islam is intolerant, emphasizing “the other” and denigrating members of other faiths and less fundamentalist Muslims. As such, it fertilizes the ground in which terrorist seeds have been planted. So far MbS’s supposed commitment to religious moderation and dialogue has not shut this extremism spigot.

Moreover, MbS launched a reckless and aggressive campaign to extend Saudi influence in the Middle East, which proved to be more threatening than Iran’s activities. Whatever Tehran’s pretensions, the nation is a wreck: economically disabled, politically divided, internationally isolated. The supposedly vast empire that Iran is allegedly amassing is more cost than benefit: destroyed Syria, ravaged Yemen, hobbled Lebanon, enfeebled Iraq. Why would anyone want responsibility for such a list?

Yet Saudi Arabia has been actively destabilizing the region while actively promoting repression and tyranny. In Egypt Riyadh has underwritten the al-Sisi dictatorship, more brutal than the Mubarak regime at its worst. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has killed and arrested members of the Muslim Brotherhood, tried and imprisoned democracy activists and demonstrators, jailed critical journalists and student protestors, shuttered Egyptian and foreign NGOs, “disappeared” political activists, and arrested and tortured foreign critics, even murdering an Italian student investigating regime practices. The Saudis have generously sustained the dictatorship financially, collecting two disputed islands as recompense.

The 2011 Arab Spring encouraged democracy activists in Bahrain, a majority Shia nation ruled by a Sunni monarchy. The regime responded with repression and violence and was backed by Saudi troops. Manama nevertheless denounced Iran for the latter’s alleged interference, which was only made possible by the Bahraini ruling family’s refusal to accept even peaceful opposition.

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What Does America Gain by Arming Ukraine?

The Skeptics

The list of victims continues to lengthen on MbS’s watch. For instance, in January the founders of the Union for Human Rights, Abdullah al-Attawi and Mohammed al-Otaibi, were sentenced to seven years and fourteen years, respectively, in prison. More broadly, reported Human Rights Watch, last year “Saudi authorities continued their arbitrary arrests, trials, and convictions of peaceful dissidents. Dozens of human-rights defenders amid activists continued to serve long prison sentences for criticizing authorities or advocating political and rights reforms. Authorities continued to discriminate against women and religious minorities.”

In December Amnesty International observed that “in the months since the Crown Prince’s appointment, we have seen little to believe that his overtures are anything more than a slick PR exercise. In fact, the dire rights record in the country has far from improved. Witness the ongoing wave of arrest targeting journalists, critics and religious scholars. Virtually all the country’s prominent civil society activities and human rights defenders, including many who had been vocal on corruption, are currently behind bars. Just like his predecessors, the Crown Prince seems determined to crush the Kingdom’s human rights movement.”

Even onetime privileged elites are not exempt. Last fall MbS turned the Ritz-Carlton hotel into a prison and arrested a host of leading Saudis, including his cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef, ousted earlier in the year as crown prince. The price of their freedom was to sign over significant portions of their assets. Many were physically abused and required medical attention; one apparently died in custody. Some remain imprisoned, and no longer at a luxury hotel. Others have been barred from travel and monitored through ankle bracelets. MbS justified the shakedown as an anti-corruption campaign. But he spent a half billion dollars on a yacht and $300 million on a French chateau, and was rumored to be the anonymous buyer of the $450 million Leonardo da Vinci painting last year (Riyadh denied the latter). The entire exercise looks like a redistribution of stolen goods, with the chief crook grabbing more of the booty for himself.

Nor does being outside of the country insulate one from the tender mercies of Saudi “justice.” The Guardian and later BBC documented the kidnapping of at least three dissident princes living outside of Saudi Arabia. All were politically influential and turned critical. All disappeared in the KSA, never to be heard from again.

Nor is there any religious liberty in KSA. Explained the State Department: “Freedom of religion is not provided under the law and the government does not recognize the freedom to practice publicly any non-Muslim religion.” The regime criminalizes many acts, “including non-Islamic public worship, public display of non-Islamic religious symbols, conversion by a Muslim to another religion, and proselytizing by a non-Muslim. Shia clerics and activists who advocated for equal treatment of Shia Muslims were arrested.” State rated the Kingdom a “Country of Particular Concern.”

The Kingdom does sponsor an interfaith center—in Vienna, Austria. On his visit to the United Kingdom earlier this month the Archbishop of Canterbury said MBS “made a strong commitment to promote the flourishing of those of different faith traditions, and to interfaith dialogue within the Kingdom and beyond.” Yet in the KSA there is not one church, synagogue, temple, or other non-Muslim house of worship. Even private gatherings risk a raid by the security forces, which can result in arrest. And Human Rights Watch published a report last September detailing the extensive “government hate speech, especially speech by state clerics and in the country’s textbooks,” especially against Shia.

The ugly is most worrisome for the rest of the world. Over the last three decades Riyadh has spent roughly $100 billion to advance Wahhabism around the globe. This strain of Islam is intolerant, emphasizing “the other” and denigrating members of other faiths and less fundamentalist Muslims. As such, it fertilizes the ground in which terrorist seeds have been planted. So far MbS’s supposed commitment to religious moderation and dialogue has not shut this extremism spigot.

Moreover, MbS launched a reckless and aggressive campaign to extend Saudi influence in the Middle East, which proved to be more threatening than Iran’s activities. Whatever Tehran’s pretensions, the nation is a wreck: economically disabled, politically divided, internationally isolated. The supposedly vast empire that Iran is allegedly amassing is more cost than benefit: destroyed Syria, ravaged Yemen, hobbled Lebanon, enfeebled Iraq. Why would anyone want responsibility for such a list?

Yet Saudi Arabia has been actively destabilizing the region while actively promoting repression and tyranny. In Egypt Riyadh has underwritten the al-Sisi dictatorship, more brutal than the Mubarak regime at its worst. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has killed and arrested members of the Muslim Brotherhood, tried and imprisoned democracy activists and demonstrators, jailed critical journalists and student protestors, shuttered Egyptian and foreign NGOs, “disappeared” political activists, and arrested and tortured foreign critics, even murdering an Italian student investigating regime practices. The Saudis have generously sustained the dictatorship financially, collecting two disputed islands as recompense.

The 2011 Arab Spring encouraged democracy activists in Bahrain, a majority Shia nation ruled by a Sunni monarchy. The regime responded with repression and violence and was backed by Saudi troops. Manama nevertheless denounced Iran for the latter’s alleged interference, which was only made possible by the Bahraini ruling family’s refusal to accept even peaceful opposition.

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Trump May Be Rude, but That Doesn't Make Him a Tyrant

The Skeptics

The list of victims continues to lengthen on MbS’s watch. For instance, in January the founders of the Union for Human Rights, Abdullah al-Attawi and Mohammed al-Otaibi, were sentenced to seven years and fourteen years, respectively, in prison. More broadly, reported Human Rights Watch, last year “Saudi authorities continued their arbitrary arrests, trials, and convictions of peaceful dissidents. Dozens of human-rights defenders amid activists continued to serve long prison sentences for criticizing authorities or advocating political and rights reforms. Authorities continued to discriminate against women and religious minorities.”

In December Amnesty International observed that “in the months since the Crown Prince’s appointment, we have seen little to believe that his overtures are anything more than a slick PR exercise. In fact, the dire rights record in the country has far from improved. Witness the ongoing wave of arrest targeting journalists, critics and religious scholars. Virtually all the country’s prominent civil society activities and human rights defenders, including many who had been vocal on corruption, are currently behind bars. Just like his predecessors, the Crown Prince seems determined to crush the Kingdom’s human rights movement.”

Even onetime privileged elites are not exempt. Last fall MbS turned the Ritz-Carlton hotel into a prison and arrested a host of leading Saudis, including his cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef, ousted earlier in the year as crown prince. The price of their freedom was to sign over significant portions of their assets. Many were physically abused and required medical attention; one apparently died in custody. Some remain imprisoned, and no longer at a luxury hotel. Others have been barred from travel and monitored through ankle bracelets. MbS justified the shakedown as an anti-corruption campaign. But he spent a half billion dollars on a yacht and $300 million on a French chateau, and was rumored to be the anonymous buyer of the $450 million Leonardo da Vinci painting last year (Riyadh denied the latter). The entire exercise looks like a redistribution of stolen goods, with the chief crook grabbing more of the booty for himself.

Nor does being outside of the country insulate one from the tender mercies of Saudi “justice.” The Guardian and later BBC documented the kidnapping of at least three dissident princes living outside of Saudi Arabia. All were politically influential and turned critical. All disappeared in the KSA, never to be heard from again.

Nor is there any religious liberty in KSA. Explained the State Department: “Freedom of religion is not provided under the law and the government does not recognize the freedom to practice publicly any non-Muslim religion.” The regime criminalizes many acts, “including non-Islamic public worship, public display of non-Islamic religious symbols, conversion by a Muslim to another religion, and proselytizing by a non-Muslim. Shia clerics and activists who advocated for equal treatment of Shia Muslims were arrested.” State rated the Kingdom a “Country of Particular Concern.”

The Kingdom does sponsor an interfaith center—in Vienna, Austria. On his visit to the United Kingdom earlier this month the Archbishop of Canterbury said MBS “made a strong commitment to promote the flourishing of those of different faith traditions, and to interfaith dialogue within the Kingdom and beyond.” Yet in the KSA there is not one church, synagogue, temple, or other non-Muslim house of worship. Even private gatherings risk a raid by the security forces, which can result in arrest. And Human Rights Watch published a report last September detailing the extensive “government hate speech, especially speech by state clerics and in the country’s textbooks,” especially against Shia.

The ugly is most worrisome for the rest of the world. Over the last three decades Riyadh has spent roughly $100 billion to advance Wahhabism around the globe. This strain of Islam is intolerant, emphasizing “the other” and denigrating members of other faiths and less fundamentalist Muslims. As such, it fertilizes the ground in which terrorist seeds have been planted. So far MbS’s supposed commitment to religious moderation and dialogue has not shut this extremism spigot.

Moreover, MbS launched a reckless and aggressive campaign to extend Saudi influence in the Middle East, which proved to be more threatening than Iran’s activities. Whatever Tehran’s pretensions, the nation is a wreck: economically disabled, politically divided, internationally isolated. The supposedly vast empire that Iran is allegedly amassing is more cost than benefit: destroyed Syria, ravaged Yemen, hobbled Lebanon, enfeebled Iraq. Why would anyone want responsibility for such a list?

Yet Saudi Arabia has been actively destabilizing the region while actively promoting repression and tyranny. In Egypt Riyadh has underwritten the al-Sisi dictatorship, more brutal than the Mubarak regime at its worst. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has killed and arrested members of the Muslim Brotherhood, tried and imprisoned democracy activists and demonstrators, jailed critical journalists and student protestors, shuttered Egyptian and foreign NGOs, “disappeared” political activists, and arrested and tortured foreign critics, even murdering an Italian student investigating regime practices. The Saudis have generously sustained the dictatorship financially, collecting two disputed islands as recompense.

The 2011 Arab Spring encouraged democracy activists in Bahrain, a majority Shia nation ruled by a Sunni monarchy. The regime responded with repression and violence and was backed by Saudi troops. Manama nevertheless denounced Iran for the latter’s alleged interference, which was only made possible by the Bahraini ruling family’s refusal to accept even peaceful opposition.

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