President Barack Obama's two-hour meeting with Saudi king Abdullah touched on US policies on Iran and Syria but not about the Saudis' atrocious human rights record and abuse of women. Obama was also subjected to subtle form of racism, something widespread in the primitive desert kingdom.
Friday March 28, 2014, 21:53 DST
In meeting with King Abdullah today, US President Barack Obama spent most of his time explaining US policy on Syria and Iran that the Saudis say is not tough enough instead of raising the Saudis’ atrocious human rights record. Before heading to Saudi Arabia, a number of human rights organizations among them Amnesty International had urged Obama to raise the Saudis’ abuse of women and other human rights abuses.
Amnesty suggested Obama take a female driver with him to make the point that women cannot be deprived of the right to drive cars as the Saudis have done.
“It is crucial that President Obama sends a strong message to the government of Saudi Arabia that its gross human rights violations and systematic discrimination are unacceptable. A failure to do so would undermine the human rights principles the USA purports to stand for,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
There are more than 30,000 political prisoners in the desert kingdom, many of them held without trial or charge. A recent decree has made calls for reform or exposing corruption in the kingdom akin to terrorism and punishable by years of imprisonment.
There was also a personal appeal from one of Abdullah’s former wives who currently lives in London. Four of her daughters have been held without their will and locked up in a palace in Jeddah.
"Since 13 years, my daughters Sahar, Maha, Hala and Jawaher are being held captive," Abdullah’s ex-wife Alanoud al-Fayez, 57, was quoted as saying. "They need to be saved and released immediately," she added. We need to keep in mind Abdullah is 90 and has a 10-year-old daughter.
"Mr. Obama should take this opportunity to address these grave violations committed against my daughters," al-Fayez said. The daughters have complained that they are virtually being starved and provided only one meal a day. Unfortunately Obama was unable to muster the courage to raise these crucial issues.
A US official said human rights were not discussed. “Today, given the extent of time they spent on Iran and Syria, they didn't get to a number of issues, and it wasn't just human rights," he said after the meeting.
The meeting lacked the warmth that Abdullah had displayed toward Obama during his first visit in 2009. During the earlier visit, Abdullah had conferred the highest civilian award on Obama.
Abdullah is in poor health—he is 90 and often incoherent—and there is deep concern over the question of succession although the king appointed Prince Muqrin as deputy crown prince yesterday signaling that in the event of his death or that of the crown prince Salman who is 78, the next in line is already determined.
For decades the US has treated Saudi Arabia as a cash cow. For selling them military hardware that the Saudis have only used against their own people or for crushing people’s aspirations in Bahrain, Saudi oil money has largely been deposited in US banks.
Relations, however, have soured because the US no longer sees Saudi Arabia as vital to its interests. Washington’s dependence on Saudi oil has also declined with more imports coming from Canada and Mexico and extracting oil and gas through fracking.
Tension between the two was evident during the meeting from the body language of the Saudi king. There is also a lot of racism in the desert kingdom. Even dark-skinned Saudis are discriminated against and not given any important posts. Obama was subjected to subtle forms of discrimination during his latest brief visit.