Terrorism and Saudi Arabia
If you just looked at Western news, you’d think it had been a bad week for Saudi Arabia.
Firstly, a number of 9/11 victims sought compensation from the Saudi Kingdom, after the JASTA law (Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism) was passed 6 months ago by the US Senate. This allows lawsuits against foreign states. Additionally, Saudi Arabia is one of the Muslim countries affected by the laptop ban in cabin holds for flights direct to the US and UK. Thirdly, their credit rating has been downgraded to an A+ by Fitch. Finally, they announced a new Girls’ Council, the press conference was presented by 13 Saudis, not one of them female.
For this newsletter, we wanted to investigate how the Saudis were reporting on all these big topics. Like our newsletters on the Russians, this can be a bit of a challenge. The media is heavily regulated over there, and so it’s tricky to draw distinctions between what the journalists are permitted to write, and what the population is thinking.
Nevertheless, I have not found a single mention of the JASTA law in Arabic nor English online news outlets. Similarly, little was written about the decline in oil price, instead, news outlets are talking about Saudi investment in renewables. When it came to the electronic device ban, newspapers have recommended citizens to take a non-direct flight to the US and the UK, as it is only direct flights that are affected.
Although you may put this down to propaganda on their side, I feel this would be a Western take on their media, and not necessarily reflective of their population’s opinion.
A brief overview
- Saudi Arabia is not a democracy, but an absolute monarchy. The King is only answerable to Sharia Islamic Law.
- A violent penal system is part of the culture. Incidents of stoning and lashings get a lot of attention from the Western press.
- 60% of their GDP comes from oil – and it is with this commodity that they have (historically) a favourable relationship with the United States.
- 30% of their population is under 15, and society is extremely family orientated.
- They were the third happiest nation in 2015 according to a Gallup poll.
You may be interested in why Saudi Arabia has been connected to 9/11 in the first place. For an excellent (Western) overview, I recommend this long read from Vanity Fair.
In our media
Saudi Arabia looks to Trump for support on terror-law reversal
“The terror law, Mr. Falih said, is one consideration in the Saudi decision about whether to list shares of Saudi Arabian Oil Co., or Saudi Aramco, in the U.S. Mr. Falih is chairman of the state oil company, which is the world’s single biggest oil producer, and the initial public offering is expected to be the biggest in history.
Mr. Falih also warned of potential legal repercussions abroad if Jasta survives.
The Saudi government was “not happy” about the law, Mr. Falih said, adding it was passed “during the heated political period.”
“We believe after due consideration by the new Congress and the new administration, that corrective measures will be taken,” Mr. Falih said of Jasta. He didn’t specify what corrective measures would satisfy Saudi Arabia.
In the Saudi news this week
I could not find a single report on JASTA in the Saudi press – instead, these are the types of articles being published. They focus on Saudi Arabia’s fight against terrorism.
[The] Kingdom [and] France discuss ways to dry out terror funding
“Saudi Arabian and French officials and experts discussed the means to dry out terror funding.
The seminar focused on addressing political Islam, terrorism and means of funding and the challenges posed by what is known as “militant extremism.”
Michel Duclos, Managing Director of the International Diplomatic Academy, said France and Saudi Arabia face the same challenges posed by terrorism.
He said the two countries were working together to devise ways to confront terrorism and its motives and are seeking to clarify misconceptions.”
[Saudi Arabia] reviews the areas of defense cooperation with the head of the British Defense Staff
“Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman Ibn Abdulaziz Al Saud, may Allah protect him, received His Excellency the President of the British Defense Staff General Stuart Peach at his office in Yamamah Palace yesterday.
During the reception, they reinforced the friendship between the two countries and the areas of defence cooperation between the Kingdom and Britain.”
N.B. I used Google Translate and tidied up the translation here
Saudi [and] US delegations discuss bilateral ties
“Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman led a high-level Saudi delegation that met at the Pentagon with US Defense Secretary James Mattis and other senior officials.
The two sides reviewed bilateral relations and areas of strategic cooperation, and ways to enhance them. They also discussed the latest developments in the Middle East and the international arena, and efforts to address them, especially regarding the fight against terrorism.
At the end of the extended meeting, the two sides expressed satisfaction with the issues discussed and ways to address them. ”
A perspective on freedom of expression
Saudi Arabia committed to be example of protection of human rights
“King Salman stressed the Kingdom’s keenness to be an example of protection of human rights, freedom, welfare and comprehensive development for community, in an address delivered on behalf of the King by Adviser to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and Makkah Gov …
He added that expression of opinion should not involve attacks on religion, its rituals or sacred places, and should show commitment to honesty, integrity and impartiality.
Prince Khalid said one’s opinion should work to protect the interests and values of the community, and not be detrimental to public order or lead to discord between Muslims. At the same time, opinion should be formed based on reliable sources and people should not promote rumors.”
From the editor…
We were given a prominent feature in Open Democracy this week. Thanks to Mike Edwards for making my writing concise and readable! I think this is one of the best overviews of what we aim to do at the ECC so please do share with friends! You can read it here.
I also wrote something in response to the objection: “Why are you doing the ECC for liberal progressives? Surely it’s the conservatives who need more help!“.
This is the number one question I’m asked by journalists, and it may be something you’ve been asked if you bring up the Echo Chamber Club, so please do take a look.
– Alice Thwaite