A former political analyst at the Saudi embassy in Washington, DC, offers his views of Saudi Arabia’s engagement in Syria. He sees the Saudi government cautiously reprising its actions during the 1960s civil war in Yemen but with a better outcome. It sees, says Fahad Nazer, a chance to achieve a three-in-one-blow victory against Iran, against the Al Assad regime, and against Hezbollah.
Saudi Arabia’s proxy wars
Source: Yemen Times
Saudi Arabia appears resolute: It wants Bashar Al-Assad out of Damascus. The Saudis view the fighting in Syria with the same intensity that they did the civil war in Yemen that raged in the 1960s—as a conflict with wide and serious repercussions that will shape the political trajectory of the Middle East for years to come.
The Syrian war presents the Saudis with a chance to hit three birds with one stone: Iran, its rival for regional dominance, Tehran’s ally Assad and his Hezbollah supporters. But Riyadh’s policy makers are wary. They know that once fully committed, it will be difficult to disengage. And so they are taking to heart the lessons of another regional war that flared on their border 50 years ago.
The war in Yemen that broke out in 1962 when military leaders ousted the centuries-old monarchy and declared a republic quickly turned into a quagmire that sucked in foreign powers. The Soviet Union provided the new regime with air support. British airstrikes aided the royalists and the United States offered warplanes in a symbolic show of force.
More than anything else though, the conflict became a proxy war between Saudi Arabia, which backed the deposed imam and his royalist supporters, and Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, who supported the new republic. Nasser’s vision of a united Arab “nation” free of Western domination and sterile monarchies resonated across the Arab world. The Saudi monarchy, wary of this republican fever on its border, decided it was not going to stand on the sidelines. The kingdom used all available means to try to check Nasser’s ambitions—but it did not send troops.
By some estimates, Egypt sent as many as 55,000 troops to Yemen, some of whom became involved in fighting well inside Saudi territory, while others were accused of using chemical weapons supplied by the Soviet Union. Saudi Arabia provided money and weapons to the royalists. Yet neither side achieved its goals. Egypt’s war with Israel in 1967 led Nasser to withdraw his forces, but the Saudis were unable to turn the tide. Riyadh was eventually forced to recognize Yemen’s republican government.
The UAE’s Gulf News runs a Reuters piece on a World Bank report on the status of women’s right around the world. Saudi Arabia — as well as the rest of the Middle East and South Asia — do not fare well.
Women’s legal rights ‘worst in Saudi Arabia’
Middle East shows the least progress and some countries have gone backwards
Washington (Reuters): Saudi Arabia tops the list of countries for laws that limit women’s economic potential, while South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa have made the least progress over the last 50 years in improving women’s economic opportunities, a report issued on Tuesday says.
In the last half century, women’s rights worldwide have improved significantly and yet in almost 90 per cent of the 143 countries surveyed in the World Bank study, at least one law remains on the books to bar women from certain jobs, opening a bank account, accessing capital or making independent decisions.
Twenty-eight countries make 10 or more legal distinctions between the rights of men and women, and half of these countries are in the Middle East and North Africa, followed by 11 in sub-Saharan Africa, it said.
The World Bank report shows that when there is a gender gap in legal rights, fewer women own their businesses and income inequality is greatest, a finding that offers fresh insight on the impact that reducing barriers to women’s economic opportunities could have on reducing world poverty.
“When women and men participate in economic life on an equal footing, they can contribute their energies to building a more cohesive society and more resilient economy,” said World Bank President Jim Yong Kim in releasing the report, Women Business and the Law.
The UAE’s Gulf News reports that Saudi Arabia has agreed to a GCC treaty calling for cross-border cooperation among the Gulf States on matters of national and collective security. As a result, each member state is to treat warrants issued by other states as legally actionable. Further, each state agrees to share information on criminal and security matters.
Saudi Arabia ratifies GCC security treaty
Habib Toumi Bureau Chief
Manama: Saudi Arabia has ratified the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) security treaty, endorsed by the GCC Supreme Council at its 33rd summit in Bahrain in December and promoted as crucial in boosting collective security among the six-member states.
The Saudi cabinet at its session on Monday said that it had taken into consideration the decision of the Shura (Consultative) Council to approve the treaty. Some of the major features of the pact that were mentioned in the official Saudi media communiqué included cooperation among the state parties to prosecute those who break the law or order and those wanted by the states parties, regardless of their nationality, as well as taking the necessary action against them.
According to the treaty, each state party takes legal action in what is considered a crime, according to its legislation in force, whenever its citizens or residents interfere in the internal affairs of any of the other states’ parties, the Saudi cabinet said. The treaty stipulated that each state party would “cooperate to provide the other parties — upon request — with information and personal data on citizens or residents of the requesting state, within the terms of reference of the ministries of the interior”.
Gulf News also reports that the GCC states have agreed on a mutual approach in dealing with terrorism. They will work from a unified understanding of both criminal and financial transaction laws to limit the spread of terrorism and to work against it within their borders and the region as a whole. The statement issued on this also reiterates that the GCC, as the EU, consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
Dubai: Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states have reached “a full agreement” on measures to be taken against all terrorist organisations, a senior Kuwaiti security official has said.
“The GCC security officials agreed on a set of recommendations and suggestions aiming to ensure security and stability in the GCC member states,” Interior Ministry Undersecretary Ghazy Al Omar told the Kuwait News Agency (Kuna) following a meeting of the undersecretaries of the GCC interior ministries in Riyadh on Sunday.
The official stressed the significance of unifying security positions and policies and executive security plans and measures by the GCC member states to handle regional events and changes, Kuna said.
The recommendations will be presented to interior ministers at a meeting in Bahrain for further discussions, the Kuwaiti security official added.
The recommendations include measures by all GCC member states to control terrorist organisations, he said.
Will he; won’t he? Should he; shouldn’t he? When, if ever? The Saudi media is seized by the idea of US President Barack Obama’s approach to Syria.
It’s pretty clear that Saudi Arabia is down on the Syrian government. If nothing else, it views Bashar Al-Assad as a tool of the Iranians. It is urging the US to take action that will end up with Al-Assad being deposed and the Ba’ath Party chased out of power. It is not exactly clear, however, just what the Saudis see as a suitable replacement.
Writing in Asharq Alawsat, Mshari Al-Zaydi thinks that Obama is dithering and needs to bite the bullet. US action, he says, will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and will provide the tipping point the Syrian people need to help them reclaim their freedom. I’m not so sure about that.
Opinion: A Wake-Up Call
Obama continues to downplay the plans the US is making for strikes against Bashar Al-Assad’s troops, saying that they will be limited, and that it will neither be a full-scale war nor will it be intended to overthrow the regime. All that’s left for Obama to tell Bashar is the coordinates of the targeted sites so that they can be evacuated, and for Bashar and his brother Maher to go away on summer vacation until after the strike is over.
Obama is following a path he hates to travel. The worst news he ever heard from his men was that Assad’s troops have, in fact, used the forbidden chemical weapons, which means that he has crossed Obama’s red line. So now Obama has no option but to reinforce the credibility of his warning.
It is not true that all wars are waged for one reason only. Wars are waged for any number of reasons, such as geographic expansion, resources, religion, patriotism, and even for personal motives—leaving aside the wars sparked by moral embarrassment.
Obama is being pulled into a war the entire world can see he does not want to fight. We all know how Obama shunned American involvement in Syria for two years—despite the bloody nature of the Syrian state of affairs—and how he declined to take a real action on the ground.
In fact, this is a war to restore American credibility. It is also a war to prove the moral responsibility of the West, as much as it is about a shared norm in modern warfare: the abstention from using internationally forbidden weapons.
We have no idea about how serious will this war be. Perhaps all we will see is a handful of missiles, fired to no avail.
It is a source of sorrow that the Arabs have become addicted to repeating the anarchic conduct of denial. In Yemen, pro-Bashar demonstrations took place to express solidarity with the chemical killer, and a Yemeni delegation was even sent to Syria to support him. In Egypt, newspapers—even the sedate ones—are full of various reports critical of the idea of a military strike, and full of talk about conspiracy theories in a manner reminiscent of the Arab media following Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait.
Asharq Alawsat also reports that the Saudi government is pushing the Arab League to take action against Syria. That’s not likely to happen, either. The Arab League is mostly a talk-shop. Brave and loud declarations may issue from it, but action is not one of its fortes.
Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Arab League foreign ministers declared Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad responsible for the crisis in Syria, and condemned the chemical attack in Damascus in August, which the US says killed 1,400 people, following a meeting of the organization in Cairo on Sunday.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal said it was not possible to wait until Assad killed more Syrians, adding that any move to help the Syrian people “should not be considered foreign intervention.” He further added that “any objection to international action against Assad will encourage the Syrian government.”
The Foreign Minister said Saudi Arabia shared with the Syrian people their demands for deterrent international action against the government. He condemned the Syrian government, which he said used chemical weapons “without mercy or compassion.”
Ahmad Al-Jarba, chairman of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, called on Arab foreign ministers to defend the Syrian people by supporting the possibility of military strikes by the US against the Assad government.
Jarba said: “Syria is living through a catastrophe, especially from the humanitarian point of view.” He accused the Assad government, which “invited armies to kill the unarmed people in the name of resistance and rejection,” adding, “I ask the Arab League to support a military strike against the Assad government.”
Jarba pointed out that there was sectarian incitement behind the suffering of the Syrian people, adding that “fighters from Iran and Hezbollah are killing Syrian people, and Iraqi militias are also taking part in killing our people, too.”
“We want you as Arabs to take a historic stance to relieve the suffering of the Syrian people,” adding “we ask that Russian arms and Iranian sectarian interference are confronted,” he continued. “I ask for the support and help of the Arabs to stop the regime and support the military strike, and what Syrians expect from you is for your stance to be much greater than any Western support.”
So what will happen in Syria? That’s anyone’s guess. No matter what the US does, it will be blamed — by different audiences — for over-reacting and under-reacting, for acting too late and for acting precipitously. It is being blamed for supporting jihadist groups in the opposition as well as not supporting the opposition sufficiently. The US is in and will remain in a lose-lose situation for the foreseeable future.
It might be nice to be able to say, “We’ll just sit this one out and let others deal with Syria,” but it’s not really possible to do that. Syria is a problem for the world, and not just the Arab world. It’s use of chemical weapons, if proved, sets an extraordinarily dangerous precedent and cannot go unanswered. What answers the world thinks appropriate, though, is not at all clear. Why the US should have a clearer vision is its own curious question.
Saudi Gazette reports that unknown persons (or at least unnamed persons) launched a Twitter attack on Saudi Arabia over the past month. In another model of incomplete reporting, the article (which originated in the Arabic daily Al-Hayat), simply says that hashtags inimical to Saudi Arabia were launched and drew in some 17,000 responses. Again, the article doesn’t say anything about the responses, whether they were positive, negative, or both.
That the issue has drawn the attention of Saudi Arabia’s Sakina anti-extremism program suggests that foreign sources were behind the attacks. The article also points out that the Sakina is not really set up to do much about the problem. There are calls to establish a new office to deal specifically with social media as a new threat for which a defense must be found.
300 hashtags targeted KSA in one month, says official
Saudi Gazette report
RIYADH – Over 300 Twitter hashtags targeting the Kingdom and its people have been registered in just one month by the Sakina program combating extremist and terrorist ideology, which is run by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, according to the program’s director.
Speaking to Al-Watan newspaper, Abdul Monem Al-Mashooh said: “The hashtags were made by unknown people who know what they are doing and are following up closely the current events in the region.” He said over 17,000 tweets reacted to these hashtags.
“This number should be taken into consideration and should not be ignored even though it increased suddenly before vanishing. Although these hashtags failed to achieve their goals, they succeeded in stirring a limited number of people, a matter which should be dealt with carefully,” he added.
He regretted the fact that several accounts on Twitter acknowledged and interacted with the hashtags without verifying their sources and real purposes.
Asharq Alawsat runs a somewhat peculiar essay (one of a three-part series) on the Arab novel in the West. This essay focuses on how Americans approach the topic. Part one is pan-European; part two, French.
I say peculiar because it is remarkably simplistic but also misses a very simple factor. The American expert consulted for the piece — Elliott Colla, from Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arabic Studies — argues that American isolationism plays a large role in the lack of appreciation for Arab novels. He throws in a bit of Marxist analysis of the American publishing business, and notes that Americans like to find themselves in foreign novels.
What he appears to miss entirely is the subject of accessibility. Perhaps as a result of isolationism, American readers have a hard time engaging in the utterly strange. When they do want that, there’re a genre, Science Fiction, that fills the void. To be dropped into a strange milieu, one with strange customs and behavior; one with unstated social, religious, and political conventions; one with a particular parsing of history, is to be cast adrift in a stormy sea. Those conventions are understood by the Arabic reader. They are opaque to the American reader. Arabic culture is very different from American culture and it takes some learning of it before one can begin to understand it, never mind enjoy reading about it.
That said, certain Arab writers have found some success in America. Naguib Mahfouz, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, is accessible for the most part. His stories of the life of simple people in the warrens of Cairo are understandable by all. Tayib Saleh, the Sudanese author, again relied on universal simplicity — though a bit more culturally complex — to make his writing accessible. But when Arab novelists use their writings as roman à clef, disguised writing to implicate current politics, politicians, social and religious issue (as they so often do), they become impenetrable to those outside the culture. Again, Science Fiction is easier to get a handle on, even if the protagonists are alien beings from a different planet.
The American Reader Seeking the Arab “Other”
London, Asharq Al-Awsat—It is hardly a stretch to say that over the last dozen years, Americans have had a tense and complicated relationship with Arabs and the Middle East. This has undoubtedly impacted the availability and popularity of Arabic novels in the United States. But Elliott Colla, an associate professor of Arabic and Islamic studies at Georgetown University and translator of Arabic novels including Ibrahim Aslan’s The Heron, and Idris Ali’s Poor English, goes further. Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, he explains that Americans generally seek out literature that is written from an American viewpoint and that expresses particular narratives:
“The first thing to know about American readers is that for the most part, they are not looking at Arabic novels. American audiences are famous for their indifference toward literature that was not written in English. About 2 percent of the titles published in the US are translated from other languages. And only 2 percent of this tiny number come from Arabic. Which is to say, for every ten thousand books published in English, about four were translated from Arabic. Unlike so many other literary cultures—like Spanish or French or Arabic—where translated titles routinely make a major impact in terms of sensibility and style, Americans basically read only themselves. So, in this sense, Americans really are exceptional—not that isolation is something to brag about.
Gulf News from Dubai runs a Reuters report on the US government’s interest in Ibrahim Al Asiri, a Saudi national wanted for his role in several bomb plots directed against the US. Saudi Arabia wants him too. Al Asiri’s bomb-making expertise has reached even into surgically-implanted bombs. At one time, the US believed it had killed Al Asiri in the drone attack that killed American terrorist Anwar Al-Awlaki in Yemen, but this proved to be erroneous.
Al Asiri had plotted to blow up Saudi oil production facilities in the Eastern Province and had been jailed earlier by the Saudis for going to Iraq to fight Americans.
(Reuters) ASPEN, Colorado: The United States believes the Saudi man suspected of designing underwear bombs for Al Qaida’s Yemeni affiliate has trained a small number of people on his advanced bomb-making techniques, a senior US official said on Friday.
The remarks by John Pistole, who heads the US Transportation Security Administration, were some of the most detailed public comments to date about Ebrahim Hassan Al Asiri and the thwarted May 2012 plot by Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, to blow up a plane with an underwear bomb.
“There is intelligence that he has unfortunately trained others and there’s a lot of effort to identify those folks,” Pistole told the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.
Asked by Reuters afterward about the nature of that intelligence, Pistole said Al Asiri was believed to have trained a small number of people. He added that the intelligence was “credible.” Believed to be in his early 30s, Al Asiri, who survived a US drone missile attack in 2011, has drawn scrutiny for his skill at fashioning hard-to-detect bombs and hiding them in clothing or equipment.
An excellent op-ed at Al Arabiya TV by veteran journalist Abdallah Schleifer on the way the media have danced around the issue of whether what happened in Egypt was a ‘coup’ or something else. He suggests that it might be useful to come up with a term that differentiates a coup against the will of the people from a coup in accord with the will of the people, and he’s right.
He notes, too, that for almost all practical purposes, it doesn’t matter whether it was a coup or a ‘continuation of the revolution’ in Egypt. The only place it does matter is in the US Congress, where a law prohibits giving financial aid to a country whose elected government has been overthrown in a ‘coup’. It will be interesting — and perhaps entertaining — to see how Congress gets out of the corner into which it has painted itself on a vocabulary item. I’m sure they will find a way.
Media dilemma over Egypt: Uprising or coup?
A peculiar concern of both global and local media after Egyptian armed forces ousted Mohammad Mursi as president was whether or not the intervention marked a coup d’etat.
I even received a call from Canada where a writer for the leading newspaper, The Globe and Mail, asked why everyone seemed so concerned about the question.
Here in Cairo the general rule is that, if you opposed Mursi, you don’t consider it a coup, but rather the army responding the popular demands of the Egyptian people as expressed by the millions who took the streets and who signed the Tamarod (rebel) declaration calling upon the former President to step down. But if you supported Mursi then it was a coup d’etat, and a denial of the will of the people as expressed in the free and fair, but still contested election.
My gut reaction to any newsworthy event, conditioned by nearly 50 years of either practicing or teaching journalism in the Anglo-American tradition, is that one tries one’s best to put aside personal opinions in reporting, for the sake of that difficult to achieve, but honoured goal of detachment and objectivity. So while I personally – and most modestly given my status as a foreigner – consider the army move as very positive for the future of my host country, I have no problem, and not the slightest pejorative intent, in describing it in the most matter-of-fact way as a ‘coup’.
A similar reflection, this time from the point of view of international academics, is offered by Elizabeth Iskander Monier on the pages of Asharq Alawsat. Her conclusion is that whatever you want to call it, it’s not incumbent on the new government to make Egypt work.
The Arabic language suffers from diglossia. Children are raised in a first variety of Arabic — their regional dialect — but then must learn a second Arabic — the literary form. While there is great overlap, there are also vast differences between the two. This means that while dialects diverge — which is something that happens with dialects in any language — there are also forces that try to bring them back into accord.
The Doha-based Arab Center for Research & Policy Studies is about to undertake the effort to produce a lexicon — a word list — of contemporary Arabic. The effort seems to be one of description — laying out how the language is used — rather than a prescriptive one — how the language should be used. That will be an extremely important addition to Arabic studies. What is more, the project will look back to 2,000 years of Arabic usage with the intent to inform about how the language has changed and is continuing to change.
For some, this will be seen as a bold — if not to say blasphemous — enterprise. Many Muslims believe that Arabic, as the language God used to deliver the Quran, is itself unchangeable and incorruptible. That, sadly for them, is not the case. All languages change as the circumstances in which they are used change. Contemporary English is far from the language used by Shakespeare, not to mention that of Chaucer. American English is not the same as British English which is not the same as English spoken in India, Pakistan, or Indonesia. Obvious divergences in Arabic, from that of the Magreb to that of the Mashriq, are real. Saudi Arabic is vastly different from Moroccan dialect. But even within Saudi Arabia or Morocco, there are big differences in vocabulary choice and pronunciations. They need to be accounted for and to be understood. It’s not clear that the Doha project will focus on dialects; perhaps it doesn’t need to. It would be extremely interesting to see if it does, however.
The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies announced the official launch of the Doha Historical Dictionary of the Arabic Language, on May 25, 2013, following two years of extensive preparation by a select group of linguistic experts, lexicographers, and computational scientists from a variety of Arab countries. The official announcement was made at Doha’s Ritz-Carlton, where the first meeting of the academic council responsible for the project was held. ACRPS General Director Dr. Azmi Bishara passed the chair of the first session to Dr. Ramzi Baalbaki.
During the meeting, they also announced the launching of a temporary website for the lexicon, hosted on the ACRPS domain for the time being:
The Doha Dictionary project will provide the Arab nation with the means to understand its language, as well as their language’s historical and civilizational legacy.
… The new dictionary, which will chronicle the history of Arabic terms over 2,000 years, is projected to take 15 years until completion, with achievement highlights being presented every three years. The dictionary hopes to make possible the facilitation of research on Arab intellectual legacy through the work it uncovers. As a comprehensive electronic corpus, the dictionary will be able to assist a number of projects related to machine language in Arabic, including machine translation and automated spelling and grammar checkers. A number of specialist lexicons will also be published as auxiliaries to the main project, including dedicated works on scientific terms, terms related to the study of civilization, a complete dictionary of contemporary Arabic, and educational dictionaries.
Al Arabiya TV reports that two satellite TV channels that apparently earned their money through the broadcasting of films for which they did not own broadcast rights have been knocked off their satellites. Panorama Comedy and Panorama Action, two channels reported to originate in Egypt, have been dropped by the Nilesat satellites in response to pressure from other broadcasters who do hold the rights.
The channels that have opposed the pirates claim that up to $40 million in rights, annually, had been usurped by the illegal broadcasters. Those calling for the action include Saudi-owned MBC and Rotana.
Pirates sunk: Arab TV stations taken off air in copyright clampdown
Ben Flanagan – Al Arabiya
Two Arab TV stations that allegedly broadcast pirated content have been taken off air by a major satellite provider, as legitimate media firms step up a campaign for better copyright enforcement in the region.
Panorama Comedy is no longer broadcasting via the Nilesat satellite, while a related channel Panorama Action also came off the air this weekend.
Industry figures allege that both channels, which are believed to be based in Egypt, are involved in illegal broadcasting of films to which they do not own the rights.
Rival broadcasters MBC Group, OSN and Rotana have joined forces to put pressure on ‘pirate’ channels, in an attempt to protect their rights to films and TV series, which are worth millions of dollars a year. Al Arabiya is part of MBC Group.
Sam Barnett, the chief executive of MBC Group, said that many of the pirate satellite-TV channels operating in the region are broadcasting movies without proper license from the legitimate right holders.
Writing at Al Arabiya TV, Badria al-Bishr laments the rise of sectarianism that goes to the root of Arab unity. Too many, she says, are extrapolating from regional events to the personal level. Where there had been amity among the sects on a local level in the past, there is now hatred fueled by what is seen in the news.
The arguments she is opposing are rife with logical fallacies. Fallacious appeals to belief, consequences of belief, emotion, fear, popularity, and tradition are all being made. Errors of composition — assuming what is done by some members of a group must apply to all members of the group — are common. Muddled thinking and an apparent inability to put oneself in another’s shoes can only create new problems and exacerbate old ones. It’s bad enough when individuals behave this way; it’s infinitely worse when states adopt these views as policy.
Stirring hatred in the Muslim world
A Kuwaiti actor’s grandson passed away whilst the former was shooting a series. The actor stopped shooting and his Saudi colleague went to offer him his condolences in Kuwait in a “hosseiniyeh” (a Shiite mosque) built in 1905, as the deceased hails from the Shiite sect. A picture of the Saudi actor was published on Twitter along with a long hashtagged comment slandering him and accusing him of treason. He was accused of far worse as one of the critics said “a sectarian regime kills Qusayr’s children, how can you offer condolences to the sons of this sect whom the killers hail from?”
One can say that people with such a demagogic approach don’t represent a big percentage of the public. But they are not small in their numbers either. They have exposed a malicious racist spirit that places its pains above all others’ pain. They are moved by the desire of blind vengeance. They know no mercy, tolerance or justice. They consider that the ones responsible for all these pains are everyone who belongs to the sect of the tyrant. This is how crimes were attributed to people who have nothing to do with the fighting in the Syria. They were only attributed to them because they happen to belong to the same sect. They have thus given up on our unity and national and Gulf security, dividing society into categories of those who are our within our group, even if they reside overseas, and of those who are not of our group even if they share land and interests with us.
In his opinion piece for Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV (where he is General Manager) Abdulrahman Al-Rashed takes a look at laws in the Middle East that proscribe lèse-majesté, insulting the monarch or head of state. The cause is the 11-year jail sentence handed out to a Kuwaiti woman for a Tweet she sent that a court deemed offensive to the Emir.
Kuwait is hardly the only country that has laws prohibiting offending a monarch. As the linked Wikipedia article notes, similar laws are found in Europe and, notoriously, in Thailand. In other countries, it may not be a smart move to insult the head of state, there can certainly be consequences, but they do not entail serving time in jail.
Laws against lèse-majesté are an insult themselves to the concept of free speech, free expression, and free thought. No one and no thing should be immune to criticism, even harsh criticism. The problem with them is that people tend to like these laws so long as they’re ‘protecting’ things and people they like. When power shifts, though, completely other things now find protection. Arbitrariness does not make for good law. History — such as in China where it was illegal to insult Chairman Mao, until it was illegal to do anything but insult him — should provide examples of why protecting only certain targets from insult is wrong. The examples never do, though. Every country with such laws sees itself as somehow being special, operating outside the realm of human behavior and basic human rights, all for a good reason.
Kuwait’s tough Twitter sentence
The difference between Arab monarchies and republics is not linked to the variance between regimes, politics or freedom, rather, the gap is due to the dissimilar way in which these governments treat their citizens. Whilst presidents like Assad, Saddam and Bashir were cutting off the tongues, ears and heads of their rivals, countries like Kuwait, Saudi and others were trying to contain their political rivalries tribally or via material means. Late Jordanian King Hussein visited prison himself to release Laith Shubeilat, a man who incited against him. Despite coup and assassination attempts against the leader, over a period of forty years, King Hussein never executed any of his rivals. The same goes for Kuwait which also did not execute any of those who attempted to assassinate late Emir Sheikh Jaber in a subversive operation in which some of his guards were killed.
A Kuwaiti court sentenced a twitter user to 11 years in prison for writing one sentence that was considered an insult against the emir. Although I don’t think the verdict will stand in the court of appeal, it remains out of the ordinary and represents an act of exaggerated cruelty.
If a person who wrote one single sentence deserves this long prison sentence, how long do those who conspire against Kuwait everyday deserve to be jailed? A hundred years? Or worse, do they deserve execution?