I hope fist-bumping a tyrant was worth it, Biden!
Salma al-Shehab is sitting in prison because of a retweet. The 34-year-old Leeds University student and mother of two young boys was traveling home to Saudi Arabia for a holiday when she found herself summoned to a special terrorism court and charged with using a website to “cause public unrest and destabilize civil and national security”. What does that mean in plain English? She had a Twitter account and retweeted some dissidents. For that “crime”, she has been sentenced to 34 years in prison and, just to make sure she really learns her lesson, has also been given a 34-year travel ban.
It’s not exactly a secret that saudi arabia is touching about criticism and tends to deal with dissidents via bone saws or jail time. What makes this case extra chilling, however, is that Shehab is not some high-profile activist-in-exile with millions of followers; she has 159 followers on Instagram and just over 2,500 followers on Twitter. She’s not someone who was constantly in the public eye. She’s just an ordinary person with a Twitter account who, amongst tweets about her sons, occasionally retweeted critical people of Saudi Arabia and expressed support for the women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, also thrown in jail by the regime. The message from the oil-rich, rights-poor kingdom here is very clear: it doesn’t matter who you are – if you criticize the regime, you will regret it.
Shehab has been detained since January 2021 and has said she has been in solitary confinement for 285 days. God knows how she has been treated during this time but I think it’s fairly well established that Saudi jails are not pleasant places to be, particularly for women. Shamefully, her case only got mainstream attention in the west this week when the washington post picked it up and published an editorial demanding that Joe Biden speak out forcefully on the issue. It’s not surprising that the Post led the charge on this: Post Opinions contributor Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident, was brutally assassinated nearly four years ago and a US intelligence reporting found that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, approved his killing.
If you murder a prominent dissident on foreign soil and cut up their body with a bone saw there really ought to be consequences, don’t you think? Joe Biden promised at one point that there would be; he vowed to make Saudi Arabia a pariah state. And then, a few months ago, he went crawling over to Saudi Arabia to beg for oil and greeted Prince Mohammed with a fist bump. While that may look pathetic on the surface, Biden assured us he was tough behind the scenes. The White House said Biden had “raised specific cases of concern” about human rights – which must have left the prince really terrified, really quaking in his boots. In response to these concerns, Biden apparently received a few commitments with “respect to reforms and institutional safeguards in place to guard against any such conduct in the future”. “Any such conduct” being a very sanitary way of saying “sawing journalists to bits with a bone saw”. As the Washington Post noted in its scathing editorial, the “commitments” Biden received on reforms were very clearly “a farce”.
Of course they were a farce! Any idiot could see that Prince Mohammed wasn’t suddenly going to get passionate about human rights just because Biden told him to stop with the malarkey murder. I’m sure Biden himself knew the commitments were a farce. But here’s the thing: Saudi Arabia is a useful ally that buys a lot of expensive weapons, provides a lot of oil, and spends a lot of money with companies like McKinsey, so it is convenient for the west to go along with that farce. Indeed, for the past few years, large swathes of the western media have been falling over their feet trying to portray Prince Mohammed as some sort of amazing “reformer”. In 2018, for example, after Saudi Arabia lifted the world’s only ban on women driving, dozens of puff pieces came out about how amazing the crown prince was. CBS interviewed him and announced that he was “emancipating women”; the New York Times Thomas Friedman wrote a complimentary piece titled “Saudi Arabia’s Arab Spring, at Last”. The fact that Saudi Arabia was simultaneously jailing women’s rights activists and bombing Yemen to smithereens, creating one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, got rather less play. Shame on every single person who played along with MBS’s narrative and helped sportswash and sanitize Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses. Autocrats don’t have any power without enablers and Prince Mohammed has no end of them.
Utah school secretly investigated whether winning female student athlete is transgender
A girl in Iowa found her peers at a state-level school sports competition. Instead of congratulating the kid, the parents of the girls she beat immediately demanded an investigation into her gender. And they got one: the gender police rummaged through the girl’s school records dating back to kindergarten to ascertain that she was assigned female at birth. This isn’t an isolated incident: the Utah High School Activities Association has reportedly looked into other complaints about athletes who don’t “look feminine enough”. This is a chilling reminder, for those who need to be reminded, that assaults on trans rights affect us all. “We warned about this being a possibility,” one transgender activist noted, “that everyone would accuse everyone who is successful of being transgender … It becomes about judging women’s bodies. And no body is safe.”
Florida court rules 16-year-old is not ‘sufficiently mature’ for abortion
But she is mature enough to have a baby! That’s Republican logic for you.
Strippers in LA are unionizing
Dancers at a Los Angeles strip club have filed to join the national union that represents theater actors in the US. “We like what we do,” said one dancer, Velveeta, in a statement. “We would like our jobs even more if we had basic worker protections.”
Rwanda could be one of the first countries to wipe out cervical cancer
Cervical cancer is the most common cancer affecting women in Rwanda. The country has become a frontrunner in expanding testing, raising awareness, and vaccinating against HPV – which is associated with the cancer. Officials believe Rwanda may become the first country in the world to eliminate cervical cancer.
The week in paw-triarchy
An intrepid seal made its way 150m from the shore and busted through two cat flaps in order to hang out in the hallway of a New Zealand home, providing quite a shock to the family who lived there. How did the cat (Coco) feel about the intruder? Coco wasn’t available for comment but as she fled the property and ran to a neighbor’s house, we can only surmise she wasn’t a fan of the seal. Apparently this sort of thing isn’t entirely unusual in New Zealand: young seals like roaming around. As the owner of the house noted: “I guess, like all teenagers, they don’t necessarily make sensible decisions.”