Saudi – Iran tension

January 5th, 2016 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Saudi Arabia has severed relations with Iran amid the furor that erupted over the execution by the Saudi authorities of a prominent Shiite cleric.

Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubair told reporters in Riyadh that the Iranian ambassador in Tehran had been given 48 hours to leave the country, citing concerns that Tehran’s Shiite government was undermining the security of the Sunni kingdom.

Saudi Arabian diplomats had already departed Iran after angry mobs trashed and burned the Saudi embassy in Tehran overnight Saturday, in response to the execution of Sheikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr earlier in the day.

Allowing a mob to attack and trash the Saudi Embassy brings back memories of what they did to the US Embassy in 1979.

The Saudi executions were appalling, but allowing diplomatic immunity to be violated will isolate Iran.

Iran’s supreme leader warned on Sunday that there would be divine retribution for Saudi Arabia’s rulers after the execution of a renowned Shiite cleric, sustaining the soaring regional tensions that erupted in the wake of the killing.

There won’t be any divine retribution, just man-made retribution.

Iran carried out 694 executions in the first half of last year, according to an Amnesty International statement in July. Saudi Arabia, with a population nearly a third smaller than Iran’s, carried out 157 in 2015, according to Amnesty and media reports.

Both appallingly high levels.

I don’t believe any state should have the power to execute its own citizens.

Likewise I believe all religions should promote life, and never justify death for alleged sins.

Islam will never get past the fixation extreme elements have on causing death when Islamic Governments execute so many people.

A very very very small step forward for women in Saudi Arabia

December 13th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

USA Today reports:

Hundreds of Saudi Arabian women ran for local public office and thousands cast ballots for the first time in an historic election Saturday in the ultra-conservative Islamic nation where women are still prohibited from driving cars.

“I have goosebumps,” businesswoman Ghada Ghazzawi told The Wall Street Journal as she entered a polling station in the city of Jeddah. “We have been waiting for this day for a long time.”

The numbers of women participating in the municipal election process paled by comparison with men and doubts ran high that any woman would be elected in the results expected Sunday. But those who participated saw it as an important first step. The only elections held under the monarchy are for local councils that approve budgets and provide oversight of urban development.

The election Saturday was only the third round of voting in the country since 2005 and only men were previously allowed to participate. More than 6,000 men and around 980 women are running as candidates for the local council seats. Some 2,100 elected seats are being contested and out of 6,900 candidates,only about 980 women.

It is good that finally women can vote and even stand in some (not all) elections in Saudi Arabia. But such a long way to go to just be treated as equal human beings:

Saturday, the women cast ballots in polling stations separate from those for men, and women had to be driven to the sites.

Can’t drive, and separate polling stations.

Campaigning was difficult for female candidates who were required to address voters from behind partitions during appearances or have a man speak on their behalf, according to the BBC

And can’t be seen or sometimes even speak!

The new voting freedom was a departure in a country where women must obtain permission from male relatives to marry, attend higher education or travel abroad.  

A form of slavery.

Auditor-General to investigate Saudi farm deal

August 19th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Auditor-General has announced she will look at the following issues around the Saudi farm deal:

  • the amount of public money budgeted and spent on this Partnership, how it has been used, and the outcomes achieved with it;
  • whether the expenditure on services was within the appropriations of Vote Foreign Affairs and Trade, as authorised by Parliament;
  • the procurement and contract management practices used by the Ministry and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise to purchase services relating to the Partnership;
  • whether the services received were in keeping with the business case and contract specifications; and
  • any other related matter that I consider it desirable to inquire into and report on.

I’m glad the AG is investigating, and said I hoped she would.

I think the real question is what outcomes have been achieved from it.

Armstrong on Sheepgate

August 6th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

John Key had a simple line and he stuck to it whatever question was asked. He laid all the blame on Labour for the failure of New Zealand to create a free-trade pact with the seriously wealthy oil-rich Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia. Labour had imposed the ban on live sheep exports which created the problems that National was left to sort out.

He didn’t mention that National could have simply overturned the ban. The official papers reveal ministers spent considerable time discussing that possibility but had been reluctant to upset the powerful animal rights lobby.

This is broadly correct. National inherited the problem, and to solve the issue they could either decide to allow live exports for slaughter to resume, or try and soothe the Saudis.  I can understand the reluctance to allow live exports for slaughter to resume.

The other reason National’s opponents failed to make an impact was that the thrust of their attack was that National’s payment of $4 million to a Saudi businessman, who had taken big losses as a result of the export ban, amounted to a bribe to make him stop using his influence to block free-trade talks.

But the notion of a bribe in most people’s minds is that the briber gets some personal benefit. In this case those offering the money – the New Zealand Cabinet – could be seen as acting in the national interest rather than personal interest.

That to me is the key. The deal may well be unorthodox and even wasteful (especially if we don’t get trade access), but there is no personal benefit involved in this. The only motivation is to help NZ exporters, and unless one can find some personal gain, I can’t see this being a scandal.

However I do think it would be desirable for the Auditor-General to investigate fully. Even if well motivated, it is far from clear that it was a prudent “investment”.

Saudi Arabia hosting religious freedom conference

June 13th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

UN Watch reports:

Despite its reputation as one the world’s worst violators of religious freedom, Saudi Arabia is now hosting in Jeddah a UN human rights conference on combating intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief, attended by the president of the UN Human Rights Council and other top international representatives. 

That’s a rather sick joke. I presume the intent of the conference is not to defend religious freedom, but to lobby to make it an offence to be critical of religions, especially Islam.

Here are the facts on religious freedom in Saudia Arabia:

  • non-Muslims are not allowed to hold Saudi citizenship
  • conversion from Islam to another religion is apostasy and punishable by death
  • If born to a Muslim father, you are deemed Muslim and hence face the death penalty if you choose not to be
  • It is illegal to publicly practice any non-Muslim religion
  • Sharia law applies to all residents, regardless of religion
  • The spreading of Muslim teachings not in conformity with the officially accepted interpretation of Islam is prohibited and people have been jailed for doing so
  • Non-Muslims are banned from Mecca
  • Non-Muslim clergy may not enter the country for the purpose of conducting religious services
  • Proselytizing by non-Muslims is illegal
  • Islamic religious education is mandatory in public schools at all levels
  • There are no Shi’ite army officers, ministers, governors, mayors and ambassadors in this kingdom despite being 15% of the population
  • Up until 2004 Jews were banned from entering Saudi Arabia

For such a country to host a UN conference on religious freedom is sickening.

Herald views on Saudi farm deal

June 8th, 2015 at 12:02 pm by David Farrar

I haven’t blogged to date on the Saudi farm deal, because frankly I haven’t seen what the fuss is about.

Don’t get me wrong – as a form of government spending, it appears to be wasteful and unjustified, but it was a decision made to further NZ’s interests and trade relations. There was no personal benefit to any Minister from it.

I don’t support it, as it is a form of corporate welfare – just like the Rio Tinto subsidy. It has been referred to the Auditor-General, and that is a good idea. But on the facts known to date, I don’t see any wrong-doing.

Audrey Young has a useful article looking at the case for and against it. The case against it (the prosecution):

It is conceded that the ban on live-sheep exports to Saudi Arabia caused losses to Hamood Al Ali Khalaf and has been an irritant in relations between New Zealand and Saudi Arabia.

But that was a consequence of a government exercising its sovereign right to impose laws, in this case in the interests of animal welfare concerns.

If the Government had not acted as it did, New Zealand’s international reputation could have been seriously damaged by continuing a trade with possible consumer backlash.

Mr Al Khalaf was not the only farmer or investor affected by the decision. He could have filed a case for damages in court and taken his chances.

Mr McCully is known as something of a cowboy who does things his way or not at all. His paper to the Cabinet was clearly written in his own office without some of the usual cautions that would accompany a paper with more rigorous input from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Most seriously, it gives no caution to the Cabinet about how the $4 million could be seen as a facilitation payment which, while legal in New Zealand, is considered bribery in many countries.

The paper says the contract for services between Mfat and the Saudi interest “includes an obligation to use their best offices to connect New Zealand Government and trade interests with key government and commercial decision-makers in Saudi Arabia … there will be strong incentives for the Saudi parties to promote the ratification of the NZ-GCC [Gulf free trade agreement] as a basis for expanding this new business.”

This is a case of Mr McCully getting approval to pay a Saudi investor to use his influence to get NZ a free trade agreement, all disguised as a deal for the promotion of NZ agriculture in the Gulf. He should be sacked.

It was a sordid, secretive deal and if it was not, why did the Government not reveal the $4 million payment until it released the Cabinet paper?

Mr McCully has taken an intemperate approach on the issue in the House and suggested the deal was the Government’s response to legal threats that had been caused by the previous Government “poisoning” NZ’s relationship with Saudi Arabia.

He misled the House and the Cabinet if he suggested there was a legal threat. There is no evidence of a legal threat ever having been made.

He was also part of a Government that extended the ban that supposedly poisoned the relationship.

Former agriculture minister David Carter also began negotiations with Saudi Arabia to resume live-sheep exports, but they failed and National followed Labour in banning them.


And the case for the deal, or the defence:

Murray McCully identified an issue that has been a major impediment to New Zealand’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, a vitally important member of the Gulf Co-operation Council.

It is the duty of the Foreign Minister to try to resolve such differences, especially when its resolution is likely to lead to tangible benefits to New Zealand.

Nothing Mr McCully has done has been motivated by anything other than New Zealand’s best interests.

The Cabinet made the decision in a proper way approved by the Cabinet office.

This is not Fifa.

Mr McCully has acted lawfully and in accordance with Cabinet process.

He is about to chair the United Nations Security Council (next month) and the Opposition’s characterisation of him is putting petty politics ahead of the national interest.

Regarding the issue of a legal threat, the prosecution is putting up a straw man.

Mr McCully at no stage said a cause of action had been filed, nor that there was a live case against the Government.

He informed the Cabinet that Mr Al Khalaf’s own legal advice was that he pursue a claim for between $20 million and $30 million.

Any thought Mr Al Khalaf may have had of pursuing legal options was likely disregarded once he was confident the Government was committed to finding a solution.

The fact is that even if there had been no suggestion of legal action, Mr McCully and the Government had an obligation to do what they could to resolve the dispute.

The way the Saudi Government operates is that a slight to one of its own is a slight to itself and that unless the dispute was resolved, there would be no progress on a free trade agreement.

There was no question of paying compensation to Mr Al Khalaf for stopping the shipment of live-sheep exports to Saudi Arabia because that would have created a precedent and opened the Government to other claims. But the commercial solution developed by Mr McCully and officials – of vide a platform to benefit funding an agri-hub in Saudi Arabia – was a win-win-win proposition.

It benefited Mr Al Khalaf, who lost millions in his investments in New Zealand after being encouraged to invest here, it will provide a platform to benefit New Zealand exporters to the region, and it will resolve a dispute that has disadvantaged New Zealand exporters.

The Government’s involvement in the agri-hub has not been a secret. Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy released a speech about it in March 2014 when he outlined the detail of it.

The $4 million was not initially disclosed because part of the payment was for settlement of the dispute and it was commercially and politically sensitive.

Audrey’s conclusion:

This deal is what is known in politics as a “McCully Special”.

It is creative, inventive, highly unorthodox and may worry sticklers for process in public service but it was done within the parameters of legitimate Cabinet decision-making processes.

It is not unlawful. It was a pragmatic solution to a bilateral problem that needed fixing.

It was the Cabinet’s decision, not Mr McCully’s.

He is not guilty but he could never be called innocent.

He should stay in his job but pledge to do better next time.

A pretty fair summary.

Saudi penal policy

March 7th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

An interesting article from the Washington Post:

The Saudi government essentially puts each inmate’s family on welfare. The government gives them money for food, rent and school fees, and it pays airfare and hotel expenses for families to come visit – even for foreign prisoners whose families live overseas.

Escorted by guards, many prisoners (except those convicted of murder) are allowed to attend funerals and weddings of close family members, and they are given as much as $2600 in cash to present as a wedding gift.

After the presentation, we visited the Family Home, a hotel within the prison that is used to reward prisoners for good behavior. The hotel has 18 large suites, which can sleep as many as nine family members and have lots of fresh flowers, a well-stocked buffet and a playground for children.

Officials said the government spent $35 million last year on those perks.

“Just because someone is a criminal, we do not punish his family, too,” Ahmed said. “Our strategy is to take care of these people to make the community better. This is what Islam tells us to do.”

The majority of the 3500 inmates in the five high-security prisons have been convicted of terrorism-related offenses, including al-Qaeda attacks inside the Saudi kingdom, that happened before the rise of the Islamic State last year.

General Mansour al-Turki, spokesman for the powerful Ministry of Interior, whose Mabahith secret police run the high-security prisons, said taking care of inmates’ families is part of the Saudi strategy of trying to rehabilitate radicals.

The Saudis have a long-standing program of placing those convicted of terrorism-related offenses in an intensive program of education and religious study designed to try to alter their thinking and behavior.

Inmates in the high-security prisons start with months-long in-depth courses inside the prisons. When they finish their sentence, they are transferred to one of two large rehabilitation centers, in Riyadh and in Jiddah, for further studies.

“If you lose these inmates when they are in prison, they will come out of prison more radical,” Turki said, adding that supporting their families also helps make sure they, too, don’t “fall into the hands of the terrorists.”

Turki said that about 20 percent of those who have gone through the rehabilitation program have returned to terrorism-related activities.

If the recidivism rate is only 20%, that’s pretty good. I like the focus on education and study to try and change their views – plus keepng them in touch with their families.

The barbarity of Saudi Arabia towards women

November 30th, 2012 at 3:04 pm by David Farrar

Luke Harding at the Guardian reports:

Saudi Arabia has been accused of behaving like Big Brother after introducing technology that alerts male “guardians” by text whenever women under their guardianship leave the country.

The kingdom already bans women from driving and excludes them from most workplaces. It also disapproves of women’s sport. Since last week it has been operating a new electronic system that tracks all cross-border movements.

The system functions even if a woman is travelling with her husband or male “guardian”, with a text sent immediately to the man. Saudi women must get formal approval from their guardians to travel abroad, and have to hand in an infamous “yellow slip”, signed by a male, at the airport or border.

Women in Saudi Arabia are like chattels. Their culture is deeply flawed, to put it mildly.

Women need the permission of their guardian to marry, divorce, travel, study, get a job, open a bank account, have non-vital surgery etc. I suspect slaves only had a few more rights than some women in Saudia Arabia.

If a Saudi woman’s husband dies, and she wishes to remarry – she needs the permission of her son!

And don’t even start me on honor killings or sentencing rape victims to punishments because they were alone with a man.

A small step forward

July 13th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Saudi Arabia is to send female athletes to the Olympics for the first time, with a judoka and an 800m runner representing the kingdom in London, the International Olympic Committee said.

Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, who will compete in the 78-kg category in judo, and teenager Sarah Attar will be the first Saudi women ever to take part after talks between the IOC and the country.

“This is very positive news and we will be delighted to welcome these two athletes in London in a few weeks time,” said IOC President Jacques Rogge in a statement.

“The IOC has been striving to ensure a greater gender balance at the Olympic Games, and today’s news can be seen as an encouraging evolution.”

Thursday’s decision means that every country competing in the July 27-Aug. 12 Olympics will be represented by both male and female athletes.

At the Atlanta Games in 1996, 26 nations sent no female athletes, the figure falling to just three in Beijing in 2008.

Progress, but said we are 12 years into the 21st century and this is still an issue.

In recent months human rights groups urged the IOC to ban Saudi Arabia from the Games unless it agreed to send women.

Powerful Saudi clerics denounce women for taking part in sport, saying it goes against their nature.

Women in Saudi Arabia are regarded as minors and require the permission of their guardian – father, brother, or husband – to leave the country and in some cases even to work. They are not allowed to drive.

Attar, 17, said she was honoured by the prospect of competing for her country at London 2012.

“A big inspiration for participating in the Olympic Games is being one of the first women for Saudi Arabia to be going,” she said at her training base in San Diego, California.

“It’s such a huge honour and I hope that it can really make some big strides for women over there to get more involved in sport,” she told the official Olympic website (

Hopefully it will be a powerful symbol to Saudis, and a building block to a less repressive regime.

Doubly revolting

December 14th, 2011 at 8:59 am by David Farrar

Bad enough this story, which has been around for a while:

An Afghan woman who was jailed for “forced adultery” after a relative raped her, and then officially pardoned after an international outcry over the case, is still in prison nearly two weeks after a judicial panel announced she could go free.

At least she no longer has to marry her rapist. But still, so incredibly fucked up.

Now we have the Saudis:

Rights group Amnesty International has described as “deeply shocking” Saudi Arabia’s beheading of a woman convicted on charges of “sorcery and witchcraft” saying it underlined the urgent need to end executions in the kingdom.

Saudi national Amina bint Abdul Halim bin Salem Nasser was executed on Monday (locall time) in the northern province of al-Jawf after being tried and convicted for practicing sorcery, the interior ministry said, without giving details of the charges.

“The citizen… practiced acts of witchcraft and sorcery,” Saudi newspaper al-Watan cited the interior ministry as saying. “The death sentence was carried out on the accused yesterday (Monday) in the Qurayyat district in al-Jawf region.”

God, where do you start.

  1. There is no such thing as sorcery
  2. Hence sorcery should not be a crime. It’s like making astrology a crime.
  3. Executing someone for a fictious offence is barbaric

More irony from the United Nations

November 17th, 2008 at 11:50 pm by David Farrar

The Washington Post reports on how the United Nations is having a two day conference on religious tolerance. It has chosen Saudia Arabia to chair the conference.

Saudi Arabia:

  • bans the public practice of non-Islamic religions
  • views its interpretation of Islamic law as its sole source of guidance on human rights
  • Muslims who do not follow the official strict and conservative version of Sunni Islamcan face severe repercussions at the hands of Mutawwa’in (religious police)
  • forbids missionary work by any religion other than Wahabi/Salafi Islam
  • Jewish, Christian or Hindu houses of prayer are not allowed
  • the government can search the home of anyone and arrest or deport foreign workers for owning religious icons and symbols
  • Under Saudi law conversion by a Muslim to another religion is considered apostasy, a crime punishable by death if the accused does not recant.

Yes the perfect country to chair a UN conference on religious tolerance – one that executes you if you swap to a non tolerated religion

Hat Tip: Micky’s Muses

Thanks from the arrested Saudi blogger

May 19th, 2008 at 8:44 am by David Farrar

Both Poneke and myself received a very unexpected but lovely e-mail from Fouad al-Farhan, the Saudia Arabian blogger who was detained without charge for 137 days, and released finally last month. He thanked us for our support.

The Hive also did a lot and Poneke actually asked MFAT officials whether the NZ Government would take action. Sadly the most they would do is have a “watching brief”. No Right Turn, and no doubt other blogs, also lent their support. Oh yes the EPMU also supported the Government taking action.

While I am sure the blogs had no impact on the Saudi Government (hell we couldn’t even get the NZ Government to stand up for freedom of speech), Fouad says that he found it incredibly heartening to be released and read how people in NZ were advocating on his behalf. Through a NZ professional wrestler who once visited his vlllage to promote Anchor dairy products, he has always wanted to visit NZ.

Extracts from the e-mail:

Dear David, I’m Fouad Al-Farhan. I’m the Saudi Blogger who was arrested 137 days because of his political writing in Saudi Arabia. In the mid 80s when I was a kid, the famous New Zealand wrestler Tony Garea ( visited our small villiage here in Saudi Arabia (Albaha) on a marketing campaign to promote the famous NZ cheese (Anchor). In that days, wrestling meant a big thing to my people. My village people loved Tony Garea before his visit. When he arrived, they made a big welcome festival for him. They even danced and said poems about his heroism. I still remember parts of it.

I replied, pointing out that many Kiwis would find it very amusing that a professional wrestler promoting cheese was our most successful marketing campaign 🙂

All my friends know about my dream of visiting New Zealand for a lengthy backpacking journey. I’m not sure if it’s going to happen anytime soon. I always have great admiration of the NZ people and the country. My best friend who was lucky to live there for a year keep telling me lovely stories about how peaceful and blessed your land is.

We do forget sometimes how lucky we are.

My government put me in a solitary confinement for 137 days. My cell was 2×3 meters. I never saw anybody except the interrogators once every couple of weeks. The rest of the days I was alone. They didn’t allow me to watch T.V, listen to radio, read any books or magazine or newspaper. I was not allowed to have a pen and a paper to write. I never saw the sun. I was completely cut off the world. All I had is our holy book (Quran) and prayer rug. So, I had a lot of time to think about my life. One of things that always came on mind in prison was New Zealand and my dream backpacking journey.

I can think of few things worse than solitary confinement. Hell I go crazy if I have nothing to do for even an hour on a plane. Five months with no Internet, no books, no music, no TV, and most of all no human contact would be unbearable.

I didn’t know that my case has reached NZ. I didn’t know that someone there in that beloved land thought, wrote, and cared about me. Internet is just great and you people deserve the land you love in. Your support and other NZ citizens like ( of my case meant a lot to me. It touched my heart deeply because I already have positive feelings toward your country and people since my childhood.

As I said, many NZ bloggers and others like the EPMU raised their voice in support. Getting this feedback from Faoud is a good reminder that we should be vocal more often.

I loved Tony Garea because my father did. I loved your country because of my best friend stories about it. These feelings have increased because of your support. I just can’t thank you enough for your support. It meant a lot to me more than you can imagine. Fouad Al-Farhan

Hopefully one day Fouad will be able to visit New Zealand. I suspect he will have no shortage of people willing to host him or show him around.

Saudi blogger released

April 27th, 2008 at 3:45 pm by David Farrar

Associated Press reports that the Saudi blogger jailed without charges has finally been released:

Fouad al-Farhan was jailed for (ironically) writing about political prisoners.

It would be nice to say NZ had a hand in getting him released, but we bravely “monitored the situation” without even once saying to the Saud Government that sending people to jail merely for criticising the Government is a bad thing.