UN to jailed Islamic dissidents: "You will love it" 

Nothing like a UN conference in a country that turns the entire UN into a bitter joke.

Giulio Meotti

OpEds Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia
צילום: עצמי

Why miss a long weekend at the Four Seasons Hotel in Riyadh, where "spacious marble bathrooms boast deep soaking bathtubs" and are waiting for you?

This is what the 2,100 delegates of 400 Western non-governmental organizations thought when attending last weekend's forum on "Youth and their Social Impact" sponsored by the United Nations. Participants of the gentle sex were asked to wear the abaya, the long caftan-like robe that veils Saudi women. Men were asked not to give their left hand, impolite under Islam. 

The event was organized by a foundation of the Saudi ruling family and was attended by, among others, Unesco's Secretary General Irina Bokova, the founder of Wikipedia Jimmy Wales, the French intellectual Jacques Attali, and Bloomberg Media Executive, Justin Smith.

Obviously, to save face, all these humanitarian organizations had to ignore the fact that a few miles from their forum Abdullah al Attawi and Mohammed al Oteibi had been persecuted and found "guilty" of having founded a human rights organization.

The two stars of Western journalism present in Riyadh, the Wikipedia chief and Bloomberg executive, had to avoid thinking that a hero of freedom of speech and open sources of information regarding which Wikipedia pretends to be a pioner, languishes in a Saudi prison at this moment. It is Raif Badawi, a liberal blogger lashed by the Saudi rulers.

They had to silence the case of Waleed Abu al Khair, who was condemned to fifteen years in prison for comments he made on human rights. Or the journalist Alaa Brinji, sentenced to five years in prison for criticizing religious authorities and sustaining women's rights. A year ago, the Saudis arrested all the leadership of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association for supporting pro-democracy reforms.

They did not have to talk about them at this forum. 
One of the most courageous NGOs, UN Watch, condemned the event: "Regrettably, Unesco, the U.N. agency for education, science, and culture, mentioned nowhere at its 7th International Forum of NGO, or on the conference website, that Saudi Arabia prohibits independent NGOs and arrests, jails and even sometimes flogs human rights activists".  

The UN forum was sponsored by the wealthy MiSK foundation, a Saudi charity led by Mohammad bin Salman, the Saudi defense minister who led the Yemen bombing that killed 10,000 civilians and imposed a naval blockade on medical supplies, resulting in twenty million Yemenites who now need humanitarian assistance and seven million suffering from hunger. 

But the Riyadh forum tells more. It tells us about the level of penetration of Islamic regimes in the UN human rights councils and commissions. In fact, in six months, Unesco has approved two resolutions that have cancelled the Jewish roots of Jerusalem, while the Saudis have also been able to get re-elected at the UN Commission on Women's Rights. 

Two years ago, during the same hours that medieval Saudi justice flogged Raif Badawi, a delegation from the United Nations landed at Gedda to promote an international conference on religious freedom. No, it's not a joke. Joachim Rücker, the president of the UN Human Rights Council, was photographed smiling at the side of the guardians of the Wahhabite regime. The Obama administration also sent two envoys to the Gedda conference: the Ambassador for Religious Freedom, David Saperstein, and Arsalan Suleman, the envoy at the Organization for Islamic Cooperation.

There was also Heiner Bielefeldt, United Nations Special Envoy for Religious Freedom, a well-known scholar of Immanuel Kant, who must have seen applications of his philosophical reason in the whip that slashed the blogger.

Now, the favorite to succeed Irina Bokova is a Qatari politician and a Saudi will be the spokesman for the UN agency conference, while an Iranian will be the head of its executive board. They call it the "Islamic Troika". That is the purpose of these exclusive nights at the Four Seasons Hotel in Riyadh whose slogan is: "You will love it!".