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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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
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!".