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Saudi King Abdullah was a champion of women's rights says Tony Blair

THIS STATEMENT was issued by the Tony Blair office on the day King Abdullah, the tyrant ruler of Saudi Arabia died:

I am very sad indeed to hear of the passing of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah. I knew him well and admired him greatly. Despite the turmoil of events in the region around him, he remained a stable and sound ally, was a patient and skilful moderniser of his country leading it step by step into the future. He was a staunch advocate of interfaith relations. He founded KAUST, the science and technology university where women and men are educated equally. And today there are more women in higher education than men. He allowed thousands to be educated abroad, people who have experience of the world and will play a big part in the future of the country. He appointed women Ministers. He invested in renewable energy. And of course he launched the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002 which has stood the test of time as a potential basis for a solution to the Israeli Palestine issue. He was loved by his people and will be deeply missed.

Quite how Mr Blair who claimed to reaches the conclusion that the brutal dictator of Saudi Arabia was “loved by his people” is unclear. For someone who still claims to have moved away from ideology to making evidence-based judgements, he seems stuck in the ideology not on this occasion of neoliberalism but of feudalism.

Mr Blair has in recent months been providing his services to several ruthless dictators including Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt (advice on economic “reform” to consolidate the overthrow of democracy) and Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan (advice on how to defend a massacre). Even two years ago, well known ‘leftie’ pundit Nick Cohen was convinced that Blair’s “moral decline and fall” was complete but it seems that there are no depths which he won’t plumb. And this time he’s not even being paid (though he’s had his share of Saudi petro-dollars in the past).

To refresh our memory of the  record of King Abdullah, let us recall his role in recent days as the blogger flogger: Raif Badawi received the first instalment of his sentence of 1,000 lashes (plus 10 years in prison) for creating an online forum for political and social debate. Further installments of that sentence have not been cancelled, by the way, but merely postponed for medical reasons. Yet no “Je suis Raif Badawi” protest has been forthcoming from comrade Blair.

And remember what else you could be flogged for in Abdullah’s kingdom:

  • For meeting members of the opposite sex who aren’t “close relatives” like 75-year old Khamisa Mohammed Sawadi and two men one of whom she had breast fed as a child;
  • For being a rape victim, like the  19-year old “al-Qatif Girl” who was attacked and gang-raped by seven men but received 200 lashes after authorities claimed she had confessed to the “crime” of having an affair with the male friend she had been with at the time (who received the same sentence);
  • For being gay, like the 24-year-old man jailed for three years and sentenced him to 450 lashes for arranging a date with a man on Twitter;
  • For bringing the wrong kind of chocolates into the country like the Filipino man who didn’t realise the two chocolate bars he’d bought on a stopover contained alcohol and got 75 lashes and a jail sentence.
And of course it isn't just about floggings. Public beheadings – not unlike those in the Islamic State in Syria/Iraq – are regular occurrences. Indeed, as the table below shows, there are many similarities with Islamic State when it comes to “crime” and punishment.

Mr Blair makes much of King Abdullah as a moderniser and three references to this in relation to the role of women. You could argue with rather more evidence on your side that another brutal dictator, Saddam Hussein, was a moderniser, especially in the field of the role and rights of women. He was guilty of many extremely serious human right violations but, unlike King Abdullah, he didn't condemn roughly half his population (the female half) to:

  • Permanent house arrest unless accompanied by a male relative or other approved minder;
  • Even when so supervised, being banned from driving, swimming, trying on cloths in shops, or entering a cemetery.
Four of Abdullah's own daughters for many years were not even permitted to leave their homes with supervision.

Saudi women’s rights activist Wajiha Al-Huwaidar summarised the position of Saudi women on Al-Hurra TV in 2008:

Saudi society is based on enslavement – the enslavement of women to men and of society to the state. People still do not make their own decisions, but it is the women of Saudi Arabia who are denied everything. The Saudi woman still lives the life of a slave girl.”

Tony Blair, interviewed in the light snow falling on Davos, this evening told CNN that after King Abdullah he “expects and hopes for continuity“.

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