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Fri Oct 19, 2018, 07:45 AM

Washington Post Editorial: "The police-state kingdom"

TO UNDERSTAND the police state in Saudi Arabia, consider the case of Essem Al-Zamel. An economist and entrepreneur, as well as a social media star, Mr. Zamel last year criticized a plan by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to offer shares to investors in the national oil giant, Saudi Aramco. That was meant to be a dazzling event, another audacious idea in the crown prince’s blueprint to modernize and diversify the kingdom. But Mr. Zamel said the valuation was so high as to imply selling all the country’s oil reserves for the next two decades, or more, and he declared on Twitter, “It is neither fair nor logical to sell the oil from under our feet in a commercial transaction at this juncture.” At least, he wanted a public debate.

But there is no such public debate in Saudi Arabia, and Mr. Zamel was soon swept up in a dragnet of Saudi journalists, clerics, academics and others. Though the crown prince eventually abandoned the Aramco deal, Mr. Zamel was severely punished, accused of belonging to a terrorist organization, meeting with foreigners and posting tweets “prejudicial to public order,” among other things. He remains in prison.

The kingdom has long been an absolute monarchy that does not tolerate open dissent, but this kind of repression is new. In earlier times, Saudi rulers restricted behavior, often under severe interpretations of Islamic law, and carried out barbaric punishments. We have often called attention to the unjust treatment of blogger Raif Badawi, who was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to 1,000 lashes — 50 were delivered in a public square in Jeddah before it was stopped — and 10 years in prison for online posts that challenged the religious authorities to allow a more pluralistic and moderate practice of Islam. The system was intolerant and harsh.

But the old system allowed limited channels to express opinions. Those channels have been choked off under the reign of King Salman, who took over in 2015, and his son, Mohammed, who became crown prince in June 2017.


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