Current Affairs

You can choose your friends…

A chilling piece in this morning’s Guardian: Saudi authorities have sentenced a man to death for renouncing Islam.

A Palestinian poet and leading member of Saudi Arabia’s nascent contemporary art scene has been sentenced to death for renouncing Islam.

A Saudi court on Tuesday ordered the execution of Ashraf Fayadh, who has curated art shows in Jeddah and at the Venice Biennale. The poet, who said he did not have legal representation, was given 30 days to appeal against the ruling.

Fayadh, 35, a key member of the British-Saudi art organisation Edge of Arabia, was originally sentenced to four years in prison and 800 lashes by the general court in Abha, a city in the south-west of the ultraconservative kingdom, in May 2014.

But after his appeal was dismissed he was retried last month and a new panel of judges ruled that his repentance did not prevent his execution.

Saudi Arabia, with its seat on the UN Human Rights Council, is going to kill this man because of his beliefs. Not because he’s been spreading hate, killing innocents on the streets of Paris or any other form or terrorism. Because his art and beliefs seem to offend someone, somewhere.

This is supposed to be the West’s ally in the Middle East. An autocratic, theocratic, violent and murderous regime, exporting hatred and division. The cesspit of Middle Eastern politics seems to rely on the (mistaken) belief that “the enemy of my enemy” can be trusted. That wasn’t the case with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and it doesn’t apply to the House of Saud.

A government with a moral compass wouldn’t kow-tow to these despots, never mind strike a deal to get them a place on an influential UN body on human rights. Rights that the Saudi regime  seems obsessed with removing from its own citizens at any cost. Because they are frightened by art, poetry, women and reason.

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