Søreide doubts the will to reform in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin SalmanSaudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)

Women’s position in Saudi Arabia is unacceptable,said Foreign Minister, Ine Eriksen Søreide of Høyre (H). She is uncertain how deeply the will to reform runs in the country.


Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohamed bin Salman travels around the world and presents himself as reform-friendly, but in his homeland, the human rights situation is anything but rosey red, Søreide stated.

“I am concerned about the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, notably increased use of capital punishment, imprisonment of human rights defenders, women’s rights, and lack of freedom of expression,” she said in the parliament last week.

At the request of Sosialistisk Venstreparti’s (SVs)Freddy André Øvstegård, she assured parliamentarians that the Norwegian authorities are raising their concerns both in bilateral and multilateral contexts.

Strict sharia over

Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, regarded as the de facto leader of the authoritarian kingdom, has announced new times, based on what he calls a more moderate form of Islam, with his reform plan “Vision 2030”.

The country is governed today with severe sharia law, including for infidelity, armed robbery and drug trafficking, all of which can incur the death penalty. Executions take place by beheading with a sabre in a public place.

Thousands of people are imprisoned without trial and judgment, and the judiciary doesn’t work, Human Rights Watch recently confirmed in a report.

Saudi Arabia also fights a merciless war against the Houthi rebels in the poor neighbouring country of Yemen, which has resulted in the UN classifying it as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

Detained women activists

Salman has made a small step for women from June 24th, in that they now have the opportunity to drive a car in Saudi Arabia, and they are also allowed to go to football matches and the cinema with permission from a guardian.

In mid-May, ten Saudi Arabian women activists were thrown into prison,several of them being regarded as icons in the country’s women’s movement. Among those who reacted strongly was Amnesty International.

“They can not publicly argue that they are in favour of reforms and at the same time treat women’s rights activists in this cruel way,” the leader of the human rights organisation’s Middle Eastern Operation, Samah Hadid, said.

Empty promises

‘’Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s promises mean very little as those who fight for the right to drive a car are all imprisoned because they have peacefully fought for equality and freedom of movement,’’ Hadid added.

Søreide agrees

‘’The Ministry of Foreign Affairs addressed the recent arrests of persons linked to the struggle for women’s rights with Saudi authorities. This was done both through the Saudi embassy in Oslo and via the Norwegian embassy in Riyadh, she said.

Negative development

The changes that have taken place in Saudi Arabia, Søreide denoted as symbolic, but she asks how deeply the country’s reforms will go.

“At the same time, there are several developmental features that are very negative, and especially the general human rights situation, which seems to be tightening, in parallel with some symbolic reliefs in restrictions,” said Søreide.

Norwegian authorities do not hide what they think about the conditions in Saudi Arabia, she said.

“In contact with Saudi Arabia, we prioritise human rights efforts very highly, and we regularly deal with individual cases. We also express concern about more general developmental features in society,’’ said Søreide.


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