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July 31, 2023 11:12 am

Saudi Arabia’s Human Rights Record Again Puts Pressure on US Relations

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avatar by James M. Dorsey


US President Joe Biden walks to board a plane following an Arab summit, at King Abdulaziz International Airprot, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 16, 2022. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Poking the United States in the eye appears to be a Saudi pastime.

In the latest incident, Saudi Arabia reportedly detained five relatives of a US resident whose family filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania in 2020 against the Saudi government in a long-standing commercial dispute involving an oil refinery on the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia, according to human rights groups.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) was among the defendants in the lawsuit, which was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

The human rights groups, Freedom Initiative, Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), and ALQST for Human Rights, quoted Nader Turki Aldossari, a US resident and father of 15-year-old Rakan Nader Aldossari, as saying that Saudi authorities had arrested Rakan’s three uncles, aunt, and grandfather’s wife.

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The human rights groups describe Mr. Rakan as a US citizen, whereas the Pennsylvania court referred to him as a US resident, like his father.

Saudi authorities have not commented on the human rights groups’ assertions.

A US State Department spokesperson declined to comment on the Aldossari case, but implicitly acknowledged a pattern of foreign governments taking actions to repress dissent and criticism.

“The United States has consistently underscored to the Saudi government the importance of fair and transparent judicial processes,” the spokesperson said in an email to Reuters.

“We have also made clear that we take very seriously reports or threats of transnational repression, particularly when US citizens may be involved,” the spokesperson added.

Saudi Arabia is reportedly seeking a formal defense pact with the United States, US support for the kingdom’s peaceful nuclear program, and easier access to top-of-the-line US weapons systems, partly in exchange for establishing diplomatic relations with Israel.

Cases like the Aldossaris family also cast a shadow over recent wonder-and-envy-evoking headlines about Saudi Arabia’s massive investment in sports that bolster the kingdom’s reputation.

Saudi Arabia has invested millions of dollars in US public relations and lobbying firms to polish its image tarnished by repeated abuses of human rights, and the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

On a visit to Saudi Arabia in June, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pushed for the lifting of a travel ban on a dual US-Saudi national, 72-year-old Saad Ibrahim Almadi, as part of a broader, albeit half-hearted, attempt to persuade the kingdom to improve its human rights record.

Sentenced to 19 years in prison for posting criticism of the government on Twitter while in Florida, Almadi was released in March but forbidden to leave the kingdom.

While rejecting US pressure for greater human rights adherence, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan did not close the door.

“We are always open to having a dialogue with our friends, but we don’t respond to pressure. When we do anything, we do it in our own interests,” Bin Farhan said.

It will take more than addressing cases like the Aldossaris and Almadi to reestablish trust between the US Congress and Saudi Arabia, but it would remove unnecessary irritants. Human rights are one primary reason for the trust deficit. Perhaps more importantly, so is Saudi determination to carve out its own space in an increasingly multipolar world, in which the kingdom maintains close relations with multiple powers, including China and Russia.

“I don’t ascribe to this zero-sum game,” Bin Farhan said. “We are all capable of having multiple partnerships and multiple engagements, and the US does the same in many instances.”

Dr. James M. Dorsey is an award-winning journalist and scholar, an Adjunct Senior Fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, and the author of the syndicated column and podcast, The Turbulent World with James M. Dorsey.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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