Washington DC — Ahmed Matar must be rolling in his grave. The 17 year-old high school student was killed December 27th by Saudi Special Forces while attending a pro-democracy rally in the Eastern Province city of Qatif to demand freedom from Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy. He is among 17 peaceful protesters killed by Saudi snipers in the past 18 months, working under the direct authority of the interior minister.
Ahmed’s slender body was riddled with large holes, the skin around them severely burned, indicating that he was probably shot from point blank range. This was the execution of a child by what we can now call the Saudi Death Squad, known locally as ‘Naif’s Hawks’.
They are named after Prince Naif the later father of Mohamed, who has for years been at the heart of the kingdom’s infamous interior ministry. Ten weeks ago, he took over from his uncle as interior minister. On Monday, the leader of the forces that murdered Ahmed saw President Obama for a private face-to-face meeting at the Oval Office. This is a privilege usually only extended to heads of state, and democratic states at that.
Rolling out the red carpet for such a controversial figure directly responsible for a long list of human rights violations calls into question American priorities in the region and betrays the administration’s stated support for increasing transparency and accountability in the Arab world.
Already Mohamad bin Naif has managed to surpass his late father, the notorious Naif, who was renowned as interior minister for his violent crackdowns. He was also suspected of involvement in dubious affairs around the world, including an assassination plot staged from Washington DC against Shamsudeen Al Fasi, a wealthy Saudi citizen, and sheltering a drug trafficker Nawaf AlShalaan wanted by the US for trafficking two tons of cocaine through Miami AlShallan who was convicted in France for trafficking cocaine works as a department director at the interior ministry.
The interior ministry has now turned its attention to targeting liberal thinkers, peaceful protesters, bloggers, religious minorities, Christians and foreign workers. Over Christmas, Mohamad bin Naif personally ordered the arrest of Turki Al Hamad, one of Saudi Arabia’s leading liberal intellectuals and novelists. The writer had tweeted criticisms of the ruling family’s corruption, but was arrested on trumped up blasphemy charges, after which the interior minister’s cousin Abdulaziz bin Fahd took to Twitter to boast about the incident.
To compound the horrors, last week a 15 year-old girl was married to a man in his seventies, a process that is legal and is no possible without the interior ministry’s approval. Over 5000 underage girls are married to mostly elderly men every year. Saudi Arabia leads the world in child marriage, which the current regime promotes in school textbooks.
In the same week, dozens of women protesting the arrest of their male relatives for over 10 years without trial or legal assistance were arrested and beaten by Muhammad bin Naif’s men. They include 6 year-old Elan Al Rashoodi, who was with her mother protesting the imprisonment of her grandfather, the respected scholar and former judge, Suleiman Al Rashoodi. There are about 40 children who remain behind bars; most are Shia children from Qatif who were arrested during large pro-democracy protests.
We must be honest with the Obama administration. We understand that you have interests in our country, but that doesn’t mean that you welcome and embrace the killers of our children and the abusers of our women. We are certain that you would not forgive us if we did the same. Allowing a human right criminal to walk the halls of democracy in Washington undermined the belief of many in western democratic values. These are the values we have been hoping and working to bring to our country.
That’s why hosting a man directly responsible for killing of peaceful protesters, including 4 children, oppressing enlightened thinkers, abusing the human rights of millions, and commanding the security apparatus of the world’s largest absolute monarchy sends the wrong message to our people. The message is that we do not respect you.
It s a high time to name and shame human rights criminals responsible for murdering Ahmed Matar, who had planned to seek his college education in the United States, and for stealing the best years of thousands of our youths. The pain of the mothers, sisters and fathers of murdered protesters and imprisoned thousands cannot be ignored any longer. If Bin Naif is among Obama’s close friends, then the US has lost, in our people’s eye, any moral ground it claims to have, in our region and the world at large.
In a speech in May 2011, President Obama compared Arab calls for freedom with the refusal of American patriots in Boston to pay taxes to a distant king. He was right.
Ali Al Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs
A dissident from the Arabian Peninsula