International

Wajeha al-Huwaider, Nursultan Nazarbayev

Martyn Frampton writes about Wajeha al-Huwaider:

‘Control this and we won’t have a problem’ declared the Intelligence Officer, pointing to his mouth; such was the warning administered to Wajeha al-Huwaider when she was summoned to Intelligence Headquarters in Saudi Arabia last week. Her ‘crime’? To have attempted to plan an event calling for greater rights for women in Saudi Arabia. The fact that the event itself never materialised is considered irrelevant. In the Saudi Kingdom, to have considered holding it is crime enough. In true Orwellian style, the thought of the ‘crime’ is as punishable as any actual transgression.
And as a result, Wajeha al-Huwaider, the Saudi journalist and women’s rights’ activist, has been warned to keep quiet and had her passport taken away from her.

Wajeha’s freedom of movement was removed only days before she was due to fly to Europe and then the US to address a series of conferences. The purpose of these gatherings? Broadly speaking, to analyse prospects for reform and the advance of human rights in the Saudi Kingdom! Her recent personal experience would appear to offer the starkest evidence, as to the state of play in this regard.

Last month she staged an extraordinary solo demonstration, as she walked the Fahd Causeway that links Bahrain with Saudi Arabia, carrying a placard that read, ‘Give Women their Rights!’ Unsurprisingly, she managed to get only a few hundred yards before being arrested by Saudi security forces, whereupon she was detained for several hours. Thereafter, she was released, but only when a male relative had arrived to vouch for her. “

Read the rest. The good news is that Wajeha’s passport was returned to her over the weekend.

Also, for those of us whose knowledge of Kazakhstan is gleaned entirely from Borat’s new film: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, take a few minutes out to read Andrew Apostolou’s explanation of why Bush was wrong to invite Nazarbayev to the White House:

For Nazarbayev, who visited the Clinton White House twice but has not met Bush in Washington, D.C. since December 2001, the invitation is a victory. He will use the Bush White House to confirm that his autocracy has substantial U.S. support. This couldn’t come at a worse time, as a predominately Muslim Kazakhstan teeters on the brink of turning into another Saudi Arabia: corrupt at the top, with ample cause for discontent at the bottom.

There will be plenty of voices calling for President Bush to ignore these abuses because the United States already deals with leaders who are worse but more useful, such as Pakistan’s General Pervez Musharraf and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. Yet Nazarbayev, who has remained steadfastly close to Russia, has little extra to offer the United States beyond his country’s limited counterterrorism capabilities and already-agreed oil-and-gas projects. Nazarbayev will burnish his image with a White House reception, but the United States could pay the price in the long run for reverting to the Cold War habit of embracing a temporarily useful local thug.

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