Why New Zealand needs to cool its relations with Saudi Arabia


When I heard about the executions of the 47 people in Saudi Arabia at the weekend, I was disgusted, but not terribly surprised. As a nation with vast oil reserves Saudi Arabia has done very well economically using its petroleum dollars. However the development of its economy is very lopsided and it is also significantly hindered by its abysmal treatment of its people and in particular its women and ethnic and religious minorities.

The executions have done nothing to help Saudi Arabia’s image in the world. The executions have cast light on its grisly record of beheadings, often overlooked by the west despite being as revolting as the Daesh executions that western nations tend to focus their revulsion on. They have done nothing to help Saudi Arabia’s image in the Middle East either with widespread anger at the execution of a prominent Shi’ite cleric in a predominantly Sunni nation. In a region wracked by war and atrocities, having state-sanctioned atrocities thrown into the mix of gore and blood is an unwelcome and unnecessary escalation of the mayhem.

There are strong reasons why New Zealand should step back from the proverbial coal face and look at how it treats Saudi Arabia as a fellow nation in the global community. Although there has been significant good in terms of the economic development of the two countries come from the relationship between Wellington and Riyadh, the social and cultural ties between the nations have barely developed in all that time.

In terms of the rights of women for example, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia could not be more different:

  • A Saudi woman cannot drive, work or go out without a male relative accompanying her – a New Zealand woman can do all of that
  • A Saudi woman has little or no legal protection before the courts if she is mistreated – and the very vast majority of women are too scared to come forward if they have been mistreated
  • Saudi women have very little if any political representation
  • Conferences on developing women’s rights in Saudi Arabia are almost completely attended by males

In terms of general human rights, again, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia could not be more different:

  • A dissenter is a terrorist  under Saudi law – a blogger named Raif Badawi was sentenced to 1,000 lashes for writing about political activities in Saudi Arabia
  • Capital punishment is widespread and just two days ago 47 people were executed for various alleged offences
  • Trials are rarely fair and defendants are often found guilty on flimsy evidence that would not survive in a proper court of law
  • Saudi Arabia shows little regard for religious or ethnic minorities

As long as the regime of Saudi Arabia is recognized and legitimized by New Zealand and other western nations in pursuit of economic development without regard for it human rights, Saudi Arabia will not progress as a nation. Therefore it is quite appropriate that we hold the Saudi Arabian diplomatic representatives to account for their conduct and tell them that New Zealand will not attempt to progress economic ties between the countries until Saudi Arabia improves its conduct.

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