The Post-American Middle East
Weak US Policy Makes Life Harder for Middle East Liberals

The case of a Saudi liberal blogger’s horrific sentence highlights the deteriorating conditions of human rights in Saudi Arabia. The Times reports:

Saudi Arabia’s supreme court has upheld a sentence of 1,000 lashes and ten years in prison for the liberal blogger Raif Badawi despite worldwide outrage and formal protests from foreign governments.

Ensaf Haidar, Mr Badawi’s wife, who was granted asylum in Canada, said she was “shocked” by the decision, which is final under Saudi law. “I was optimistic that the advent of Ramadan and the arrival of a new king would bring a pardon for the prisoners of conscience, including my husband,” she said.

Now she expects the flogging to resume as soon as Friday, despite warnings that Mr Badawi, 31, who is in poor health, may not survive. […]

Amnesty International, which has led the charge over Mr Badawi’s case, said that the supreme court’s decision was “a further stain on Saudi Arabia’s already bleak human rights record”. Philip Luther, the charity’s Middle East and North Africa director, said: “It is abhorrent that this cruel and unjust sentence has been upheld. […]

Far from halting cruel punishments, however, the new monarch seems to be doubling down. The number of executions in Saudi Arabia this year has already surpassed last year’s total of 90.

It’s important to recognize how regional geopolitics and anti-liberal domestic policies are related here. Not just in Saudi Arabia but in countries like Egypt as well, it’s the instability in the region that is persuading governments to crack down hard on dissent. The lack of confidence in the strength of the U.S. alliance means that the rulers of these countries see no alternative to harsh methods. They are battening the hatches down against the storms blowing through the region—living, as it were, in a post-American world.

The myth that the Middle East would be a nicer place without an overarching American stability guarantee is being exposed as wishful thinking. In the old days, a more confident Saudi establishment would have found a way to set this case aside; if all else failed, quiet intervention from a U.S. president the Saudis respected would most likely have resulted in some kind of clemency. But as it is, the U.S. and Western opinion don’t have much consequence in the Kingdom these days. That’s a stroke of bad luck not only for Mr. Badawi, but for many other people whose lives are caught up in this gathering storm.

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