Let us indeed celebrate Malala, but don’t forget the fate of Saudi Arabia’s women

Opinion: No Western country has called Saudis or Bahrainis to account over their repression

Pakistani schoolchildren hold a handwritten sign during a special class to commemorate the anniversary of Malala Yousufzai’s shooting at a school in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, today. Photograph: AP

Pakistani schoolchildren hold a handwritten sign during a special class to commemorate the anniversary of Malala Yousufzai’s shooting at a school in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, today. Photograph: AP


A year ago yesterday the Taliban shot 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai in the head in Mingora in the Swat Valley of Pakistan because she had spoken up for the right of girls to go to school. Tomorrow, it is widely expected she will be announced as the 2013 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Some of us had entertained hopes that this year’s prize would go to Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning or Julian Assange – or to all three jointly – for having done humanity a huge favour by, at great risk to themselves, exposing the massive contempt of major powers for people’s right to know what’s being done in their name: the prime purpose of the Prism and Tempora surveillance systems being to facilitate preparations for wars for which there is no mandate and all manner of other nefarious practices.

Still, nobody can question the heroic contribution Malala has made to campaigns for the rights of girls and women around the world and thereby to decency in society and a diminution in the drive to war. It is hardly her fault at her age that she fell in with the wrong crowd after arriving in the West. She was the star of last month’s New York meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, founded in honour of the man who in 1998 launched a missile attack on Sudan to divert attention from a semen stain on an intern’s frock.

Who can doubt – especially if she wins the prize tomorrow– that Malala will be stalked wherever she goes by warmonger Tony Blair, waiting for his moment to ponce.

Closer look
The recognition which it is widely assumed Malala will be given should encourage a closer look at the position of girls and women in countries with some ideological similarity to Pakistan.

The Saudi Arabian regime of King Abdullah bin al-‘Aziz Al Saud denies human rights to nine million women and girls, eight million foreign workers and two million Shias. Citizens face arbitrary arrest and internment and are routinely tortured in prisons. Women are banned from driving or from travelling without the permission of their husband or another male relative. It is illegal to try to form a political party or trade union. Only Muslims are entitled to worship their god.

Four men have recently had one foot and one hand amputated for stealing from a supermarket. Journalists have been lashed until their bones protrude for writing articles construed as critical of the Abdullah regime.

On January 9th this year, Rizana Nafeek, a Sri Lankan domestic worker, was beheaded for killing a four-month-old baby in her care. The infant had died from lack of oxygen. No post-mortem was carried out. Riazana vehemently denied being responsible for the baby stopping breathing. She had been aged 17 – a year older than Malala – at the time it all happened.

In April, five Yemeni men were beheaded for possession of banned drugs in the city of Jizan and their heads in hessian bags hung on their bodies which had been “crucified” and put on display in a square in front of the university.

These examples and many others of State cruelty are listed in Amnesty International’s 2013 report. The rate of executions in the country continues to rise. At least 12 people received the death penalty in May alone.

The Sunni extremists of the Taliban are excoriated for murdering people who refuse to conform to their version of Islam . . . Offences for which your head can be hacked off in Saudi Arabia include kidnap, rape, adultery, witchcraft, sorcery and “apostasy”. Amnesty says it’s impossible to be certain how many are put to death for these reasons or others, executions being commonly carried out unannounced and in secret.

In March 2011, a column of Saudi tanks rolled into Bahrain across the causeway linking the two countries to help crush a democracy movement which, encouraged by the “Arab Spring”, had occupied Pearl Square in the capital, Manama. A spokesman for Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, king of Bahrain, rejected criticism of his invitation to the Saudis to invade by explaining that the Obama administration had been informed in advance.

No Western country has declared the Saudi or Bahraini regimes anathema on account of the savage repression of campaigners for democracy or the denial of basic rights to women and girls.

Saudi Arabia is a staunch ally of the US and Britain, which between them have supplied the dictatorship with more than $100 billion worth of arms in the past 25 years. Bahrain is the headquarters of the US Fifth Fleet. The notion of a Saudi or Bahrani who risks all in the fight for women’s and others’ rights being lauded by the likes of the Clinton Institute is laughable.

Malala will be entitled to every cheer which is raised when, as we expect, she is named tomorrow as Nobel Peace Prize winner. But let us not as we applaud forget those who struggle elsewhere in face of ferocious oppression for equality for girls and women and for all.

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