The obscenity of calling Saudi King Abdullah a “reformer”

Vox.com: Saudi Arabia’s deceased King Abdullah, according to just about every obituary in major Western publications, was a reformer. The New York TimesWashington PostBBC, and NPRall describe Abdullah as a ruler committed to reforming Saudi Arabia’s notoriously repressive practices. Sen. John McCain called Abdullah an advocate for peace; IMF head Christine Lagarde called him a “strong advocate for women.”

But Abdullah did not, in fact, make any fundamental reforms to the Saudi state, which remains one of the most oppressive and inhumane on earth. It punishes dissidents, including currently with multiple rounds of publicly lashing a blogger, amputates hands and legs for robbery, and enforces a system of gender restrictions that make women not just second-class citizens, but in many ways the property of men. Abdullah’s reputation as a reformer comes from some relatively limited policy shifts he made. Praising Abdullah as a reformer, in addition to being misleading, seems to imply that Saudi Arabia should be held to a lesser standard than the rest of humanity, and that its citizens should be somehow grateful for Abdullah’s minor adjustments to a system that remains cruelly unjust.

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