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How many Loujain Al-Hathlouls are there in the Arab world?

Women demonstrate in solidarity for the Palestinian women held in Israeli prisons 8 March 2012 [Ashraf Amra/Apaimages]
Women demonstrate in solidarity for the Palestinian women held in Israeli prisons 8 March 2012 [Ashraf Amra/Apaimages]

Let me make it clear that I am against injustice, oppression and arbitrary arrests for political purposes. I also favour civic freedoms for citizens, regardless of their beliefs or identity, as well as freedom of thought and expression. Hence, I welcomed the release of Saudi Arabian citizen and human rights activist Loujain Al-Hathloul with some satisfaction, although not quite the ecstatic level that prevailed in the international media and across social networks.

Instead, I was thinking of the tens of thousands of men, women and — yes — children languishing in Arab and Israeli prisons where they are subjected to various forms of torture. They suffer great physical and psychological pain, but their cries do not reach US President Joe Biden or anyone else. They have no high profile campaigns to speak on their behalf, as the international human rights organisations did for Al-Hathloul, because their only "crime" is that they worship Allah alone, and honest Muslims have no one to defend them; not human rights organisations, the US or anywhere else in the West.

Arab prisons are filled with tens of thousands of Muslims, so-called "terrorists", and the Arab rulers use them as a pretext in the absurd "war against terror". This is the popular currency used nowadays to buy and keep positions of power.

Biden expressed his joy about Al-Hathloul in a speech at the Pentagon: "Before I begin, I have some welcome news that the Saudi government has released a prominent human rights activist, Loujain Al-Hathloul, from prison… a powerful advocate of women's rights; releasing her was the right thing to do."

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I was astonished that Biden made this announcement given that the issue does not concern the American people, who probably do not know who Lujain Al-Hathloul is. In fact, it is possible that many of them do not know that there is a country called Saudi Arabia or where it is.

It might have been expected of the US president to announce the end of arms sales to the Kingdom until its army leaves Yemen, as he promised in his election campaign. However, he chose not to mention Yemen, the tragedies afflicting the Yemeni people, and the devastation caused by Mohammed Bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, whose reckless war has created a humanitarian catastrophe in once happy Yemen.

It is worth noting that shortly before this, Biden had removed the Houthis from the terrorism list after Trump had designated the group a few days before leaving the White House. Biden's move angered the Saudis, who are fearful of what else his administration might do.

A woman holds banner during a protest staged by members of Movement of Conscience for releasing of women and children in Syrian prisons, in London, United Kingdom on 8 March 2019. [Hasan Esen - Anadolu Agency]

Demonstrators in London, UK, call for the release on women and children held by the Syrian regime on 8 March 2019 [Hasan Esen – Anadolu Agency]

The president's announcement about Al-Hathloul was actually a soft message to the Saudi leadership delivered within the headquarters of the most powerful army in the world, using human rights as a weapon. It's the Democrats' new diplomatic tool. The US is protecting the Kingdom and throne, and de facto ruler Bin Salman must pay the price of that protection, as he did during Trump's presidency. In essence, Biden's was the same speech as Trump's, but delivered in a different tone and language. Both men are Zionists, but the difference is that the new president will not approach the issue as a business transaction as Trump did, blackmailing Saudi Arabia openly. Biden's approach is more deceptive.

Trump did not care about human rights, as was obvious from his cooperating with and support for all the tyrants in the Middle East. He helped to push the heinous murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi onto the back burner, and helped Bin Salman escape punishment. Will Biden reopen this file in the context of the human rights he promotes, or will it remain buried in drawers, hidden underneath piles of dollar bills? The Khashoggi issue almost certainly still worries the prince, especially since Biden mentioned it a lot in his election campaign, and so he probably sits by his phone waiting anxiously for the call from Washington.

A reporter asked White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki whether the Biden administration considered Israel and Saudi Arabia to be important allies of America. In response, she said that the administration is still reviewing and studying many issues. A follow-up question asked when Biden will call Bin Salman; Psaki replied immediately that she had no knowledge of any time frame for such a call.

There is no doubt that this response will worry the arrogant and ambitious prince who is eager to sit on the throne for real. He would be close to doing so if Trump had continued for another term, but now his dream is a bit of a nightmare, with an uncertain political future. He will know that a Brookings Institution report has called on the Biden administration to pressure Riyadh to release his rival Muhammad Bin Nayef, who was pushed aside by Bin Salman. The Brookings report noted that Bin Nayef was not detained for any crime, but simply because he poses a threat to the man who replaced him as crown prince. In short, Bin Nayef is, "The symbol of a viable, competent alternative to the reckless and dangerous crown prince… [F]or Washington to press the Saudi leadership on his case would be a perhaps unusual move, but it should be an urgent task, as his is a special case given his considerable contributions to American security."

READ: If democracy really is 'precious', President Biden, then let the Egyptians taste its fruits

Of course, this is dangerous and disturbing talk in the eyes of His Royal Highness, and if he had sensible advisors they would suggest that he should release Bin Nayef immediately, before he is forced to release him at Biden's bidding, as was the case with Loujain Al-Hathloul.

Although I doubt that he has enough courage to do it, I would advise him to release the hundreds of imams and well-placed others who are in his prisons, including Sheikh Salman Al-Odeh. His only "crime" was that he called for reconciliation with Qatar. Now that has happened, why is he still in prison?

Likewise with Dr Safar Al-Hawali, who apparently criticised the crown prince's purchase of the Salvator Mundi painting by Leonardo Da Vinci for half a million dollars. Al-Hawali said that the Saudis are more deserving of this money because they are silent and do not criticise him and instead accept the worldly life at the expense of the next life. He said all that was left was the cost of building a Temple in Jerusalem and questioned whether the UAE was funding this. The same country is buying homes from Jerusalemites and giving them to Israeli Jews.

Sheikh Awad Al-Qarni and Sheikh Ali Al-Omari, as well as many others are in the same boat.

Egyptian women members of the Muslim Brotherhood hold roses as they stand in the defendants' cage dressed in prison issue white during their trial in at the court in the Egyptian Mediterranean city of Alexandria on 7 December 2013. [AFP via Getty Images]

Egyptian women members of the Muslim Brotherhood hold roses as they stand in the defendants' cage dressed in prison issue white during their trial in at the court in the Egyptian Mediterranean city of Alexandria on 7 December 2013. [AFP via Getty Images]

How amazing would it be if Bin Salman released Palestinian Dr Mohammed Saleh Al-Khoudary, who is 83 years old and suffers from a terminal illness? This would be a blow to Biden and the Zionists. Al-Khoudary has lived in Saudi Arabia for nearly 30 years, and held the position of official Hamas representative in the Kingdom. His son Hani, a university lecturer, could also be released along with the seventy other Jordanians and Palestinians who were arrested with the Al-Khoudarys about three years ago without any justification. The charge was that old standby, supporting a "terrorist entity", a reference, of course, to Hamas. To Bin Salman's shame, it is the same terminology used by Israel.

The words used by Al-Khoudary's family in a press release were directed at Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. "We, your esteemed brothers from the Al-Khoudary family in Palestine, urge your esteemed selves to intervene with the related authorities to release our son, Dr Mohammed Saleh Al-Khoudary, who suffers from a chronic disease."

The Palestinians still believe in brotherhood, and they carry a lot of value for their own people, despite being plotted against and assassinated. The family is asking their son's gaolers to intervene on their behalf, the same people who ordered his arrest. This may be because the good Palestinian families still have pure Arab blood running through their veins, and have inherited the comradeship and chivalry of the Arab past. They shelter those who need shelter and are generous to their guests. The Khoudary family believe that Bin Salman recognises that Dr Mohammed Saleh Al-Khoudary and his son were guests in the Kingdom, but still did not follow the customary rules of the host. This is a serious matter for Arabs who care about their history and have self-respect, as well as respect for their guests. Bin Salman has broken this noble custom, but it is not too late for him to correct his behaviour by releasing Dr Al-Khoudary and the others.

There are many Loujain Al-Hathlouls in the Arab world. Bin Salman could do himself a lot of good by releasing them all on his own initiative, and not simply because the US president has told him to.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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