Mohammed al-Nimr, the son of Sheik Nimr al-Nimr, and CODEPINK’s Medea Benjamin speak against Saudi Arabia’s brutality, and discuss the Summit on Saudi Arabia that the Real News will live stream on March 5, 2016. Summit link: http://www.codepink.org/2016saudisummit
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Saudi Arabia is notorious for its gross human rights abuses. According to a world report from Human Rights Watch, the Saudi regime is systematically engaged in torture of prisoners, including children. It has committed politically motivated executions and imprisoned many political dissidents doing peaceful political activities. In the last year, the Saudi regime has launched an intervention into neighboring Yemen at the behest of the current regime in a move that has been seen as pushback against the spirit of Arab Spring. On January 2, the Sunni-led nation executed Shia cleric and political dissident Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, along with 46 others, horrifying much of the international community as well as creating additional tension between regional rival Iran. On to discuss all of this is Mohammad Al-Nimr, the late son of cleric Nimr al-Nimr, and Medea Benjamin. Medea Benjamin is co-founder of the peace group Code Pink, and the human rights organization Global Exchange. She has been organizing against U.S. interventions throughout the world. And Mohammad al-Nimr is the son of the late Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. I thank you both for joining us today. MEDEA BENJAMIN: Thank you, Sharmini. MOHAMMAD AL-NIMR: Thank you for having me. PERIES: First, let me offer you my deepest condolences. Your father really struggled for human rights and democracy in Saudi Arabia, and you’re brave to be walking in his footsteps. AL-NIMR: Thank you for having me. PERIES: Now, you’ll be attending a conference that Medea Benjamin is organizing in Washington in March. Can you tell us a little bit about why you feel compelled to participate in that conference and take the risks you are doing, given that you’re living in Saudi Arabia? AL-NIMR: Some people have to take risks to speak out about what’s going on in that country. That country is terrorizing the people inside and the people outside. You have an example in Yemen and in Bahrain, and in Egypt, Libya. Lots of countries. And now Lebanon. So we need to discuss the root of this ideology that this country is using to justify its action, and we need to talk about the human rights inside that country, the children that you mention, and some–in the latest execution there were, like, three children. One of them were 14 years old when he got arrested. They arrested him for 11 years and executed him. So we need to raise awareness among all the world to show the world what kind of government, what kind of regime is this regime. PERIES: And Medea, you are organizing a conference early March. Tell us about why you’re doing so, and what is the timing of this conference? In essence, why are you doing it now? BENJAMIN: Well, the Middle East is in such incredible turmoil, and any of us who want to see resolutions of these conflicts have to look at some of the roots, and one of them is the Wahhabi ideology that is at the foundation of the Saudi state, and has been spread by the Saudis using billions of dollars of petro money over the last several decades to spread this ideology. And the United States is complicit in this, because it has been a staunch ally of the Saudi regime, as Mohammad said, a regime that does not allow any freedom of speech, association, press, no political parties, using U.S. weapons and weapons from other European countries to commit what the United Nations says looks like war crimes. So we have to, at some point, start getting our administration, our State Department, our Congress, to raise these issues and to pressure them to stop this alliance with the repressive Saudi regime. PERIES: Medea, in terms of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which is the, I guess the biggest attraction in terms of not only the United States, but Canada and other developed nations have an affinity with, because the arms lobby is so great, as you have mentioned. Give us a sense of how large this industry is, and what’s at stake for the arms industry, and those countries that are selling arms to Saudi Arabia. BENJAMIN: The U.S. sales to Saudi Arabia between 2010 and 2015 have been the largest weapon sales in the history of humankind. Over $90 billion. This is something that is feeding the military-industrial complex in the United States. They push heavily for the State Department to not look at the human rights abuses, and instead give the approval for these weapon sales, which the State Department has done. And in the other countries there is a huge debate going on now in Canada, with the new Prime Minister Trudeau. In Germany there have been some cutoffs of weapon sales already. Sweden, this has been brought up and caused a great furor in the UK, and in fact for the European Union as a whole on February 25 there will be a vote about whether the Europeans should cut off weapons sales. So in other countries there is a tremendous discussion going on, and there is so little of the questioning here in the United States, and that’s one of the reasons why we need to come together at this conference on March 5 and 6 in Washington, DC, and create some campaigns that will put pressure on our own government to question this relationship. PERIES: Now, Mohammad, many in the U.S. who are critics of foreign policy says that Saudi Arabia is more or less an extension of U.S. foreign policy in the region. However, people in the region also talk about the rise of the Saudi imperialism in the region as a great problem in the region, because they’re not a consultative collaborating force. They’re mainly interested in their rivalry with Iran. How is that being received on the ground in Saudi Arabia? Are people aware and conscious of this kind of dichotomy? AL-NIMR: If you want to talk about the alignment between Saudi Arabia and the United States, and their involvement in the crime, the United States as a government has an interest in the Arabian peninsula, and that’s one of their policies. They’re supporting this regime because they’re seeing this regime as one of the stablest regimes in the, in the Arabian peninsula. But that’s not true. The regime is doing much harm to the region than making the, the region stable. What the, the United States government needs to understand about this issue, and what the people need to understand, it’s not about four years’ or eight years’ time for a government to come here and gain as much as it can as he can of an interest from that place. It’s about the long-term interest. And if they are thinking about the long-term interest they should not support a region who is spreading terrorists and terrorizing his neighbors. For example, you can go back to 9/11, and it’s not a coincidence that 15 people in that attack were from Saudi Arabia. There is a fundamental problem in the education system in that country. And the United States is turning a blind eye for that problem. And that’s the cause, like all the interest that the United States gained from that country along the time, it’s not worth the, the life of the people who’s getting killed or who’s dying because of the the terrors that that ideology is creating. PERIES: And Mohammad, are there a critical mass of people that are organizing in Saudi Arabia to shed greater light on what’s happening in Saudi Arabia like that of your father? AL-NIMR: Actually, that’s not an option inside Saudi Arabia. It’s–the government is basically either killing or putting these people in prison. Like, my father was always asking people to be peaceful, and he was always asking people to demand their rights in the most peaceful way, even without even throwing rocks on the police riot. But the government would not tolerate any kind of difference that could create a pressure to be, to be more just to people, or to, to treat people with most kind–the more kind way, and human rights treatment. So that’s, that’s a problem. PERIES: Now, are some of your colleagues, friends who are attending this conference in Washington, having any pressure placed on them as a result of their desire to participate in this? AL-NIMR: I honestly have no connections with these advocate–they are great people, but I have no connections with them. PERIES: All right. Let me ask you, Medea. Medea, you’ve been trying to organize this conference for a few months now, and I understand you’ve come under some pressure in terms of the guests you are inviting by the Saudis. Tell us more about that. BENJAMIN: Well, first let me say that we invited people from the Saudi embassy to come speak, just as we invited people from the U.S. State Department and the administration. None of them were willing to come and speak. And when the Saudi embassy then looked at the list of speakers, they said oh, these are people who are all opposed to the Saudi government. And we said, well then, come and give your side of the story. But they won’t do that. Instead what they did is go to a number of the speakers from Saudi Arabia and threaten them. Tell them that they better not come and speak, that their families would feel the repercussions back at home. It is incredible, the thuggery of this government here on U.S. soil to do this kinds of threat, and we had Saudis who had to pull out of the conference. We also had a Saudi woman who was going to speak with us by Skype from Saudi Arabia, and the government got to her and said she wasn’t even able to speak to us on Skype. The Saudi government has put out a hit piece on Code Pink. And so they have done what they can to try to stop this conference from happening. In fact, they put out a rumor that the conference had been canceled. So we are doing this despite the pressure from the Saudis, and I really want to thank the people from Saudi Arabia who are standing up to this pressure. The journalists who are coming, the Saudi lawyers who are speaking, because they run great risks just by speaking out in an open forum here in Washington, DC about the abuses of their government. PERIES: And give us a sense of what the conference is going to tackle, the dates of the conference, and so on. BENJAMIN: So, this is the first time in Washington, DC that people have come together to challenge the U.S.-Saudi relationship. We have 20 speakers coming, an amazing array of people from people like Vijay Prashad and Chris Hedges, to Matar Matar, a member of parliament in Bahrain. The activists from Yemen will be there. We have not only a great group of speakers, but people who have done reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, who will talk about their findings. And we are dedicating the Saturday, March 5, to the discussions and Sunday, March 6 to brainstorming about the kinds of campaigns that we could do. And this will range from things like how do we challenge the weapons sales, how do we do more to support individuals. And Mohammad, you might mention your own nephew, I think he is, Ali al-Nimr, who is still facing execution and crucifixion, arrested when he was 17 years old. How we can do more to save the lives of people who are in Saudi jails, how can we help them get released. How can we do something about the Saudi lobby that has been paying former members of our own Congress, including senators, to be lobbyists for the Saudi government? How can we look at the myriad of universities and think tanks and places like the Clinton Foundation, and even the Carter Center, that have taken millions and millions of dollars from the Saudis? So these are the kind of things we will be doing. PERIES: The conference in Washington is taking place March 5 and 6, and the Real News will be there to broadcast it live in a livestream. And of course we’ll be interviewing some of the many guests that you have invited. I thank you so much for joining us, Medea Benjamin, Mohammad Nimr al-Nimr. AL-NIMR: Thank you. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.