From Bezos to Khashoggi to Yemen, Saudi Arabia and MBS Revel in Their Impunity | Opinion

It's hard not to be astonished by Saudi Arabia's arrogant belief that it can do whatever it likes. It comes from being disgustingly rich and having everyone suck up to you, I suppose.

But this week it's the desert kingdom's hypocrisy which I'm more appalled by. Its sheer brass neck, if you like.

Consider the bombshell claim that the Amazon boss, Jeff Bezos, had his phone hacked in 2018 by a WhatsApp message sent from the personal account of the country's de-facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

Mr Bezos is also the owner of The Washington Post, whose opinion pieces by one Jamal Khashoggi were proving to be particularly irksome to the Saudi high command at the time.

Following the hack, in which spyware was allegedly installed on the publisher's phone, intimate details were printed in the supermarket tabloid, The National Enquirer, including text messages Bezos sent his girlfriend.

The extraction of "large amounts of data" shows the arrogance of the Saudis who, in the words of the former National Security Council staffer, Andrew Miller, "have no real boundaries or limits in terms of what they are prepared to do in order to protect and advance MBS."

In other words, they don't believe the rules about how to behave which apply to the international community are something they need bother about.

Like locking up people for expressing views peacefully, such as the women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul or the liberal blogger, Raif Badawi.

Or putting to death pro-democracy protestors, who as teenagers used WhatsApp to organize demonstrations in a part of the country where a minority felt oppressed.

Or ambushing a dissident journalist as he arrives at one of your consulates, killing him and chopping up his body—while his fiancé waits outside for him to emerge with a piece of paper allowing them to wed.

Or bombing one of the poorest countries in the world back to the Dark Ages, leaving 100,000 dead and 85,000 infants on the brink of starvation.

I could go on, of course, but it brings me onto the hypocrisy of the Saudi foreign minister when confronted with his country's crimes and misdemeanors by the European Parliament on Tuesday.

"Stop lecturing us," said Adel al-Jubeir, who seems to embody the kingdom's arrogance and entitlement.

The MEPs were concerned about the country's legal system after it let go free those who ordered the killing of the Washington Post journalist, Khashoggi.

Al-Jubeir stormed: "We are a sovereign country, we are not a banana republic, and we will respect the decisions of our court system."

Note the sanctimonious reference to corrupt and unstable Central American plutocracies—as if this could never possibly be applied to Riyadh.

Well, I'm not so sure when you consider how a cross-party group of British MPs' led by former Conservative minister, Crispin Blunt, have been consistently refused entry to Saudi Arabia to visit the prisons where human rights activists are spending years behind bars, so they can speak to them about their torture as well as to their jailers.

It's not the first time the "banana republic" comparison has been used by al-Jubeir, who trotted it out in September 2018 when demanding Canada apologize for calling for the release of those same political prisoners.

It's his way of maintaining the pretense that, unlike places like Honduras and Guatemala, Saudi Arabia is a fine, upstanding and law-abiding member of the international community—when the truth is so very far from that.

Stop lecturing us! This from a country which in June 2017 issued a list of 13 demands to its neighbor, Qatar, which included closing down the internationally respected TV station, Al Jazeera.

It also insisted the tiny Gulf state cut off all relations with Iran, even though Qatar's enormous wealth is based on a liquid natural gas field it shares with Tehran.

But until Doha abides with these ludicrous demands—which also include shutting a Turkish military base despite the fact that that Riyadh was only prevented from invading Qatar in 2017 by the then US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson—it will be subject to a boycott by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Stop lecturing us! The brass neck of a foreign minister who claims his country is the policeman of the Middle East when really it's just a neighborhood bully.

On Wednesday came the announcement of yet another UN investigation into Saudi misbehavior which will again be ignored by Riyadh, believing itself to be above the law and beyond reproach even by the international community.

Last year the UN special rapporteur on summary executions and extrajudicial killings, Agnes Callamard, concluded there was "credible evidence" linking MBS to Khashoggi's murder.

Now it's the turn of the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, who in the wake of the Bezos hacking has said MBS should be investigated for "continuous, direct and personal efforts to target perceived opponents."

But perhaps the last word should go to the British MEP, Martin Horwood, who confronted the Saudi diplomat about the kingdom's human rights record, the jailed women's rights defenders, the imprisonment of intellectuals and the record number of executions in 2019.

"If you want to have people look at Saudi Arabia and see a modern, inclusive, moderate society, then you simply will be disappointed; that won't happen until Saudi Arabia tackles these flagrant abuses of human rights," he said.

'You have one of the worst records in the world, and if we are to treat you as an ally and friend, then that has to change'.

Here endeth the lecture, as they say.

Anthony Harwood is a former foreign editor of The Daily Mail.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​