The party I imagined when Mike Ashley departs – It won’t be if this Newcastle United takeover happens
Stories telling us Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) is the man with the money and the intent to action a Newcastle United takeover from Mike Ashley, have made brief mention of the lamentable human rights record of the Saudi regime he leads, but these brief asides offer little of the detail about the individual.
Anyone with concerns about Bin Salman staining the club if he were to become owner, might visit wikipedia to refresh their knowledge of recent Saudi politics, However (like me), they might be confused when it initially describes him as being “appointed crown prince” as a “successful reformer” and a man who has expanded the rights of women that can only be criticised for the “shortfalls of his reform program”, as if he is a well intended individual trying to move in the right direction, just not fast enough.
One has to keep reading well into the article (and beyond Wikipedia) to get more detail on the controversies that surround MBS.
His aforementioned “appointment” by his father King Salman in June 2017 involved deposing existing crown prince Muhammad bin Nayef, upending the established line of succession and having him detained indefinitely.
Within months of taking control there followed a purge of royals, politicians, businessmen and clerics. Reports state that up to 500 individuals were detained, including billionaires. Assets of $800 billion were targeted with at least $100bn collected. While the official position was that this was an anti-corruption campaign, the New York Times wrote that it appeared to be “the latest move to consolidate the power of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman”. Whatever MBS claims, newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported that at the time of the purge Major General Ali al-Qahtani was tortured to death in the Ritz. The New York Times went further with details of how his body was found with his neck “twisted unnaturally as though it had been broken” and “burn marks that appeared to be from electric shocks,”.
MBS did not restrict his strong-arm tactics to other Saudi power-brokers though. Despite the claims of reforms, in 2018 women’s rights activists were arrested and jailed with others that had been imprisoned since 2015 under legal threat of beheading.
Later, in October 2018, the more infamous case of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder occurred. The Washington Post reporter and Saudi national was killed in the Saudi consulate in Turkey. Publicly Bin Salman said he accepted responsibility for the killing “because it happened under my watch” but asserted that he did not order it. This is at odds with every credible report. The CIA concluded that bin Salman had ordered Khashoggi’s assassination. Khashoggi had been strongly critical of Bin Salman and his father. Bin Salman’s closest adviser Saud al-Qahtani supervised the 15-man kill-team and seven of the team were bodyguards of MBS. London based Middle East Eye cited an anonymous Saudi who said they brought Khashoggi’s fingers to Mohammad bin Salman in Riyadh as evidence that the mission was successful.
Less famous is the case of Murtaja Qureiris. Arrested at 13 for a crime he’s alleged to have committed aged just 10. There is evidence that he took part in a protest. Video of him shouting into a megaphone – “The people demand human rights!”. There’s no such evidence that he threw a molotov cocktail as his accusers claim. Saudi prosecutors want to “impose the harshest form of the death penalty, which may include crucifixion or dismemberment after execution.” According to international law, the death penalty is forbidden for persons under age 18, but this child faces a grotesque death for a “crime” committed aged 10. Reprieve, the nonprofit organisation of international lawyers and investigators who “fight for the victims of extreme human rights abuses” has argued that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman himself should be the one held accountable.
All of those outrages pale in comparison to the war Saudi Arabia continues to wage against Yemen. It may have started in 2015, but at that time Bin Salman was Defence Minister prior to becoming crown Prince. He has been described as the architect of the conflict. The New York Times report that he “took the lead, launching the war… without full coordination across the security services.”.
The 2018 UN statement on what has become of Yemen is harrowing:
‘The worst man-made humanitarian crisis of our time. Three quarters of the population – 22.2 million people – need humanitarian assistance, including 11.3 million people in acute need who urgently require assistance to survive.
A generation of children is growing up in suffering and deprivation. Nearly two million children are out of school, 1.8 million children under the age of five are acutely malnourished, including 400,000 who suffer from severe acute malnutrition and are 10 times more likely to die if they do not receive medical treatment.’
The World Health Organisation described the “world’s worst cholera outbreak” with hundreds of thousands infected. And of course, there are thousands upon thousands of civilian deaths directly resulting from airstrikes. Strikes which have utilised cluster munitions outlawed under international agreements.
Much more could be written about Saudi atrocities. I don’t want to labour the point, but nor did I want it left at a single line from Amnesty as most reports of a potential sale have restricted it to. I’m acutely aware that many will already be far better informed than I am, but also that I can’t be the only one sorely lacking in knowledge who required plenty of reading of my own into Bin Salman to understand the extent of his culpability. Nobody should live in wilful ignorance of the despicable acts our potential new owner has engaged in.
As an ally of the USA and the UK, criticism of Saudi Arabia and it’s leaders can be muddied by acts of diplomacy and it’s important to state the facts clear and allow people to take an informed perspective. Donald Trump and Theresa May have wined and dined Bin Salman in their homes as national leaders. If he were not not refused permission to invest in an English club, supporters of that club rightly ask why they should make a principled stand that neither their government nor their football association have seen fit to make.
Obviously I don’t think for one second Mike Ashley is selling, but if he does, and if he sells to Bin Salman, it won’t be the party for me that I hoped Ashley’s departure would prompt.
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