Sabria S. Jawhar, a writer for Arab News, has heavily criticized a new documentary called “Saudi Arabia Uncovered.” The documentary details the current state of Saudi Arabia, highlighting various ways in which its citizens lack basic human rights and authorities suppress free political expression. The documentary calls attention to the failing economy, conflict in the Eastern Province, women’ rights, a rising number of executions, and Saudi citizens’ call for reform. Producer James Jones got the idea to make the documentary after he saw cell phone footage of Raif Badawi’s first lashing more than a year ago. He then tapped into an underground activist network of Saudi youth, one of whom, Yasser, was able to discreetly film protests and abuses by authorities on his cell phone.
While Jawhar says that “one can’t argue with the content of the videos,” she also stated that “the context is everything.” She made some points about locations in the film not being accurate (such as footage of a prison, which she claims was actually an illegal migrant detention center), and stated that most Saudis actually prefer a monarchy because stability is so important to them. However, the actual content of the documentary undermines any of her explanations about the footage being dramatized and taken out of context. The death of Sheikh Nimr and arrest of his nephew Ali al-Nimr are legitimate human rights concerns, as is the campaign for more women’s rights, which is particularly undermined by the guardianship system.
Although the US continues to maintain a strong alliance with Saudi Arabia, human rights groups increasingly condemn the country’s stance on executions and the total suppression of free expression. The documentary suggests the decline in the price of oil and the economic obligations the Kingdom now has towards two expensive wars (in Yemen and Syria) may have accelerated the royal family’s paranoia about dissent and opposition, causing it to become even more oppressive. However, international organizations strongly recommend that the Kingdom ease up on repressive policies that affect nearly every aspect of a Saudi citizen’s life. Only time and circumstances will tell if Saudi Arabia decides to finally take its critics seriously.
Margaret Bailey is an Advocacy Intern at ADHRB.