It was to be the international launch of Saudi Arabia after the ambitious reforms announced by the crown prince and ruler de facto, Mohamed Bin Salman. But above all, the organization of the G20 summit, which takes place this weekend, sought to leave behind the enormous stain caused to the kingdom by the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The covid-19 pandemic has frustrated Riyadh's plans: the meeting of world leaders will be virtual, which detracts from the event. However, he has not avoided the campaign to boycott him by human rights organizations.
"There has been disappointment," admit Western diplomatic sources in Riyadh. “The initial aspiration of Saudi Arabia was to take advantage of the rotating presidency of the G20 to refloat the plans of the crown prince and whiten the liabilities that have accumulated these years ”, sums up an interlocutor. That passive It includes restrictions on freedoms, the assassination of Khashoggi by Saudi agents, and the humanitarian catastrophe caused by the Yemen war, which have overshadowed the assets of the major economic and social reforms undertaken under the heir.
Following the closure of borders to curb the coronavirus, videoconference meetings of ministers, central bank governors and other delegates have deprived the Desert Kingdom of the media coverage it expected. Eager to demonstrate its global influence, the first Arab country to chair the G20 was still talking at the end of September of bringing together the heads of state and government of the countries that represent 85% of world economic production and three-quarters of the world. International Trade. That is why the sudden announcement that the summit, presided over by King Salmán, would finally be virtual was surprising.
So the debates on the final communiqué will not benefit from the direct diplomacy that saves so many negotiations, nor will there be the traditional family photo. At the same time, the format avoids Prince Mohamed the risk of embarrassing encounters with some leaders such as the Turkish Recep Tayyip Erdogan, determined to go further in the Khashoggi affair, murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. Although the heir he came to accept political responsibility, the trial that convicted eight officers did not convince his detractors. Activists are using the summit to draw attention to their authoritarianism and human rights violations in the kingdom.
"The G20 presidency has given the government of Prince Mohamed Bin Salmán an undeserved aura of international prestige," said Michael Page, the deputy director for the Middle East at Human Rights Watch (HWR), earlier this month. Page denounced that "instead of showing concern about the serious abuses committed by Saudi Arabia, the G20 is promoting the well-funded publicity efforts of the Saudi government to show that the country is reforming despite the significant increase in repression since 2017." The Saudi secretariat of the forum did not respond to EL PAÍS about these allegations.
Since taking over the G20 presidency last year, Saudi Arabia has abolished the death penalty for minors, abolished flogging in public, and recognized the right of women to marry or live independently without permission from their legal guardian. It has also announced that from next March foreign immigrants will be able to change jobs or leave the country without authorization from their employer. But human rights organizations consider the changes insufficient and insist that freedoms have in fact been restricted.
Amnesty International, HRW and other leading NGOs boycotted a meeting organized by the G20 in order not to support the Saudi regime. Also the mayors of Paris, London, New York and Los Angeles declined to participate in a conference on-line on urban development in protest of the internal repression and war in Yemen. In the same vein, several MEPs have called on the EU to boycott the summit and members of the US Congress have made a similar appeal to the White House. Neither of those requests has been successful, although Donald Trump's participation is not guaranteed due to his personal battle with the election results.
At the center of the activists' complaints is the arrest of prominent women for defending the same rights (to drive or not depend on the guardianship of the male) that the heir is promoting, something that Amnesty describes as "shameful hypocrisy." "Although (their) empowerment is high on the G20 Saudi agenda, those who led campaigns for women's rights are consumed in prison or awaiting trial," denounces the group that urges participants to use the summit to demand their release.
From Reporters Without Borders (RSF) they have chosen to question world leaders through social networks. The host of the G20 "has 34 journalists in jail … Can we count on Pedro Sánchez to take a position in favor of press freedom in Saudi Arabia?", Asks the organization in a tweet that is repeated with the names of other leaders. Although it is not part of the G20, Spain is a permanent guest.