On Raif Badawi,
in the Bundestag plenary on 28 January 2016
Michael Brand (CDU/CSU)
Mr President, fellow Members of the House, there is one man who encapsulates, in microcosm, the situation in Saudi Arabia, and that is Raif Badawi, the blogger and Sakharov Prize laureate, whose case we are discussing today.
I have met with his courageous wife Ensaf Haidar on several occasions and our meetings have made a profound impression on me. We are also in contact with the German Federal Foreign Office. As has already been mentioned, Raif Badawi has now been admitted to the German Bundestag’s Parliamentarians Protect Parliamentarians (PsP) programme. So has Leyla Yunus from Azerbaijan, incidentally, who was released from prison a few days ago, thanks in part to Germany’s support. Our goal here in Parliament is clear: we want freedom for this courageous man, and we want to stop, once and for all, any further infliction of the medieval and utterly barbaric punishment of 1000 lashes.
(Applause from the CDU/CSU, the SPD and Alliance 90/The Greens and some Members from the Left Party)
In her book Raif Badawi: The Voice of Freedom: My Husband, Our Story, Ensaf describes her emotions as she watched the illegal footage of this atrocity. I would like to quote her words in full in order to convey the utter barbarity of the punishment:
There was another image of Raif’s back shaking uncontrollably under the force of the lashes, which were delivered by a member of the security forces. It was impossible to identify the man on the video, but I could see that he was flogging Raif with all his might. Raif’s head was hanging down. The lashes landed in very quick succession all along the rear parts of his body.
And she continues:
It was more than I could bear. Seeing someone you love being forced to endure such agony is more painful than words can express. I felt the pain they were inflicting on Raif as if it were my own. The men on the video might just as well have dragged me to a public square and flogged me too. Worst of all was the feeling of helplessness.
Ladies and gentlemen, the rest of the world is living in 2016. But in Saudi Arabia, the Islamists – for that is the only way to describe the country’s Wahhabi sect – don’t live in our world. All their feudal pomp and their high-tech façade cannot obscure the fact that Saudi Arabia is living in the Middle Ages – politically, intellectually and in matters of faith.
(Applause from Members from the CDU/CSU)
But that is the case, and that is why there really is no alternative: massive reform is needed in the Gulf if there is to be lasting peace on the Arabian Peninsula, where warfare and even genocide hold sway. But for that to happen, Saudi Arabia has to play its part – and that will require a modernised Saudi Arabia.
The fate of Raif Badawi has crystallised the situation. The international pressure is having an effect, even though the regime is in denial. Ensaf Haidar says, quite rightly – and again, I quote:
Raif has become a cause celèbre – and that makes any further enforcement of the sentence a very sensitive issue.
But let me say this, ladies and gentlemen: the feudal religious regime in Saudi Arabia still hasn’t fully grasped the seriousness of its own situation. Again, let me quote Raif Badawi’s wife, who reiterates a point made frequently by her imprisoned husband in his blog:
But the country is afraid of its restless young people and is keen to send them a message: it wants them to know that it deals harshly with bloggers and dissidents. So how will this internal wrangling unfold? Only time will tell.
Ladies and gentlemen, we must consider, in relation to Syria, Iraq, Libya and the other crises on the Arabian Peninsula, that anyone who wants to end genocide, warfare and the resulting refugee movements must be prepared to talk to all sides. And unfortunately, that includes a regime like Saudi Arabia’s. But Saudi Arabia is certainly no friend of ours. Germany cannot afford to have friends who show such brutal contempt for all that we hold sacred: the rights of the individual: in other words, human rights.
So it’s a balancing act, and that means proceeding with caution and circumspection. No one should allow themselves to be used. No one should get too close to these regimes. Government contacts are all very well: they have an essential role to play in almost every situation, as we all know. But any gestures which go further than that – and this is something I feel it is important to emphasise – require very careful thought, for there is a considerable risk that they will symbolically strengthen brutal regimes, weaken the opposition and even lead to a loss of our own credibility in matters of human rights. Real-world politics must not ignore the appalling reality of human rights in Saudi Arabia.
Of course, the people of Saudi Arabia would like to live in a society with a human face, not one which engages in acts of barbarism and even turns them into a public spectacle. Raif Badawi is emblematic of many thousands of other cases in that country. What’s more, his case is convincing proof that by no means everyone in Saudi Arabia accepts this medieval regime as god-given, despite what some people – in an effort to protect their own interests – would have us believe.
Let me quote Ensaf Haidar once more:
Although international attention is currently focused strongly on Raif, we must never forget that he is representative of all the other political prisoners who are being detained under appalling conditions in Saudi Arabia’s jails because they too have advocated, in one way or another, for human rights and freedom of opinion … But in fact, Raif has always worked to change aspects of the political system in our country. That’s why he was imprisoned – along with many other courageous men and women from Saudi Arabia.
Ladies and gentlemen, the survival of the House of Saud is under threat. Reacting to the influence of the Internet with medieval brutality, dogma and even mass executions can never work. Unless there is genuine liberalisation and an end to repression, the royal house cannot survive.
Saudi Arabia has also isolated itself internationally. With its religious imperialism and sponsoring of international terrorism, it has alienated many of its partners. The re-emergence in the global arena of Iran, with its equally hegemonic policies, as the self-appointed protector of the Shia community constitutes a direct threat to the medieval Wahhabis on the opposite shore of the Gulf.
Germany can still play an extremely valuable role by attempting to act as an honest broker and encouraging both countries to make a genuine contribution to stability in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, difficult though this may be. But I repeat: this requires a circumspect approach. Every step taken in the foreign policy arena must be scrutinised to assess its potential impacts, and that must include human rights.
The visit to Riyadh and Tehran is important and is the right way forward. However, visits to events that bring prestige to the regimes – whether in Saudi Arabia or in Iran – would be fundamentally wrong. Bitter pills sometimes have to be swallowed in the cause of human rights and the ending of wars. But there is one mistake which we must not make: we must not align ourselves with regimes whose brutality would besmirch our own country’s good name.
Particularly since Raif Badawi’s case came to light, the world has opened its eyes. The new Saudi leadership needs a clear message that liberalisation is essential for its survival. In the 21st century, a dynasty which relies on flogging and medieval brutality will find that its days are numbered, no matter how long its lineage.
Here in the German Bundestag, we are all united in our commitment to fundamental human rights, and so we are all united in our demand that the Saudi government release Raif Badawi without delay. We expect clear signals to be sent on this issue during the German Foreign Minister’s visit. There must be signs of liberalisation and understanding from the Saudi leadership. That is essential if the international community is to support it along the path to more openness.
Muslims, Christians and other faiths believe in hope. We believe in the fundamental goodness of humanity – partly because we no longer live in the Middle Ages.
I would like to end my speech by expressing a hope on behalf of Dodi, Raif Badawi’s young son, who now lives with his mother in Canada. Dodi’s dearest hope is to be reunited with his wrongfully imprisoned father. His mother recounts how Dodi imagines the scene:
Sometimes, I visualise the day when the children and I go to pick up Raif at the airport in Montreal and bring him home. Dodi told me that he has a picture in his head: he sees himself running towards his daddy in slow motion, like a film, and Raif lifting him up into his arms.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is what we are working for – to make this little boy’s dream a reality.
(Applause from the CDU/CSU and the SPD and from Members from Alliance 90/The Greens)