Watch A Saudi Ambassador Squirm Through A Brutal Interview


When Al Jazeera presenter Mehdi Hasan asked the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United Nations why he supports democratic elections in Syria but not in the country he represents, the response that followed was cringeworthy.

"Well, just because there are elections in Syria doesn't mean there have to be elections somewhere else," Abdallah al-Mouallimi told Hasan during a Friday segment of Al Jazeera's "UpFront."

The ambassador insisted that if you asked Saudi people about the current structure of their government, they'd voice their support.

"Isn't that partly because if they do say they don't want this government, they want another government, they'll go to jail?" Hasan asked, noting that it's a crime in Saudi Arabia to call for a change in the system of government.

"No," al-Mouallimi replied. "I'm saying that if there was a way by which you can ask the common people in the street anonymously, privately, any way --”

"There is," Hasan interjected. "It's called voting."

Saudis can only vote in municipal elections, of which there have been three since the 1960s. Women were banned from participating until the most recent elections, which occurred late last year.

Syria held presidential elections in 2014, but the process was far from democratic. President Bashar Assad was elected for a third consecutive seven-year term.

Twitter lit up over al-Mouallimi's answers Friday after Hasan, a former political director of HuffPost UK, shared a clip from the interview. Many people praised Hasan's questioning, while others implied he'd been too aggressive.

The Saudi ambassador isn't a stranger to criticism. Comments he made last year, after a BBC journalist suggested that Saudi Arabia has one of the worst human rights records in the world, were scrutinized as well.

"I say, 'Says who?'" al-Mouallimi replied. "Who is the arbitrator? Who is the judge who issues such verdicts? They are unknown organizations or unknown individuals."

The Middle Eastern nation's crackdown on dissent and history of human rights abuses have been the subject of harsh criticism from non-governmental organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

The plight of Raif Badawi, a Saudi blogger sentenced in 2014 to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for insulting Muslim officials, has yielded international concern and outrage against the Saudi government for its restrictions on free expression.

On Thursday, the Saudi journalist Alaa Brinji was sentenced to five years in prison for “insulting the rulers” and “inciting public opinion” as well as “accusing security officers of killing protestors in Awamiyya” through a series of tweets, Amnesty reports.

The U.N. appointed Saudi Arabia as a chair of its human rights council in September -- a shocking move that was denounced by a major U.N. watchdog.

“It’s scandalous that the UN chose a country that has beheaded more people this year than ISIS to be head of a key human rights panel,” said UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer, suggesting the decision had been influenced by other factors.

“Saudi Arabia has arguably the worst record in the world when it comes to religious freedom and women’s rights," he said. “Petro-dollars and politics have trumped human rights."

Saudi Arabia and the U.K. allegedly helped each other secure seats on the council through a secret vote-trading deal, according to leaked diplomatic cables.

Go To Homepage

Before You Go

Saudi Women's Struggle For Equal Rights

Popular in the Community