Wednesday, July 15, 2009

They're the good guys

There's an emerging "outrage" situation over a Wall Street Journal op-ed claim that Human Rights Watch was using Israel-bashing rhetoric to raise money in Saudi Arabia. The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg takes the baton --

In other words, yes, the director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East division is attempting to raise funds from Saudis, including a member of the Shura Council (which oversees, on behalf of the Saudi monarchy, the imposition in the Kingdom of the strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islamic law) in part by highlighting her organization's investigations of Israel, and its war with Israel's "supporters," who are liars and deceivers.

It's just not true that the Shura council oversees the imposition of Islamic law. The Shura council is a purely consultative body: the King appoints them, the King sends laws to them for consideration, the King promises to listen to them (and tribal norms create an expectation that he will), but ultimately they have no power to impose anything. The real power on the religious side lies with the various judicial institutions, the religious councils, and the gloriously named CPVPV (council for the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice).

In fact, King Abdullah's Valentine's Day Massacre tapped the Shura council to smooth out the worst of the lunacy that was coming from the religious institutions, and the Shura council is one of the safe havens for airing of potential reforms in Saudi Arabia. They're not loonies. Having one of them at a meeting is not disqualifying.

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias has the subtext for the outrage.

FINAL UPDATE: If the allegation was that Human Rights Watch adjusts its message to the needs for Saudi fundraising, they have a strange way of showing it -- by issuing a blistering report on the treatment of the Shia minority in Saudi Arabia!

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