Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Saudi Gay Man Seeks Asylum [and there goes the armament]

None of us probably know or remember Mohammed Abdalla al-Khilewi. In May 1994, Mohammed Abdalla Al-Khilewi was first secretary at the Saudi Arabian mission to the United Nations in New York when he issued a declaration on the embassy letterhead proclaiming King Fahd to be “despotic” and he called for a retribution of the country’s wealth and power. Fearing for his life, he defected his country and was granted asylum by the United States of America.

Sixteen years later, in 2010, another Saudi diplomat seeks asylum in the USA. The reason: He is gay and fears for his life. Ali Ahmad Asseri, first secretary of the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles claims that his employers have refused to renew his diplomatic passport, that effectively terminates his job, after they found out about his sexuality.

According to Brian Whitaker, Middle East editor at The Guardian, “if American officials accept Asseri’s story he is almost certain to be granted asylum. The Saudis may grumble a bit about that for the sake of appearances, but letting him stay in the US would spare them the embarrassing and potentially damaging question of what to do about him if he returned home.”

A Saudi to ever publicly declare himself gay is something that is indeed unchartered territory. Along with Mauritania, Sudan and Yemen, Saudi Arabia is one of the four Arab countries where homosexual acts are punishable by execution. Though no “gay executions” have been reported in Saudi Arabia since 2002, there have been documented cases of raids on gay parties as well as penalties such as flogging and imprisonment.

Coming at a time when President Obama plans to sell advanced aircraft and other weapons worth up to 60 billion dollars to Saudi Arabia-- in fact the biggest arms deal in US history-- maybe we should be raising questions of democracy and human rights along with those of armament and militarization?

[Read more about Ali Ahmad Asseri here. Read more about the $60bn arms sale to Saudi Arabia here.]

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