By Lesley Clark
March 29, 2014
RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA — President Barack Obama wrapped up a weeklong trip to Europe and Saudi Arabia on Saturday, bestowing an award to a Saudi Arabian woman who has raised the profile of abuse in the country.
The meeting with Dr. Maha Al Muneef came as human rights groups criticized Obama for failing to raise Saudi Arabia’s human rights record in a two-hour meeting Friday night with Saudi King Abdullah.
Obama, who met with Al Muneef at his hotel shortly before leaving the country, made a veiled reference to the kingdom’s record as he gave her the State Department International Women of Courage award, noting that she’s not only set up services and provided shelter for women and children who have been victims of abuse, but has helped to pass laws providing protection for women and children.
“To see the kind of progress that’s been made, her ability to work with the kingdom to persuade many that this is an issue that’s going to be important to the society over the long term, I think makes this award fully justified,” Obama said, telling Al Muneef he was “grateful for all the work you’re doing here and I’m looking forward to seeing you do even more wonderful things in the future.”
The State Department presents the award annually to women who are doing “extraordinary work around the world advocating on behalf of women, children, and families,” Obama said. Al Muneef was unable to make the ceremony at the State Department earlier this month because of family health issues and Obama joked that he was filling in for first lady Michelle Obama, who normally is the presenter.
“I know that Dr. Al Muneef is disappointed that it’s me instead of Michelle — appropriately so,” he said.
Sunjeev Bery, Amnesty International’s advocacy director for Middle East and North Africa, said the group was deeply disappointed that Obama didn’t raise human rights issues with the Saudi leader or speak about it publicly.
“The President’s silence demonstrates once again that when it comes to human rights, the U.S. holds repressive allies to a much lower standard than adversaries,” Bery said.
Amnesty noted that 70 members of Congress had urged Obama to bring up the “significant government repression” facing Saudis. Continue reading