WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT THE SAUDI DICTATORSHIP
Written by John Hird
Everyone connected to Newcastle United, from Eddie Howe, to past and present players and fan groups, had an opportunity at the League Cup final to speak up for the victims of the bloody Saudi dictatorship who own our club. They could have shown they really do support the team and not the regime. There was no flag display at the final in solidarity with jailed Saudi women or the minors on death row. Neither did any figure or group connected to the club speak up for the persecuted LGBTQ+ community in Saudi Arabia. It was a missed opportunity.
The response to the letter from Ahmad al-Rabea to Eddie Howe about his brother Hassan who is facing torture and possible execution has also been mixed. Eddie Howe still hasn’t answered. Some fans connected to the fanzines were even hostile to the fact that Ahmad appealed to Eddie Howe, saying we had crossed a red line ‘involving Eddie’! It's not a 'red line' apparently that Hassan could be caught up in another mass execution ordered by Mohammad bin Salman. Something that Saudi human rights activists fear is imminent.
While the national press has reported Ahmad’s letter to Eddie Howe widely, the North East media have ignored it. It’s not surprising that many accuse them of cheerleading for the Saudi regime/NUFC owners rather than doing their job and holding them to account.
The younger brother and 'consigliere' of Saudi Arabia's chief dictator Mohammed bin Salman attended the Cup Final wearing a Newcastle scarf. Key figures in the regime like Turki bin Salman now feel they can publicly associate themselves with our club. NUFCFAS previously reported on how figures from the Saudi dictatorship are associating themselves with Newcastle United. How soon before MbS himself turns up at SJP?
Prince Turki has been dealing with his family’s private fortunes and foreign investments since 2015.
Saudi human rights groups are reporting that a new purge is beginning in the Saudi state . On MbS’s orders 10 judges have been charged with ‘High Treason’ which carries the death sentence. They are accused of being too "lenient" in the State Security cases they presided over during their tenures as SCC judges. Some of these judges sentenced Salma al-Shebab and Nourah al-Qahtani to 34 and 45 years in prison and condemned minors to death. Among the other charges against them is "complacency toward state security criminals." In other words, MbS and the regime believes the judges were not brutal enough in the sentences they handed down to human rights activists.
We also need to talk about how NUFC and Tyneside are beginning to be perceived in the wider football world. Last year Newcastle City Council cut ties with a Chinese city over claims the country's regime has abused Uyghur people including the use of torture, according to a UN report. The BBC reported that; Newcastle has highlighted its status as a City of Sanctuary with "a proud history of promoting the advancement of human rights and standing in solidarity with those oppressed”. Labour cabinet member Jane Byrne said at the time: "We are the beneficiaries of other people's fight and I believe it is our moral duty to repay that debt by standing in solidarity with all those who are fighting for human rights and democracy today.”
After the Cup final defeat, Cllr Nick Kemp, Leader of Newcastle City Council issued a statement commiserating with fans over the result, but said nothing about the 80% owners. As far as we know Newcastle City Council have not once expressed concerns about the gross human rights abuses committed by the Saudi regime.
Ahmad mentions in his letter that he fears his brother is facing torture. In Saudi Arabia, according to Saudi Leaks, torture is a systemic practise in government institutions. These organisations have direct ties to King Salman bin Abdulaziz and his Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman, and use torture without fear of censure or punishment by depending on the country’s highest political authority. In case anyone needs reminding, Mohammad bin Salman is chair of the PIF which owns 80% of Newcastle United. Newcastle City Council can correctly be accused of hypocrisy; torture in China is bad whilst torture in Saudi Arabia, well, let’s sweep that under the carpet and not talk about it.
The letter to Eddie Howe has revealed that lots of fans are torn. More and more are beginning to realise that fans of other clubs are looking at us and wondering why figures connected to the club aren’t saying something about human rights. They aren't jealous of NUFC's 'success' but outraged that more of our fans and people around the club aren't speaking out about the human rights abuses committed by the owners.
As Ahmad says in his letter, ‘saying nothing is acceptance’ (“If you say nothing about the gross human rights abuses and violations we are suffering then this is an acceptance of these violations. If you speak out against them you can save lives.”)
This means that the ‘legal and binding assurances’ that the PIF gave the Premier league to facilitate the takeover, that the Saudi government would not interfere in the running of the club were not true as it has been admitted in court that Yasir al-Rumayyan is a government minister.
NATIONAL PRESS vs LOCAL PRESS COVERAGE
The North East's main newspaper, the Evening Chronicle failed to mention the letter from Ahmad al-Rabea to Eddie Howe, neither did they have space to cover the follow up letter from three organisations, the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights, REPRIEVE, and Al-QST which urged Eddie Howe to speak up on human rights. This important news was covered extensively in the national press.
From the @MailOnline: Ahmad Al-Rabea wrote that his brother, Hassan, had been abducted at Marrakech Airport in January and taken back to Saudi Arabia where his family fears he’ll be sentenced to death like his other brother Ali for speaking out against the Saudi regime.
‘There will be no glory in victory on Sunday if people who should know better don’t speak up for Ahmed and his brother Hassan and the many victims of the bloody Saudi dictatorship,’ Newcastle United Fans Against Sportswashing.
When the news broke about NUFC Chair and Saudi government minister Yasir al-Rumayyan's legal problems in the USA, the national media reported the facts immediately, but the Chronicle was slow to respond. Unfortunately the North East media has played mostly a cheerleading role for Saudi dictators who own Newcastle United. This unwillingness to address the issues of having one the bloodiest dictatorships on the planet as owners has created a siege mentality on Tyneside. Fans believe the national press has ‘got it in for them’ and are ‘ jealous’ that Newcastle United are joining the 'big boys.' Many NUFC fans fail to understand that fans of other clubs are genuinely concerned about where football is heading if the Saudi regime's ownership of Newcastle United becomes normalised. Journalists like Sam Cunningham of iNews are abused by Newcastle fans for having the audacity to report the news.
Newcastle United fan and Channel 4 journalist, Alex Thomson wrote a piece in 2012 entitled, 'When succulent lamb is on the menu – serious questions are off' in which he described the way Glasgow journalists stopped doing real journalism about Rangers because of their 'relationship' with the club. As one prominent Glasgow tabloid journalist put it: “The press - a really critical check and balance in the normal way of things, had been more or less destroyed in Glasgow.”
Is that not the situation we almost have in Newcastle now in the relationship between the 80% owners of the club and the Evening Chronicle?
A symbiotic relationship: relationship between organisms where one organism benefits from the association while not harming the other.
Sadly, the NUFC fanzines are also adjusting to this new relationship with the club’s owner’s too. The Mag still proclaims to be, 'THE INDEPENDENT VOICE OF NEWCASTLE UNITED SINCE 1988' - independent of what? Certainly not the owners.
As an article in our fanzine, Hailstones in the Desert, pointed out the 'official' NUFC fan groups and fanzines have managed, through a course of excruciating mental gymnastics to make their peace with the fact the club is owned by a bloody bunch of dictators: "True Faith has published two submissions from NUFC Against Sportswashing on their website, but attached lengthy disclaimers to each of them distancing themselves from the content. These are the only articles I have seen them publish that have received this treatment. There does need to be a platform for an alternative view on the club’s ownership, but I do not think that either of these groups can provide this."
There should be no ‘normalisation’ of our historic club being owned by a bloody, theocratic, human rights abusing dictatorship.
State ownership of football clubs has no future, and that includes Manchester City and possible buyouts of Manchester United or Liverpool by Qatar. The sooner we get used to that the better for the future of what should be the beautiful game.
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