One Hundred Billion Versions of Silence

Will these names be spoken by American officials this weekend in Saudi Arabia: Raif Badawi, Ali Mohamed al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon, Abdullah al-Zaher, Ashraf Fayadh?

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The president of the United States will have one hundred billion reasons after this weekend to ignore the facts about the nation he chose as his first foreign destination: Saudi Arabia. He and his already embattled administration chose Saudi Arabia as the location of his first summit abroad—rather than Canada or Mexico, which U.S. presidents traditionally visit first—for a photo op: the president with King Salman and a game-show-style giant check between them.

The United States and Saudi Arabia will announce this weekend that Saudi Arabia will purchase at least $100 billion worth of military equipment, software, and ongoing expertise from American military contractors. Some military business experts estimate that after a decade the deals will be worth three hundred billion dollars.

“The customer is always right,” goes the old retail cliché, and there are two parts to a customer’s continual rightness: the customer has a right to complain about the product purchased or the service in the store no matter what, and the service has a duty to remain silent about the customer’s behavior, even when it is offensive.
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Five Birthdays in a Saudi Prison

“I spoke to Ali a few days ago and he said to me, ‘Don’t worry, mom. My birthday next year will be far more beautiful.'”—Nasrah al-Ahmed, Ali al-Nimr’s mother, in a letter published today by Amnesty International.

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Ali Mohammed al-Nimr turned 22 on Wednesday, December 21. It was his fifth birthday spent in prison. It was his third birthday on death row in Saudi Arabia.

There are two things about Ali al-Nimr that we know today (January 24, 2017), and they are the same two sad, maddening things that we know about Ali every day: He remains in prison in Saudi Arabia and he is awaiting his fate. He still phones his father and mother once a week, which his father reports to the world via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. He is continuing his college studies in prison.

Reprieve, the international human rights organization, created a page for people to sign a birthday card for Ali. This is the link: Wish Ali al-Nimr a Happy Birthday. In less than five days, the number of signatures on it has climbed to more than 16,100.
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