Imp’s WWE Adventure – Saudi Arabia: Are WWE Really Promoting A Time of Change?

Imp’s WWE Adventure

I’m the closest I’ve ever been in fully checking out of WWE. RAW wise I’m literally only watching the Family Fun House vignettes on YouTube, SmackDown I’m not watching at all. I’ve full on become one of those disillusioned fans, I don’t hate wrestling (I’m actively watching multiple other promotions), I don’t hate WWE, but I am depressed about their current state.

They are becoming harder and harder to love, more and more difficult to support. In those regards, the post-WrestleMania run has been truly testing. I originally checked out because of the quality of television, but now I’m on the outside I’m asking myself, morally, how can I support WWE? How can I stay subscribed and willingly paying £120 a year for their Network service, when I think about what that essentially means I’m endorsing?

I’m not even talking about Saudi Arabia yet. If I stay subscribed am I endorsing the treatment of their workers? Past treatment? The Ashley Massaro story is sickening, I’d go into it but this column’s already not an easy read as it is. How can I support a company that goes through with that? Goes through with everything John Oliver addressed? Agrees to a multi-million dollar deal to promote international propaganda?

Speaking of going through with things, we’re now into year two of what is a ten year deal between WWE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We’re already at the point where in promoting the next event (Super Show Down) WWE haven’t mentioned the country’s name once; on air, nor online. That’s the first sign of everything being perfectly fine moral wise with a deal, right?

Still reeling from the backlash of the state sponsered murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, WWE’s tactic was to press ahead as normal, just don’t say the words ‘Saudi Arabia’. Well that’s solved all the PR issues. It’s like they’re not really going at all. Thank you WWE for not contuing to promote shows in Saudi Arabia and instead go to ‘Just Jeddah’.

The list of wrestlers refusing to work the show has also increased again: Daniel Bryan, Sami Zayn & John Cena had already been removed from the list, and now we can add on Kevin Owens & Aleister Black too. The second sign of everything being perfectly fine moral wise with a deal, right?

It’s also a deal that seems to contradict half of the positive messages the company portrays as being supportive and passionate about to their home western market. The Women’s Evolution can kiss its ass goodbye twice a year, Balor Club becomes for a select few and Sami Zayn has to get beaten up to create an in-Universe reason why he’s not on the show (it’s because he’s Syrian).

The Saudi Arabia shows are at odds with their own product, even WrestleMania gets a swift kick to the dick with this year’s tagline, ‘Better than WrestleMania!’ Is the money really worth sacrificing their western market?

I’m not even going to address the egregious, “Turns out dismemberment is a bit of a liability,” line Stephanie McMahon said live on RAW last year during the Khashoggi investigation.

You know what, I think it’s time to cheer this column up a bit. Let’s get into the bulk of the column.

Saudi Arabia’s Public Executions

 

If I’ve learnt one thing about writing, it’s that all up-beat articles start with a visit to the Death Penalty Database.

According to reports from Amnesty International, in 2018 at least 149 executions were carried out in Saudi Arabia. Of which the punishments are carried out publicly, be it beheading, stoning or even crucifixion. Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) has made a strict policy of reform, to weed out those who threaten to harm the well-being of the Kingdom, to ramp up the combatting terrorism.

Only thing is, it turns out terrorism is such a broad term nowadays.

So far in 2019 there has been 110 public executions, with 37 people executed on April 23rd alone on terrorism-related offenses. With the state media reporting that at last one was indeed crucified and the government stating this was in response to those men “adopting terrorist extremist ideology, forming terrorist cells.”

This is important because of what happened next, don’t be misguided, in a column as cheery as this what I’ve just told you was purely informational. None of that was the controversial bit.

In May this year, the day after Ramadan, 3 scholars Salman al-Odah, Awad al-Qarni and Ali al-Omari were sentenced to death; all facing charges of terrorism. Except, at first look these three really didn’t fit the description of someone you’d charge with such an offense. They were openly progressive, had enormous followings online and were prominent TV figures (with Omari even owning his own station).

Odah was arrested not long after tweeting a prayer of reconciliation between KSA and Qatar, he has around 14 million followers on the app. Qarni himself was fined and banned from tweeting by Saudi authorities, so government intervention was not a new thing, but the announcement of these executions has them potentially unofficially categorising such a thing under ‘terrorism-related offenses’.

I say ‘unofficial’ because his actual 37 charges were based around:
1 – Alleged affiliation to terrorist organisations
2 – Exposing injustice towards prisoners
3 – Expressing cynicism and sarcasm about the government’s achievements
4 – Alleged affiliation with the Qatari royal family

It’s also telling when the public execution is scheduled before the trial’s taken place, kind of gives the game away. The word ‘alleged’ is doing an f’ ton of leg work there, the whole point being not that it matters though. This was hardly the Kingdom’s first or 300th trial such as this.

In 13th December 2018, the then Special Rapporteur for the UN Ben Emmerson released his report on the progression of human rights within Saudi Arabia. In which he expressed ‘concerns about the large number of reports regarding unfair trials, prolonged periods of detention, use of torture, coerced confessions and the lack of accountability, as well as the failure of Saudi Arabia to provide minimum procedural safeguards during detention and interrogation, and its judicial practice of admitting coerced confessions into evidence, which, in his view, amounts to a systematic and flagrant denial of justice’.

Not forgetting the context of those circumstances preceding death penalty rulings, there was plenty a reason for concern to be expressed.

International bodies the EU, the US State Department, Reprive, Amnesty International and the UN (as well as many, many rights groups) all condemned the Kingdom for carrying out the executions. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia followed through regardless, I don’t know about in the US, but the story made it to the news here in the UK. It became the top article if you were to search ‘Saudi Arabia’ for a week, right when I decided to start researching for this ahead of Super Show Down in Jeddah, Mystery Land.

‘Odah will be executed not because he is an extremist. It’s because he is a moderate. That is why they consider him a threat.’ – Jamal Khashoggi, two days later he was in Istanbul, Turkey visiting the Saudi consulate.

WWE & KSA

 

This time last year I wrote THIS COLUMN on the WWE-KSA deal, addressing all of the positive changes occurring in the Kingdom at the time. I labelled it a ‘time of change’ and wrote about how WWE fit into that, something Triple H himself addressed to the UK media at the time. However, I ended the column with a very important note, a note that we’d see over time how serious MBS was about these changes. Were these claims of wanting to progress true? Or just good PR to help address their image whilst not really changing much at all?

We potentially got our answer in November with the state sponsored murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi on foreign soil, then again one month later when the UN’s report was published, then 6 months into 2019 here we are after a mass wave of executions after trials deemed unfair by the UN and rights groups.

Change takes time, but you have to actually want to change. Saudi Arabia’s words for their Vision 2030 are currently ringing thin when played alongside their actions, but these things do indeed take time.

I’m not going to enforce an opinion, you can decide for yourself how you feel with the information I’ve given. In today’s world it’s practically impossible to be the perfect human, not interacting with any business or country that doesn’t have some pretty majorly negative aspects somewhere down the chain. But does that mean we shouldn’t address and focus on singular issues at all in fear of being labelled as ‘selective outrage’?

WWE were paid millions by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to promote propaganda about the nation, you can decide whether that angers you or not. I won’t stand by it, hence this column, but if you believe the actions of your own country are more worth your time and energy, then I’m not going to compare penis length. I’m from the UK, Google ‘Windrush’ and you’ll immediately see my own country’s government carrying out something equally worthy of your anger.

The question is, can you support a company that’s essentially endorsing it?

Webography

Death Penalty Database – Saudi Arabia https://www.deathpenaltyworldwide.org/country-search-post.cfm?country=saudi+arabia#f12-2
UN Special Rapporteur’s Visit to Saudi Arabia – Report on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G18/363/55/PDF/G1836355.pdf?OpenElement
BBC News – Saudi Prisoner ‘Executed and crucified’ https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-48028518
Middle East Eye – Saudi Arabia Execute Three Prominent Moderate Scholars After Ramadan https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/exclusive-saudi-arabia-execute-three-prominent-moderate-scholars-after-ramadan
Vision 2030https://vision2030.gov.sa/en

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