October 27th, 2009
08:03 PM ET

Lashes or pardon? That is the question

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/meast/02/15/saudi.female.minister/art.king.jpg caption="Saudi King Abdullah used his power Monday to overturn a criminal court sentence of 60 lashes and a two-year travel ban imposed on female journalist Rosanna Yami."]

Octavia Nasr
AC360° Contributor
CNN Senior Editor Mideast Affairs

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has been called "The King of Hearts" by many of his countrymen and women. This is a reflection of what many Saudis believe are his compassionate attempts to reform his ultra-conservative kingdom and bring it up-to-date with the rest of the world.

He used his power Monday to pardon Saudi female journalist Rosanna Yami. By doing so, he saved her from 60 lashes - a sentence handed down by a Saudi criminal court – and a two-year travel ban from the kingdom.

While this is an unusual move for the King, it certainly is not unprecedented. In 2007, he pardoned a woman who was gang-raped but was still sentenced to hundreds of lashes for being in the presence of the unrelated males who raped her.

The journalist’s case started with a controversial Lebanese TV show that explores taboos of the Middle East. When 'A Thick Red Line' featured a Saudi man - Mazen Abdul Jawad - bragging about his alleged sexual escapades, the station's Saudi offices were closed and Abdul Jawad was sentenced to five years in jail and 1,000 lashes.

Yami received her sentence over the weekend. It was her punishment for working for the station that aired the show with the sex braggart. A second Saudi female journalist is still being sought in the case.

King Abdullah's surprising pardon came as the prosecutor in the case was requesting an even harsher sentence for Yami. According to local Saudi media, the prosecutor said, 60 lashes is "simply too lenient of a sentence."

For many, the pardon leaves no room to doubt where the monarch stands on the trial and the sentence.

If you are wondering why it is that King Abdullah does not use his power more frequently and forcefully to bring faster reform to his country, you are not the only one. This question is on the minds of many, especially those who question the close ties between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

There is no easy answer to the question. One important factor to keep in mind is that in an ultra-conservative society such as Saudi Arabia, with many fundamentalist, even radical constituents, the options are very limited even if you are The King!

Filed under: 360° Radar • Arab Affairs • Octavia Nasr
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