Cabinet member applauds lack of protests in Saudi Arabia, where protest is illegal

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross recounted to Becky Quick, a CNBC anchor, that there was not “a single hint of a protester” in Saudi Arabia when President Donald Trump visited there in May. Quick pointed out that the lack of protesters is likely due to the Saudi government’s suppression of free speech, to which Ross responded that this explanation could be true “in theory.” 

Key Players

Wilbur Ross serves as secretary of commerce in the Trump administration. Ross accompanied Trump on his first international trip, which included Saudi Arabia as the first stop. Previously, Ross headed Rothschild Inc.’s bankruptcy practice for 25 years. In 2000, he started his own investment firm, WL Ross & Co. He sold the firm in 2006 for approximately $375 million. In November 2016, Trump appointed Ross to his cabinet. 

Further Details

The full exchange between Ross and Quick regarding his visit to Saudi Arabia can be found below, as reported by CNBC. 

Ross: There’s no question that they’re liberalizing their society. And I think the other thing that was fascinating to me: There was not a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there. Not one guy with a bad placard. Instead…

Quick: But Secretary Ross, that may be not necessarily because they don’t have those feelings there, but because they control people and don’t allow them to come and express their feelings quite the same as we do here.

Ross: In theory, that could be true, but boy there was certainly no sign of it. There was not a single effort at any incursion. There wasn’t anything. The mood was a genuinely good mood. And at the end of the trip, as I was getting back on the plane, the security guards from the Saudi side who’d been helping us over the weekend all wanted to pose for a big photo op. And then they gave me two gigantic bushels of dates as a present, as a thank you for the trip that we had had. That was a pretty from-the-heart very genuine gesture and it really touched me.

In 2016, a report from the U.S. Department of State on Saudi Arabia noted that the Saudi government specifically forbids participating in “unauthorized public assemblies” or political protests, reports The Guardian.“Protesting is a serious offence in Saudi Arabia. It’s been de facto criminalised for many, many years, and specifically criminalised since 2011,” Adam Coogle, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, told The Guardian. He continued, “The stakes for protesting are extremely high. No one wants to sit in jail for ten years because they protested Trump.”


Ross receives criticism for statements

Ross was criticized for remarks that seemed to applaud the lack of civil liberties in Saudi Arabia. An article in The Nation described Ross as a “disgrace” for his comments, writing, “Wilbur Ross is sending signals that harm the cause of human rights in Saudi Arabia and internationally.”