Sarah Leah Whitson sparks outrage after calling Saudis ‘weak, undisciplined, feeble’

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Saudi Arabians are “too weak, too undisciplined, too untrained, too feeble” to protect their country, said Sarah Leah Whitson, the former Managing Director for Research and Policy at the US-based Quincy Institute, in a now-deleted tweet on Sunday.

In a tweet responding to false claims on Twitter that Saudi-owned Al Arabiya had called US President-elect Joe Biden a “dog,” Whitson wrote that US troops were needed to protect Saudi Arabia because its own “countrymen” could not.

“These ‘dogs’ have US troops on the ground protecting Saudi Arabia cuz their own countrymen are unable – too weak, too undisciplined, too untrained, too feeble – to do it. Keep that in mind yakhwan #Saudi,” read the full tweet.

The tweet posted on Sarah Leah Whitson's account. (Screengrab)
The tweet posted on Sarah Leah Whitson's account. (Screengrab)

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The tweet was accessible on Monday morning Dubai time but was deleted by Monday afternoon.

In response to Whitson, Al Arabiya English’s Editor-in-Chief Mohammed Alyahya said that her comments showed the racism and bigotry behind some criticism of Saudi Arabia.

“This shows how hatred, deep-seated racism, & loathing of all Saudis is at the core of some anti-Saudi rhetoric among Iran defenders. This bigotry by the Quincy Institute echoes its founder spreading lies by a Qatari analyst. This might be dumb disinformation, but it’s also racist,” said Alyahya on Twitter.

Other Saudi Arabian social media users called for an apology.

“As a Saudi citizen , I’ll never forget, I’ll never forgive till she apologizes to all Saudis,” tweeted Mohammed Alsulami.

Al Arabiya English reached out to Whitson for comment on Monday but had not received a reply at time of publication.

She did, however, tweet an apology in response to Alyahya.

“You’re right. It was wrongly worded. I took your point and deleted it. I’m sorry! Will try to revise the point,” Whitson tweeted.

Read more: ‘Disinformation campaign’ spins Al Arabiya Biden article to target US-Saudi relations

Biden pet story misinterpreted

The tweet came after Qatari journalist Reem al-Harmi, Qatar-based Al Jazeera journalist Jamal Elshayyal, and Trita Parsi, the founder of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), spread a story that Al Arabiya had insulted Biden as a “dog.”

Al Arabiya had run the headline in Arabic: “The dogs have returned to the White House,” along with a photograph of Biden and one of his dogs. The headline referred to Biden’s campaign ad “Let’s put dogs back in the White House,” which featured the same image of Biden and a single dog, but al-Harmi said that it was an attempt to portray Biden as a dog.

Parsi, whose NIAC has been accused of working closely with the Iranian government, is also the vice president of the Quincy Institute, where Leah Whitson previously worked.

Whitson was also formerly director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch (HRW). Previous Al Arabiya English analysis of HRW’s coverage of Saudi Arabia found lopsided coverage of the Kingdom in comparison to other countries.

Whitson herself was found to have tweeted far more often about Saudi Arabia than Iran, and her tweets on the Kingdom were exclusively negative, whereas her mentions of Iran and Iranians were more mixed in tone.

Read more: Human Rights Watch analysis shows lopsided coverage of Iran versus Saudi Arabia

The Quincy Institute has published authors criticizing the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” sanctions policy toward Iran. According to The Washington Free Beacon, the institute advocates an isolationist foreign policy that seeks to persuade Washington to lessen economic pressure on Iran.

Parsi’s NIAC has also been accused of operating as an unregistered lobbying operation for Tehran in Washington. Last year, the hashtag #NIACLobbies4mullahs was trending online, with protesters saying NIAC represented the Iranian regime’s interests.

Read more: Iranians, using #NIACLobbies4mullahs, express anger toward US-based lobby group

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