February 13, 2012

IT’S HARD to top the bloody hypocrisy of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, but Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah is making a run at it. On Friday, the king delivered an angry speech denouncing the United Nations Security Council’s failure to act on Syria, where Saudi Arabia is supporting an Arab League plan for a “democratic transition” that would end the Assad regime. “The world is ruled by brains, by justice, by morals and by fairness,” he piously declared.

That same day, the Saudi ruler’s security forces were firing on protesters near the eastern town of Qatif, inflicting a fatality for the second consecutive day. Meanwhile, the regime’s diplomats were arranging for the swift deportation from Malaysia of a fugitive Saudi journalist, who fled the country after tweets he authored about the prophet Muhammad led to demands for his arrest and execution.

According to Saudi reports, King Abdullah was among those requesting the prosecution of Hamza Kashgari, a 23-year-old columnist for a newspaper in Jeddah. Mr. Kashgari, a supporter of the cause of liberal change that triggered the Arab Spring, sent out tweets on Muhammad’s birthday addressing him as an equal and saying, “I love many things about you and hate others.” For good measure, he objected to the status of Saudi women, saying they won’t go to hell “because it’s impossible to go there twice.”

Though he later apologized, Mr. Kashgari faces trial and a possible death sentence. His persecution has been facilitated by another champion of double-talk, the government of Malaysia, which claims to respect the rule of law but bundled Mr. Kashgari onto a private Saudi jet Sunday in spite of a court order prohibiting his deportation.

Saudi Arabia is doing its best to bring about the end of Mr. Assad, whose Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, is a minority in a country with a plurality of Sunni Muslims. It argues that the Security Council must act not because of Mr. Assad’s sect but because of his brutality. Yet at home, this Sunni regime doesn’t hesitate to open fire on protesters from its own minority Shiite population — or to threaten a liberal columnist with execution.

The Obama administration, which has loudly and repeatedly called for Mr. Assad’s departure, has had much less to say about King Abdullah’s repression. In December, it approved a $30 billion arms sale to his regime. Now it chastises Russia for supplying arms to Syria. Of course the violence in Syria is far greater than that of Saudia Arabia — more than 7,000 people have been killed, and rebels are being attacked with tanks and artillery. But brains, justice, morals and fairness are in short supply not only in Mr. Assad’s Damascus but in the royal palaces of Riyadh as well.