Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had just finished praising Saudi Arabia for “liberalizing their society” when he started giving the country positive reviews for its lack of protests during President Donald Trump’s visit.
Ross appeared on CNBC Monday to talk about Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia when he said it was “fascinating to me” that there wasn’t a “single hint” of protestors in the country while Trump was there.
“Not one guy with a bad placard,” Ross said.
When interviewer Becky Quick pointed out Saudi Arabia limits free expression, unlike the U.S., Ross said that could have been the reason “in theory.”
“But boy, there was certainly no sign of it, there wasn’t a single effort of any incursion,” he said. “There wasn’t anything. The mood was a genuinely good mood.”
Not only do laws in Saudi Arabia ban people from protesting, it also makes the act punishable by death. The country banned protests and marches in 2011, during the pro-democracy movement in the Middle East known as the Arab Spring. The country has jailed, beaten and executed multiple people under the law, with 47 executions taking place on New Year’s Day in 2016. A disabled man arrested during a protest in late 2011 was sentenced in November 2016 to be beheaded.
“Secretary Ross’s remarks demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of the situation on the ground in Saudi Arabia,” Adam Coogle, a Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch, told CNN Money.
Many derided Ross on social media as “clueless,” “ignorant,” and “a moron.” Others criticized Ross for his seeming envious of a dictatorship.