Saudi Arabia has vowed to respond to any punitive steps as pressure mounts on the kingdom over the disappearance and alleged murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Mr. Khashoggi, who was sharply critical of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has not been seen since October 2. Video footage shows him entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul that day.

NB: Teacher discretion is suggested in case this lesson plan touches some religious sensitivities. It might be advisable to point out that the policies of Saudi Arabia are not those of other Islamic states, nor is it representative of all Muslims. 

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

History, social studies, current events

Key Questions to Explore:

  • What is the history, briefly, of Saudi Arabia? How has its human rights record affected the Canada-Saudi relationship?

New Terminology:

Khashoggi, consulate, onus, autocratic, Riyadh, exonerate

Materials Needed:

Globe article, the Internet.

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

In recent months, Canadian external affairs minister Chrystia Freeland voiced Canada’s concerns about Saudi Arabian human rights violations related to arrests of women rights activists in that country. Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman, now considered the de facto leader of the government, responded vehemently, implementing immediate sanctions, claiming Canada was meddling in Saudi Arabia’s internal affairs.

As news of Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance and possible murder emerges, there is widespread concern among western nations. Once again, Saudi human rights violations—especially against freedom of expression—were centre stage, not to mention the possibility of a state-sanctioned assassination. As the drama continues to play out, students can benefit from a lesson on Saudi Arabia, its origins, political history, and current status among nations. Students will complete worksheets collaboratively.

Action (lesson plan and task):

Engage students in a brief discussion about Saudi Arabia. Ask, “Who has heard of Jamal Khashoggi and under what circumstances?” (Answers will vary, but he is a citizen of Saudi Arabia, a journalist who has been critical of the country’s autocratic leadership and its human rights record. Most recently he has been working for the New York Times)

Choose students to read the article aloud, then ask:

  • Based on the evidence presented, what do you think happened to Mr. Khashoggi?
  • What can you tell me about Saudi Arabia, off the tops of your heads? (Use this to set up the group work to come)

For the following: Choose your preferred website, but this Wikipedia site will serve the purposes here, and it is up to date on recent events: )

Provide one of the three worksheets to students, grouped in fours or fives. They are to use the article and the Internet to complete the work. Note: if time is limited, advise groups to assign specific questions to each member, then read aloud and discuss the answers as a group before finalizing them.

Worksheet #1:

Using the website recommended by your teacher, answer the following questions about the history of Saudi Arabia. Be prepared to present a short oral report on your work:

  • Locate Saudi Arabia on a map. Draw a rough version of it, naming the neighbours on all borders.
  • Which religious leader was born in Mecca, in what is now Saudi Arabia, around 571 AD (CE)? Why is this person important? Which religion is he credited with founding?
  • Who was Mohammed bin Saud, and what was the significance of his relationship with Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab in 1744? What was the area of the first Saudi state, approximately?
  • How did the First World War aid the Arab Revolt and help to create the modern version of Saudi Arabia?
  • What 1938 event would dramatically change the course of Saudi history to the present day?
  • Why would Saudi Arabia side with Iraq in its war against Iran in the 1980s?
  • How did the first Iraq war—1990-1991—affect the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States?
  • What was the nationality (until 1994) of Osama bin Laden? What was the nationality of 15 of the 19 terrorists involved in 9/11?
  • How did Saudi Arabia become immensely wealthy?

Worksheet #2:

Using the website recommended by your teacher, answer the following questions about the politics of Saudi Arabia. Be prepared to present a short oral report on your work:

  • Saudi Arabia is governed by an absolute monarchy, with King Salman Al Saud and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in charge. Under this system of government, how are the King and his son restricted in what they can or cannot do as heads of state?
  • How often are national elections held in Saudi Arabia?
  • How is the current Saudi system of government similar to ancestral tribal rule? How is it different, if at all?
  • What roles do members of the royal family play in governing the nation and in foreign affairs?
  • Why were as many as 500 princes and other ministers and business people arrested in the 2017 “purge”?
  • Describe in very general terms the differences among these sects of Islam: Wahhabi, Sunni, and Shia.
  • What is the basis of law in Saudi Arabia, where Royal decrees are referred to as “regulations,” rather than law, because of the primary basis of the law itself?
  • Name several forms of capital and physical punishments, as can be imposed by Saudi courts.
  • What kinds of offences warrant a death penalty, and in what ways can this punishment be carried out?
  • What is the punishment for atheism and how is the crime identified?
  • What is the punishment for homosexual acts?
  • How were the 345 executions between 2007 and 2010 carried out?

Worksheet #3:

Using the website recommended by your teacher, answer the following questions about the human rights record of Saudi Arabia, and about its international relations. Be prepared to present a short oral report on your work:

  • Which western-based organizations have condemned the Saudi criminal justice system and its severe punishments?
  • Under Saudi law, is an accused person considered innocent until proven guilty, or guilty until proven innocent?
  • How are trials conducted in Saudi Arabia? What are the rights of the accused?
  • Until recently, women in Saudi Arabia were not allowed to drive cars. What other activities are prohibited to women, and to the relationships between men and women?

Re: International relations:

  • How did the relationship between the Saudis and the United States change in 1991?
  • How could this affect the relationship between the US and Iran?
  • Why did Saudi Arabia put the brakes on its economic relationship with Canada on August 6, 2018?
  • Given what we now suspect about the fate of Mr. Khashoggi, how do you feel about Canada’s admonitions toward the Saudis in August of this year?

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Students discuss their final work on the questionnaire.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • Students will know where Saudi Arabia is located, its basic history, and they can explain in basic terms the current news about the Saudis, Canada’s recent exchanges with Saudi Arabia, and about Mr. Kashoggi.

Confirming Activity:

  • Ask students to note media articles that focus on the Saudis and Mr. Khashoggi and report them to class.