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Does Saudi Arabia still put people's heads on pikes?

For the time being at least, the Saudi Arabian jewel thieves slated for execution Tuesday appear to have dodged a bullet -- or multiple, for those who were sentenced to go before a firing squad. In the case of Sarhan al-Mashayeh, the lead defendant in the case, the news that the executions would be delayed by at least a week meant avoiding a three-day crucifixion.

Ironically, it may have been the grisly practice itself that bought the defendants their extra week, as the flurry of media attention no doubt played into the Royal Court's last-minute decision to stay the executions. After all, the entire story of the thieves' conviction -- which involved the alleged torture of minors -- is not one the Kingdom wants to see plastered on broadsheets all over the world. Topping it all off with a three-day crucifixion was only asking for a media drubbing.

So how exactly does Saudi Arabia typically carry out its crucifixions? Back in 2009, the Telegraph's Damian Thompson explained what fate awaited a similarly unlucky subject: "he will be beheaded first, and his head will be stuck on a pole separately from his crucified torso."

Sends a message, I guess, but not one that wins King Abdullah many points in Washington. Anyway, hasn't it been a bad enough news day for Saudi Arabia's royal family?  

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Has anybody noticed that Malaysia is at war?

So, this happened: "For three weeks," the Financial Times reported on Monday, "Malaysian forces have been facing off against 180 followers of the self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu, from a remote island in the southwest Philippines. More than 20 people have been reported killed in clashes over the past few days, in the worst violence on Malaysian territory for decades."

The three Southeast Asian island nations of the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia (which doesn't figure into the violence), who collectively have a population of more than 350 million people, are arguably the countries most ignored by Americans relative to their importance. They're all just poor and stable and democratic enough to slide mostly under the radar, unless they're quarreling with China or hosting Obama. To their credit, most major media outlets have picked up on the violence. But I can't imagine a water-cooler conversation, even in Washington, D.C., about "the situation in Malaysia." Let me know in the comments section if you disagree.

As an aside: I assume I'm not the only who thinks this story reads like a bad fantasy novel: "The group's leader in Manila, Jamalul Kiram III, one of several claimants to the title of sultan of Sulu, remained defiant," the New York Times reported on Tuesday. He added that "Filipino fighters in Borneo, including his son, whom he identified as the prince of Sulu, would continue the fight." 

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