[Saudi Arabia] is considering ending execution by beheading in favor of firing squads, reports the Egyptian English-language news website Ahram Online. A committee consisting of representatives from the Ministries of Interior, Justice and Health says there are shortages in government swordsmen and argue that a change to execution by firing squad would not violate Islamic law, the Saudi daily newspaper al-Youm writes. According to an official statement from the committee, “This solution seems practical, especially in light of shortages in official swordsmen or their belated arrival to execution yards in some incidents.”From here.
Execution by beheading in Saudi Arabia has continually been condemned by human-rights groups. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), at least 69 people were executed by beheading in 2012, while Amnesty International says 79 were killed under the death penalty in the same period.
The official Saudi Arabian justification, a shortage of swordsmen, doesn't pass the smell test. Even if you have only one swordsman in the entire country, cutting off the heads of sixty to eighty people a year is a part-time job for a single person, and the notion that a nation with a population somewhere between New York State and California, with millions of unemployed young Saudi Arabian men, many of whom pursue traditional areas of study like Islamic theology, and hundreds of thousands more of whom are in military, just isn't remotely plausible. The royal family alone has enough idle young men available to learn this skill in a heartbeat.
Presumably, the claimed shortage of skilled swordsmen is, in fact, a fig leaf for those in the Saudi Arabian government who want to make Saudi Arabia seem less medieval.