Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, CDHR, Washington DC
January 22, 2015
New King, Endangered Country, Dangerous Ideology, repression and Solutions
CDHR’s Commentaries and Analysis
King Salman, Empowered Citizens Can Save The Country
Former Crown Prince, now King Salman, stated recently that Saudi Arabia (and other Gulf monarchies) is ‘… passing through the most delicate situation in its history as a result of highly dangerous challenges.’
CDHR’s Commentary: The unprecedented and unexpected sudden mass revolts in the Arab World (“the Arab Spring”) caught the Saudi oligarchs not only unprepared, but more vulnerable than at any time in their history. Having taken their disenfranchised population for granted and purchased protection from external powers and regional defense buffer zones, the Saudi rulers found themselves alone and unprepared after their absolute like-minded supporters and defenders like former President Mubarak of Egypt, were trampled on by their marginalized populations. The seismic impact of the Arab Spring on the stability and security of the Saudi ruling family also affected the Saudi royals’ relations with their traditional powerful allies, specifically the United States, which came down on the side of the revolting Arab masses, especially in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen.
Instead of looking into the root causes that led to the Arab Spring and creating an environment of hope for its ruthlessly oppressed population, the Saudi regime embarked upon a costly and vicious counterrevolution campaign, domestically and regionally. The Saudi monarchy, with the help of some of its neighboring oligarchs, assisted in the overthrow of President Mubarak’s elected successor, sent its troops to crush the revolution in Bahrain and tried to drag the US into undermining the Arab people’s struggle to rid themselves of despotic regimes, some of which were socially and politically less tyrannical than the ruling Saudi political and religious autocracies.
Despite their lucrative payments to recruit dependent and submissive dictatorial substitutes for their fallen comrades in Egypt and elsewhere, to create buffer zones as in Lebanon against Iran and its proxies and despite promises of rewards for Putin of Russia if he were to support their efforts to overthrow the Syrian dictator, the Saudis failed on all fronts. This is due to the Arab peoples’ determined pursuit of their objectives of transforming the Arab World into modern democratic systems, the practice of self-rule which is alien to most Arabs. Not only did the Saudi rulers fail to recruit supporters to achieve their counterrevolutionary objectives, but they also failed to prevent some of the extremist ideologue groups which they have financed and armed (to topple their Shi’a Alawite enemy in Syria) from joining ISIS, which poses an ominous threat to the kingdom and its rulers.
Gripped by fear of their many enemies, domestically and externally, the Saudi rulers seem to seek help from anyone, including groups they have declared terrorists as this article demonstrates. The autocratic Saudi regime’s desperate attempts to save itself and its kingdom from the many formidable threats encircling them is a matter of fact as summarized in this appraisal, “From the available data, one may say that the situation in Saudi Arabia is not all good, externally or internally. The crises plaguing the region and surrounding the Saudi regime are taking a serious toll on the kingdom. In Yemen, Riyadh’s rival, the Houthi movement, now controls most of the countries (sic) bordering Saudi Arabia. These countries' geography and populations are historically linked with Saudi Arabia, especially in the heavily Yemeni Asir region. In Bahrain, the Shiite conflict with the Sunni regime backed by Riyadh is still heating up. The situation in Iraq is on the verge of exploding, with the Islamic State (IS) near the Saudi border, putting the Saudi regime under a kind of geographical siege.”
These threats could be circumvented if the Saudi regime chooses to avert an internal social cataclysm that is likely to prove more calamitous than the consuming carnages in different Arab countries. This means that the Saudi rulers should focus on transforming their autocratic system of governing and on sharing power with all citizens regardless of gender, regional identity, ethnicity or religious orientation. By empowering the people voluntarily, the Saudi monarchs will not only remove major reasons prompting people to resort to the violence of the Arab Spring, but will give the Saudi citizens tangible incentives to defend their country.
National unity based on equality, full participation in the decision-making processes and a sense of belonging is the best, safest and cheapest available option to save the country from the spillover of the current contagious and anarchic turmoil in the Arab world. This can be done if all Saudi citizens feel that the country is theirs instead of belonging to the few who think and act as if the state belongs to their families by birthright.
Saudi Arabia can be saved if the current Saudi rulers see the world for what it is as opposed to clinging to their skewed version of reality. To start, the regime should release all peaceful human and political rights activists and those imprisoned for advocating social justice, rule of law, religious freedom and equality. Prominent among the unjustly imprisoned peaceful promoters of political participation, freedom of expression (religious or otherwise) and social justice are the founders and members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, as well as lawyer Abu-Alkhair, Raif Badawi, Souad Al-Shamari and Shaikhs Al-Rashudi and Al-Nimr, just to name a few.
This group along with many well-known patriotic and peaceful reform minded Saudi men and women, such Hatoon Al-Fasi, Wajeha Al-Hwaider, Bidriyah Al-Bisher, Samar Badawi, Samar Fatany, the Almaeena brothers, Madawi Al-Rasheed, Ali Aldumaini,Eman Al Nafjan, Khalid Al-Dakheel Faiza Ambah, Fawzia al-Bakr and members of the ruling family such as Princes Talal and Al-Waleed (father and son), Princesses Basma Bint Saud, Amirah Al-Taweel and Adela Bint Abdullah (the King’s daughter), would form an ideal group to construct a framework for transition to a constitutional monarchy along the line of current European monarchies.
This is a logical and pragmatic approach to abort the multitude of external and internal threats facing the country and its people.
Arabia After King Abdullah
CDHR’s Commentary: The Washington-based Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, CDHR, has been inundated with inquiries from Western media and politicians since news broke of King Abdullah’s recent hospitalization. They are wondering about the Saudi royal succession and whether King Abdullah’s “reform” initiatives will continue when he no longer rules.
Traditionally, Saudi Kings are designated years or decades before inheriting the throne. Crown Princes become automatically kings when reigning kings die after long and, in some cases, incapacitating ailments. Given this family tradition, it’s assured that Crown Prince Salman (known for his pro-Salafi Islam and anti-reform proclivities) will inherit the Saudi throne unless the 35 princes’ “Allegiance Commission” which King Abdullah established in 2006 reasserts its powers to recommend future Saudi Kings and Crown Princes. This is unlikely to happen without a potential palace revolt which is said to be the primary reason that convinced King Abdullah to bypass his brainchild Commission when he unilaterally appointed his ultra-conservative half-brother Naif (a staunch opponent of any political reform) Crown Prince in 2011 without consulting the Commission. When Naif mysteriously died in Switzerland, the King again disregarded his Commission and appointed Naif’s full brother Salman as Crown Prince.
Ironically, the King was profusely praised for creating the Commission by the international community and by progressive members of the royal family like Prince Talal, who resigned from the Commission to protest King Abdullah’s decision to circumvent it. Abdullah’s move dashed the hopes of Saudi reformers for any reform that might pave the way to popular political participation.
However, the traditional process of royal succession could be transformed if reform-minded royals, especially the younger generation, or if King Abdallah’s powerful sons, specifically, Prince Mitib, the Minister of the ruthless National Guard, Prince Mishal, the Governor of Mecca and Prince Abdul Aziz, the deputy to the ailing Foreign Minister Saud Alfaisal, demand a greater role in deciding who should be the next king and what reform strategies must be initiated and implemented after their father no longer rules. Like their father, none of King Abdullah’s sons trusts Crown Prince Salman and his Sudairi wing of the family (the Sudairi 7) due to historical animosities, namely the marginalization of their father for decades prior to his ascendance to the throne in 2005.
In addition to the disregarded Allegiance Commission, King Abdullah has introduced two other mostly token reform initiatives: municipal elections in 2005 in which women and youth were not allowed to run for office or vote for candidates, and the 2013 appointment of 30 carefully selected pro-government women to the Majlis Al-Shura, a powerless consultative chamber which consists of 150 members hand-picked by the King. Both initiatives proved to be misleading appeasements for domestic and external consumption because neither has produced any change in the political and social status quo. All powers and decision-making processes remain in the hands of the political and religious ruling oligarchs.
Despite the Saudi people’s initial hopes for political reforms when King Abdallah ascended to the throne in 2005 and despite western commendation for the King’s announcements of religious and political reforms, King Abdallah’s actions only served to strengthen the grip that the royal family and religious establishment hold on the country. More Saudi human rights activists and free speech advocates are being arrested and imprisoned and more punishing laws (royal decrees) have been issued under King Abdullah’s reign than under any of his predecessors.
He criminalized defaming the reputation of the state, insulting a member of the royal family or religious clerics. King Abdallah has increased the number of the dreaded Interior Ministry’s secret police by 60,000, ostensibly to ensure public safety, but in reality, as many Saudis know, to crack down on pro-democracy movements and human rights activists. King Abdallah’s appointments of Princes Naif and Salman (both of whom adamantly oppose even his cosmetic initiatives) to inherit the throne are blatant contradiction to the popular perception that he is a reformer.
If, as expected, Crown Prince Salman becomes the next King, political conditions are likely to deteriorate for the Saudi people, the region and for the international community. Prince Salman’s support for the intolerant Saudi religious establishment, his insistence that the lethal Saudi dogma, Wahhabism, is a ‘pure call’ “derived from Allah’s Book and the Sunnah of His Prophet,” his belief that the Saudi ruling family owns the country by birthright and his well-known anti-political reform stance, will result in more political oppression than under any previous King.
However, the raging turmoil in the Arab World combined with increased domestic repression are likely to create a tinder box awaiting a spark of an event to set off a conflagration that even iron-fisted Salman cannot prevent.
Saudi Citizens Can Defend Their Threatened Country
CDHR’s Commentary: “Militants (Saudi Nationals) killed two Saudi border guards and their commanding officer on the frontier with Iraq early on January 5, 2015 according to the Interior Ministry which is thought to be the “Islamic State's first assault on the kingdom.”
This attack should not have come as a surprise, given ISIS declared intent to attack Saudi Arabia, directly and through its supporters inside the country. This attack could be the start of a lengthy and costly conflict that will eventually expand beyond the borders with Iraq. This conflict could attract many anti-Saudi-regime terror and militia groups, Sunni and Shi'a, including ISIS, Al-Qaeda, some Saudis and some members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Saudi regime helped oust and later declared the group a terrorist organization. Two steps the Saudi regime can take to help defend its northern and southern territories are: First, empower the Saudi people by introducing democratic reforms where citizens can take part in the decision-making processes and feel they own the country. One place to start is by changing the status of the national Consultative Council (Majlis Al-Shurah) from a hand-picked and royal controlled advisory entity into a legislative branch of government, as many reformers and some members of the ruling family have been advocating for years.
Simultaneously, the Saudi regime can establish strong economic and political relations with current Iraqi government and stop Saudi religious extremist clerics from continuing their religious and physical assaults on Shia, in and out of Saudi Arabia. This necessitates treating Iraq as an equal and independent nation that must determine its own political future which will likely be a federated democratic republic if the current dynamics in Iraq continue. This is possible and doable if the Saudi royals and religious establishment stop financing and arming their minority Sunni proxies in Iraq.
In the south, Yemen, with 26 million poverty stricken people and long porous borders with Saudi Arabia, presents a greater threat to the Saudis than Iraq. This is due to the fact that most Yemenis believe southern Saudi Arabia (the Asir region) belongs to them, as exemplified by their incursion into the Saudi southern region in 2009 which resulted in a bloody conflict. Yemen is also the home to the lethal group, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, whose primary objective is the overthrow of the Saudi ruling family.
The same arrangements proposed for Iraq to defuse the border threat can be applied to Yemen, a situation that is more dangerous than Iraq for the Saudis to ignore. However, in the case of Yemen, the Saudis and other oil rich Gulf Arab States must make substantial economic investments in the dilapidated Yemeni infrastructure and public services. By providing financial aid to the Yemenis and by respecting them as proud and independent people, the Saudis can defuse the threat to their southern borders.
It’s unlikely that neither Saudi border with Iraq or Yemen can be secured by any military might alone, given the number of bloodthirsty groups who are bent on death and destruction because of religious indoctrination and a sense of alienation and dispossession. The steps discussed above are doable if the Saudi oligarchs accept that only stake holding citizens, regardless of gender, religious orientation, ethnic or regional background, can protect their country from internal and external threats.
Loujain and Maysa Are Not Terrorists, They Are Enlightened Patriots
CDHR’s Commentary: The unjustified arbitrary arrest of two patriotic Saudi women, Loujain al-Hathloul and Maysa al-Amoudi, on Dec. 1, 2014, further demonstrates the Saudi regime’s rejection of modernity, an incredible attempt to reverse human evolution and its concomitant demands. As if arresting and interrogating these highly educated and civically active Saudi women for a month because they drove a few feet onto the “sanctified” Saudi sands where women are forced into subservient status is not enough to draw global disdain, the Saudi regime and its archaic 7th century-based court system are trying them in courts created for terrorists. This action by the Saudi autocratic and theocratic ruling families, Al-Saud and Al-Alshaikh, is not surprising, given the system’s schizophrenic state of mind and daunting fear of anyone who challenges social injustice, inequality, institutionalized state intimidation of the public (such as the religious police), and unceasing relegation of women (whom the Saudi Mufti considers agents of evil) to inferior status.
The questions the Saudi people, women and men, and all civilized people should be asking are: what good does denigrating women do for Saudi Arabia and the world and what harm did Loujain al-Hathloul and Maysa al-Amoudi inflict to merit being tried in a dangerous stigmatizing terrorist court? As the Saudi people, especially visionary and patriotic activists know too well, the Saudi judicial system is designed to render disproportionate soul and body scarring punishment and advertise it as a stark warning to anyone who might consider challenging the Saudi regime’s draconian policy and erratic royal whims.
The Saudi rulers’ persistent behavior of brutal retaliation for acts normal in modern societies (such as women driving cars) is incomprehensible, given that the regime is trying to stem the march of transformative human development. The aspirations of the Arab masses that led to the Arab Spring have presented a glaring warning to the Saudi ruling elites that their attempts to thwart evolutionary public demands for social justice, political freedom and financial security are doomed to fail.
“Right Islam vs. Wrong Islam”
CDHR’s Commentary: Ten years ago (Dec. 2005), President Abdulrahman Wahid of Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country, stated that “Muslims and non-Muslims must unite to defeat the Wahhabi ideology.” President Wahid was not the only prominent Muslim scholar who warned the international community about the looming threats that the Saudi dogma poses against Muslims and non-Muslims alike. In a scathing communique issued after a major conference in Cairo, Egypt, in April 2010, prominent Muslim scholars and historians from the oldest and most respected Muslim educational institution, Al-Azhar University, “warned that the Saudi/Wahhabi system is based on violence of the worst kind and must be defeated by all legal means.”
These scholars and many others like them argue that, from the start of their movement (more than 250 years ago), the creators and utilizers of the Saudi/Wahhabi doctrine have employed severe punishments to create fear in the hearts and minds of their citizens. The Saudi government’s use of flogging and beheading in public squares is designed to create a society that constantly lives in fear, not of God’s wrath, but of those who claim to represent God’s will.
Given the Muslim scholars’ dire warnings about the threats of Wahhabi ideology issued years ago, it’s incomprehensible that the international community, especially western democratic governments (the main target of Muslim terrorists) has not heeded the warnings. Nor has any western government responded to the growing threats to and attacks on its society in a manner that makes terrorists and their financiers think twice before launching lethal attacks on innocent people, such as those that took place during the last 14 months in Australia, France, the US, Britain and Canada.
The question is: what will it take to convince the West (including Muslim minorities) that the threats to their democracies posed by the Wahhabi ideology are real and gaining momentum? Will Western governments, media and civil societies continue their policies of appeasement and denial or take drastic actions to repel what’s manageable now before terror groups gain more strength and make or procure destructive weapons that could inflict wide spread devastation?
Builders of Snowmen Are HELL Bound
CDHR’s Commentary: An enraged Saudi cleric issued an edict against creative Saudis who took advantage of a rare snowfall in their region and used snow to portray repressive political and social practices such as the male guardian system, women’s coverings and pointing out a short ride between autocratic Saudi Arabia and democratic Germany. These images were posted on social media of which the Saudis, including clerics, are said to be the most frequent users in the world.
The cleric argued that creating/building any image with human features is un-Islamic (or Bidah, “novelty”) because only Allah can do such things--building snowmen and images of other critters, like penguins, night owls and lizards.
This kind of argument is dripping with hypocrisy and deceptions, since Saudi clerics are frequent users of bidah themselves, such as social media, invented by non-Muslims (“infidels”) in research laboratories that also invent Youtube, satellite televisions, cell phones and SUVs. All of these inventions are used extensively by the Saudi religious establishment, especially the ferocious religious police whose job is to intimidate people and suppress Western democratic values such as peaceful assemblages, harmless freedom of expression, self-reliance for women, tolerance of non-Muslims and Muslim minorities who do not meet the requirements of the Saudi regime’s seventh century brand of Islam, Salafism from which the extraordinarily inflexible Wahhabism emanated.
By using bidah to label others’ creativity as un-Islamic, the religious establishment is not only hypocritical, but is responsible for thwarting the Saudi society’s development. Maintaining seventh century arguments and practices will propel the country into political, religious and social chaos in which everyone loses. To avoid this eventuality, the Saudi ruling oligarchs and the country will best be served by employing transformative reforms where clerics’ have no say in 21st century public policy.
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