Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, CDHR, Washington, DC
December 22, 2014
Opportunity for democracy in the Gulf, Gulf oligarchies Divided, women activists and the State, attacks on Shia
Commentaries and Analysis
GCC Failure: An Opportunity For Democracy In The Gulf
CDHR’s Analysis: Plagued by terminal mistrust of each other, by historic tribal feuds and by a multitude of modern looming internal and external threats, the unconstitutional ruling dynasties of the 6 members of the Gulf Cooperation Council/GCC (Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates/ UAE) failed to agree on a regional strategy or domestic unity of purpose during their 35th summit gathering in Qatar in December 2014. The intended objectives of the summit were to reconcile their unprecedented bitter public wrangles over policies toward different combatant Arab groups and Iran and to finalize a collective military strike force they started discussing in earlier years. However, the summit dissolved in customary deceptive public pleasantries while the summiteers remained divided.
The consecutive failures that have besieged the 35 GCC summits are due to the deeply rooted mistrust and devotion to self-interest and self-preservation among the feuding autocratic Gulf ruling dynasties. Based on these intrinsic dynamics, the GCC has been destined to fail since its inception. This inevitability is due to two major factors: one, the founding of the GCC was not based on the will of the mostly disenfranchised populations of the Gulf Arab states and two, the ruling dynasties of the smaller Gulf states don’t trust the Saudi oligarchs.
The GCC was formed under pressure from the Saudi ruling family for the purposes of maintaining control over their smaller Gulf neighbors politically and strategically and of using them as bargaining chips as opposed to defending them from external enemies. The rulers of the smaller states reluctantly agreed to the Saudi demands of creating a loose pact, but with open eyes and relentless maneuvers to circumvent official commitment to a binding union, presumably under Saudi control.
When the GCC was formed in 1981, the weaker Gulf rulers were more susceptible to Saudi pressure, due to Saudi regional and global influence. During the 1980s and the 90s the Saudis played major roles in regional conflicts such the Iraq/Iran war (1980-89) and the war against the Russians in Afghanistan. The defenseless Gulf rulers at that time considered the Saudis as a potential buffer against unfriendly regional powers and a conduit to Western powers in case of domestic tumult or external aggression such as Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. In order to convince the weaker Gulf rulers of its indispensability, the Saudi regime aggrandized its role in supporting Iraq against Iran, in the eviction of Saddam’s troops from Kuwait and support for the Mujahidin (later became Al-Qaeda) to hunt the Russians in Afghanistan in the early 1990s. In reality, the Saudis’ overriding objectives were to maintain their supremacy over the smaller Gulf states and to use them as a buffer zone, especially against potential aggression from Iran and Iraq, two countries the Saudis consider enemies.
However, the Saudi regime was under increased threats from the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization in the 1980s and 90s. Enraged by the presence of large numbers of American troops in Saudi Arabia during the Kuwait campaign, Al-Qaeda operatives began not only to threaten the Saudi government, but they launched bloody attacks against US military personnel in Saudi Arabia. These attacks and increased pressure on the Saudi regime by Al-Qaeda (whose mastermind and many of his recruits, followers and supporters were Saudis) created a hostile environment which convinced the US to relocate its military bases from Saudi Arabia to the territories and waters of the smaller Gulf states, specifically to Bahrain, Qatar and Oman, in the 1990s.
The relocation of US military bases to the smaller Gulf states came at a cost to the Saudis, an outcome they did not anticipate nor could have done anything about. The smaller states not only welcomed the US to build new bases and expand on old ones, but some of them paid for the costs of building enormous and well-equipped military facilities like the gigantic Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. In addition to Qatar, bases were built in Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain, which gave the US unlimited access to land and water, a strategic military advantage unequal to any other foreign power including former colonizers of the smaller Gulf states. Unlike Saudi Arabia, the smaller emirates and kingdoms of the GCC are safer for the US military personnel and their properties. They are also, by far, more conducive for modern living. This is due to less religious fanaticism and terrorism in the smaller Gulf states.
The relocation and strengthening of strategic US military bases in the Gulf and the substantial investments made by the US and the rulers of the smaller Gulf states provide these rulers with a sense of domestic security and protection from foreign threats, not only from Iran, which the GCC was ostensibly created to repulse, but from the Saudi rulers whose agenda is to dominate the Gulf region. This results in unprecedented closer military, economic and educational ties (major US universities have campuses in the smaller Gulf states) between the US and these Gulf states. Given these realities on the ground, the rulers of the smaller Gulf states can breathe a sigh of relief. They can afford not only to resist the Saudi pressure to form a Gulf states’ “union” instead of its current unbinding cooperative status, but can pursue regional policies the Saudi regime considers threatening to its self-claimed Sunni Muslim leadership and national security.
Despite their common nomadic heritage, mindset and similar methods of ruling, the oligarchs of the Gulf Arab states resent each other and ‘A number of Gulf states view Saudi Arabia as the gorilla in the room. Much as they have a lot in common with them, they don't want to be dominated by the Saudis, ’ according to former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Robert Jordan.
Given their detestation of the Saudi/Wahhabi rulers and their population, the smaller states are in a position to break away from Saudi domination. Their tremendous wealth, strategic location, small populations, close ties with and protection by the US and European powers offer a rare opportunity for these states to transition toward democracy. The US’s strong presence in the Gulf region and the trust the Gulf rulers and their societies confer on America, its way of life, its abilities and willingness to protect them, present the US with a unique opening to make transition toward democracy a reality. This is doable if the US makes it blatantly clear to anti-democratic Iran and Saudi Arabia in advance that any interference by them in this transition, directly or through proxies, will result in immediate and costly retaliation. Prior stern warning and retaliatory action by the US, if provoked, will prevent a repetition of Saudi/Iranian sponsored death and destruction as occurred in Iraq. The success of this doable project will benefit all of the Middle Eastern people, including the Saudis and Iranians.
Unabated Saudi War on Women
CDHR’s Commentary: The arrest and interrogation of Maysa al-Amoudi, a recipient of the 2012 Arab Journalism Award, and the courageous promoter of women’s right to drive, Loujain al-Hathloul, on December 1, 2014, shows the Saudi oligarchs’ continued utter disrespect for Saudi women’s basic rights. Not only does the Saudi regime grossly violate these two highly educated and enlightened women’s rights, but humiliates their proud parents and other male relatives who pride themselves on defending women’s honor. Additionally, the Saudi regime constantly demonstrates its absolute contempt for all international declarations on human rights, including the strict conditions and laws of the world trade organization, WTO, to which the Saudi regime is a signatory.
The Saudi ruling family’s and its anti-human rights religious establishment’s behavior and practices are not only destructive, but contradictory to their claims of being adherents to Islam’s message of tolerance, equality, justice and peace. In reality, the Saudi authorities are forcing Saudi women to seek other methods to attain their rights. They, like many Saudi young men, will resort to violence or join violent groups such as ISIS to rid themselves of the root causes of their oppression, denigration and marginalization.
The Saudi government and its retrograde religious establishment are the only people on earth who insist that women’s driving is a threat to their country’s religious and traditional values, stability, security and national unity. As if this argument does not place the Saud rulers at the height of global absurdity, they go further to argue that women’s driving will increase prostitution, produce deformed children and eliminate virginity in the birth place of Islam.
Blaming tradition and religion for its denigrating treatment of women is only a duplicitous cover for the Saudi regime’s intended objective, keeping society divided by turning the genders against each other, a manifestation of its “divide and conquer” practices.
CDHR’s Commentary: As this BBC report tells it, 5 terrorists disguised as women clad in black were heading toward Saudi Arabia from Yemen to commit mayhem and terrorize innocent Saudi citizens. Will this dangerous episode change the Saudi authorities’ minds, policies and practices toward women or will Saudi women be considered potential camouflaged terrorists in addition to being treated as threats to men’s moral purity?
According to the former chief of the ferocious Saudi religious police (whose official assignment is to intimidate the public, especially women), Shaikh Ahmed bin Qassim al-Ghamidi, covering women is un-Islamic. This opinion of such an authoritative religious scholar and others like him contradicts the policies and practices of the Saudi regime and its zealous religious establishment’s insistence that covering women from head to toe is in accordance with Islamic teachings and traditions.
It’s worth noting that the only other Muslim groups who insist on covering women are terrorist groups: The Taliban of Afghanistan and the newly established Islamic State in large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria. The two groups are adherents to the zealous Saudi doctrine, Wahhabism.
The question that should be asked of the Saudi king, his confidant mufti and his trusted minister of interior, IS: what’s more important, saving people’s lives and protecting their property from terrorists imitating covered Saudi women or continuing to enforce the unnatural, disfiguring, dangerous and un-Islamic dress code?
This matter (terrorists dressed as Muslim women) should also be of grave concern to Western democratic societies, many of whose citizens are fighting for Muslim extremists and where many Muslim women clad in black can be seen in the streets and department stores of Europe and North America.
Hired Academicians Blame Culture For Saudi Women’s Unemployment
CDHR’s Commentary: Here is another purchased assessment of the Saudi government’s evasive excuses for denying Saudi women the right to utilize their natural mental and physical abilities to fend for themselves as capable human beings. Like other Western consultants, these highly paid and carefully selected academicians blame the Saudi people and their culture for the Saudi government’s entrenched repression and marginalization of Saudi women.
Well-known Harvard economist Dr. Claudia Goldin states that, ‘I’m helping another planet, but I’m having nothing to do with their culture. I’m accepting of their culture.’ This disdainful remark is typical of Western consultants’ contemptuous attitudes toward the Saudi people, especially women. This is not only the attitude of paid consultants, but also of Western businesspeople and of governments’ representatives, including ambassadors, elected officials and their staffers.
It’s the Saudi government’s misogynistic policies these experts should be blaming for the exclusion of Saudi women, not only from the workforce, but from contributing to the building of a prosperous, peaceful and tolerant society. In fact, Saudi women are in the forefront of fighting the extremist elements in Saudi society.
The Saudi government uses tradition and religion to justify marginalization of women and then hires reputable Western academicians to deflect attention from its social, political and economic failures, especially toward women. These Western specialists and their institutions chose to augment the Saudi government’s excuses in exchange for generous financial rewards.
These hired hands are historians and economists and should be able to figure out that the Saudi government and merchants save billions of dollars by hiring poverty stricken cheap laborers, mostly Asians, instead of removing artificial gender-linked impediments to the employment of Saudi women. These consultants acknowledge that including women in the workforce in Saudi Arabia will “create social changes,” but they never explain that’s what the Saudi government and merchants want to prevent.
“OIC calls for defeating ISIL's ideology.” Really?
CDHR’s Commentary: Like the dysfunctional Arab League, the 57 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), has done no more than condemn Israel and the West for all Arab and Muslim regimes’ failures to embrace true modernity and its most progressive and empowering values. The OIC was founded and headquartered in Saudi Arabia and mostly financed by the Saudis since its inception in 1969. Its member states represent the overwhelming majority of Muslims worldwide and control the institutions that teach religious intolerance, which they use against each other and use as a tool to achieve their objectives at home and abroad.
Member countries of OIC are lagging (some miserably) in scientific achievement, democratic practices, religious freedom, freedom of expression and equality for women. Additionally, the member states of OIC are notoriously known for their persecution of religious minorities, especially for non-Muslim segments of their societies, as exemplified by the killing of Christians, destruction of their religious sanctuaries and uprooting them from their homelands where they have resided for centuries, long before the founding of Islam 14 and a half centuries ago.
If OIC members truly want to defeat “ISIL’s lethal ideology” then they have to dry the swamps where the ideologues are conceived, nurtured and thrive: hatred-based religious schools, clerics’ TV Channels that indoctrinate people and incite them to kill non-Muslims, arbitrary fatwas (religious edicts) and the reinterpretation of hadith and Shariah law which thus far have been used as toxic political tools.
However, if OIC members really want to do more than issuing vague rhetorical statements intended for public consumption, they must separate mosque from state. Religion must become an individual choice and not a tool of state policy. Short of taking these formidable, but doable steps, ideological Muslim extremism and its spinoff, terrorism, will continue to haunt Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Until Muslim populations in partnership with the international community rise against not only religious extremists, but against the institutions that breed and finance them, they will continue to pay the price. Non-Muslims, especially democratic societies, will reach a point when they decide that it’s “either us or them” and start attacking the root causes of terrorism as previously identified. In other words, the West especially cannot continue to target pockets of terrorists forever, but will target metropolitan areas where the cost to the Muslim peoples can be apocalyptic.
Islam Hates Beauty?
CDHR’s Commentary: The Saudi authorities decided to cancel a planned beauty competition (beauty pageant) “citing the Shariah law that prohibits such a show as reason for the decision.” The question is: what’s un-Islamic about beauty? The decision to cancel this event gives the impression that Islam thrives on deformity as exemplified by the Burga, the man-made and enforced defacing of human physical appearance. Ironically, Saudis and other Muslims get agitated (violent) when non-Muslims criticize their traditions and values.
Why don’t the Saudi authorities tell their population what’s un-Islamic about human splendor. In reality, there is nothing that supports their fictitious claims. The Saudi authorities interpret and use religion to justify their anti-human freedom-of-choice and anti-human-development policies. A beauty pageant is a sophisticated and creative art work and that’s what the repressive Saudi system fears most: creative, self-reliant and free-thinking people.
The Saudi Mufti Blames Terrorists for attacks on Shia
CDHR’s Commentary: With due respect, the Saudi Mufti’s denunciation of the murderous extremists who gunned down innocent praying Shia Saudi citizens for no reason other than their religious orientation is duplicitous. The killers learn their hatred for Shia from the Saudi religious-based schools, which the Mufti and like-minded clerics supervise and direct. Now the Mufti and the Saudi ruling family are threatened by the same people they indoctrinate and at times use to achieve their objectives, domestically and externally
The only way to rid the Saudi society and the international community of religious hatred is to advance religious tolerance, not only of Muslim minorities, but of non-Muslims as well. The Mufti can start by advocating closure of hate-spreading TV channels, by removing all religious extremist clerics from all government agencies and by forbidding all classes and literature that advocate religious hatred from all Saudi schools, especially from his favorite institution, Imam Mohammed Ibn Saudi University.
Your contributions to CDHR’s efforts to address tough issues, invoke thought-provoking discourse and suggest peaceful solutions are crucial. We need to continue our educational outreach worldwide. CDHR is a 501 (c) 3 tax exempt educational organization.
Please go to our website www.cdhr.info and click on donate.
Or send checks to this address:
Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, CDHR
1050 17 St. NW, Suite 1000,
Washington, DC 20036