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Saudis/Iranians and US Policy

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Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, CDHR, Washington DC

February 19, 2018

Saudis/Iranians and US Policy, Human rights, Saudi Women

Saudis, Iranians and US Policy

CDHR Commentary: The Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, CDHR, is often asked whether the Saudi rulers are trying to thrust the US into a war with Iran and if so, why. It's no secret that the Saudi rulers have “exhorted” the United States to attack Iran. In 2008, former Saudi King Abdullah urged US officials to attack Iran and “cut off the head of the snake.” The Saudis’ urge for US military action against Iran has not diminished over the years.

Known for their notorious gross violations of human rights, religious intolerance, inequality for women and discrimination against Muslim and non-Muslim minorities, the Sunni Saudi autocracy and Iran’s Shi’a theocracy have been engaged in ferocious religious and geopolitical competition and proxy conflicts for decades. Hostility between the Saudi and Iranian oligarchies intensified after the 1979 Iranian Revolution and intensified further since King Salman inherited the throne in 2015 and designated his novice son Mohammed Crown Prince in 2017. Prince Mohammed recently described the Iranian absolute ruler, Khomeini, as “the new Hitler of the Middle East”, adding that President Trump was the “right person at the right time” to act against the Iranian threat.

Despite President Trump’s support for Saudi domestic and foreign policies and his military and foreign policy subordinates’ (Mattis, Tillerson and Haley) denunciations of the Iranians, none of them has illusions about the Saudis’ destabilizing role in the Middle East, violations of human rights and their role in global extremism and terrorism. Additionally, American generals know that the majority of suicide bombers who killed hundreds of American soldiers in Iraq came from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab Sunni states.

While President Trump shares Crown Prince Mohammed’s and his father’s antipathy toward the Iranian regime, historically, Trump has accused the Saudis of being “…the world's biggest funder of terrorism.” Perhaps this is why Trump and his advisors do not seem to be in a hurry to take military actions against Iran or distance the US from the 80 million Iranians.

The Iranian theocracy has been emboldened under the nuclear deal it concluded with the world’s superpowers and by growing schisms among Sunni Muslims despite the Saudi efforts. Due to these developments, Iran seems to be gaining the upper hand in its various proxy conflicts with the Saudis in Yemen, Syria, Qatar and Lebanon. Given Iran’s ascent to a position of regional power, especially after the conclusion of the nuclear deal, and given the US’s reluctance to do the Saudis’ bidding, the Saudis are building Muslim and non-Muslim military and political coalitions with the intent of confronting Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East. In November 2017, Prince Mohammed hosted the 40 Sunni countries’ Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition in Riyadh and vowed that, working together, they would eliminate terrorism around the world. But cynical critics of and experts on Saudi affairs argue that Iran is the Saudis’ intended target.

The Saudi rulers are still attempting to convince the Trump Administration to attack Iran, but like its predecessors, the Administration sees no benefit to the United States in either the Saudi autocracy or the Iranian theocracy dominating the Middle East.

2017: The End of an Archaic Saudi Era?

CDHR Analysis: 2017 will go down in history as the irreversible end of the absolute archaic Saudi monarchy. This inevitable implosion was necessitated by events the Saudi rulers could no longer control or avoid. It is long overdue and would have been a welcome development for the Saudi people and their right of self-determination if the establishment of a representative governing system were the reason to replace the obsolescent and cronyism-based political landscape that has impeded political, social, economic and scientific progress since the establishment of the Saudi kingdom 86 years ago.

Faced with unprecedented domestic economic predicaments and political inertia, regional conflicts and formidable strategic rivalries, King Salman has been compelled to embark on dicey domestic and destabilizing regional maneuvers. He subverted his family’s succession tradition, marginalized hundreds of experienced princes and bestowed the state’s fate on his novice, but energetic and exceedingly ambitious son, Crown Prince Mohammed. Prince Mohammed has been exalted by many Western media, businesses and think tanks as a reformer based on his promises and embryonic diversionary social initiatives, which are, nonetheless, unprecedented steps with potentially far-reaching implications.

Despite lessening some political and social taboos, such as introducing entertainment, allowing women to drive and to enter sports arenas, arresting a number of corrupt princes, businessmen and former officials and curtailing some of the anti-modernity religious establishment’s repressive practices, Prince Mohammed was not chosen to reform the monarchy’s oligarchical political system. He was chosen to implement his father, King Salman’s life-long commitment to ensure the eternal rule of the Saudi ruling family.

Thus far, Prince Mohammed seems to be fulfilling his father’s wishes. He has hand-picked a new generation of young dutiful and like-minded princes and appointed them to powerful positions. Prior to King Salman’s ascendance to the throne in 2015, government decisions were made by consensus between the king and powerful senior princes, including Salman. That deliberative decision-making process has changed since King Salman inherited the throne in 2015 and designated his son Mohammed Crown Prince and de facto ruler in 2017. Judging by his actions thus far, Prince Mohammed is positioning himself to become the sole decision-maker after his father no longer rules. This transition has created political instability and economic uncertainty, two major concerns of potential investors, without whom Prince Mohammed’s economic reform is likely to fail. In addition, this transition will make the state more autocratic than at any time since the death of its ruthless founder, King Abdul Aziz, Prince Mohammed’s role model.

The question is how Prince Mohammed (when he inherits the throne) would use his inclusive autocratic powers and for what purpose? Will he unite the divided, distrusting and callously ruled population and deliver on his promises or will he and his hand-picked royal subordinates focus on maintaining exclusive royal control over the country and its wealth, a task his father selected him to carry out? Only time will tell, but if Prince Mohammed’s social initiatives are indicative of his intent to break away from the dark past and the royals’ methods of deception, unfulfilled promises and divisionary practices, he might be the right dictator to begin a social process none of his predecessors has dared.

Prince Mohammed has taken unpopular and risky domestic steps that gave the disenfranchised population a glimpse of hope for a better governance and future. He introduced, publicised and politicized an ambitious economic reform plan (Vision 2030) that required unpopular domestic actions; he curtailed some of the excessive repressive religious practices, introduced entertainment, removed the ban on women’s right to drive and allowed them to go to sports arenas. Furthermore, he arrested a number of prominent royals, military personnel, officials and businessmen whom he accused of corruption, a move that resonated positively with the population. He also began a process of weaning the population off reliance on the government’s subjugating handouts by cutting some funded programs and by imposing taxes on subsidized commodities. In the 21st century, these are microscopic and nascent steps by any standard, but in Saudi Arabia these are major breakthroughs.

By taking these minute steps, Prince Mohammed alienated powerful groups, including most of his ruling family and their religious establishment legitimizers and powerbase. However, he has gained public support for now. He also sent mixed messages to potential investors whose financial investments and know-how he needs for his ambitious economic plans. Additionally, he has been exalted by some Western interest groups and condemned by others. His exalters consider him an energetic, risk-taking and ambitious reformer. His critics see him as a power-hungry ambitious ruler who will do whatever it takes to ensure his supremacy.

Prince Mohammed may have acted impetuously, but he had very few options and limited time to save his family and the country from domestic and external threats and havoc that have engulfed most Arab countries in recent years. Given this reality, Prince Mohammed’s best gamble is to distance himself further from his publicly-loathed family and give the people reason to rally behind him, regardless of temporary economic austerity and intolerance of those who are likely to try to undermine his iron-fisted approach.

How can he succeed in rallying public support for himself and his agenda? Be honest with the population. He can use the state controlled visual, audio and print media to explain his vision and intended goals. More effectively, he can hold town hall meetings in communities and regions throughout the country. He can also invite respected and independent royals and commoners (male and female volunteers) to travel the country and try to convince the people of Prince Mohammed’s commitment to do what’s best for them. He can release and meet with prisoners of conscious and ask for their understanding, patience and help. He can enlist the support of influential individuals in every community and assure them that he is serious and can deliver, but not without their help.

Prince Mohammed has to convince the marginalized population that this is a new beginning and he needs their help to succeed. Following these and other steps can go a long way in a country where people (subjects) are not asked to help but ordered to obey.

Prince Mohammed: Criminalizing Free Expression is a Crime

CDHR Commentary: Recent reports of arrests of peaceful advocates of human rights, anti-corruption and of social justice like Mr. Saleh al-Shehi and Ms. Noha al-Balawi contradict Crown Prince Mohammed’s and Saudi Western lobbyists’ claims of advancing women’s rights, eradicating corruption and campaigning for accountability. Continuing such arrests of peaceful advocates of human rights will undermine Prince Mohammed’s support among the people he needs most, the aspiring millions of Saudis craving basic rights to have a say in matters related to governmental corruption, nepotism and policies.

Fearing repercussions of public criticism, the current Saudi rulers, like all of their predecessors, continue to deny the public all forms of free expression. This practice has coercively worked in the past, but can it continue at a time when 70% of the Saudi population is under the age of 30? They are educated, social media savvy, well-informed about violations of their rights and aware of diverse global support for their human rights causes, especially women’s rights. More importantly, they are demanding political change regardless of consequences. Given these undeniable and irreversible realities, it is unlikely that Prince Mohammed is unaware of the repercussions of continuing to marginalize a generation of aspiring and increasingly restless young Saudis, especially since he needs them for his economic reform and political support.

Social injustice, rampant corruption, lack of basic freedom of expression and the Saudi/Wahhabi ruling dynasties’ heavy-handedness gave birth to extremism, terrorism and retardation of human development. These are ingredients for societal hopelessness and anger, often precursors of violent public reprisal, as exemplified by the fate of Gaddafi of Libya and Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

2017 could have been the end of the archaic Saudi rulers’ draconian practices, as stated in www.cdhr.info. By continuing to rule by the sword, Prince Mohammed is further stunting public creativity, development and citizens’ abilities to function normally.

Arresting and sentencing Saleh al-Shehi, for saying that “…any Saudi citizen who has a contact within the royal court automatically has an advantage in buying strategically located land unavailable to the public.” This simple fact of royal nepotism is known to all Saudis, many of whom have been encouraged by Crown Prince Mohammed’s recent arrests and detention of powerful princes, businessmen and other officials for looting hundreds of billions of dollars of public funds.

Prince Mohammed has the power and unprecedented opportunity to unite and move Saudi Arabia forward or “clash with people in the streets.” Continuing his father’s and other Saudi rulers’ tactics of fear and intimidation are a guarantee for a dire consequences.

Saudi Women: “What Did I Do Wrong?”

CDHR Commentary: As I was leaving the Women’s March on January 20, in Oakland, Ca., I saw a small hand scribbled sign in an elderly woman’s hand asking: “What did I do wrong?” That simple ambiguous phrase captured my attention. I wonder what it meant, but interpreted it to mean that other than being a woman, what had she done wrong to be here on this chilly morning protesting being discriminated against because of the way she was created, a woman.

After the rally, a friend forwarded an article to me titled: SAUDI WOMAN WHO ATTENDED HISTORIC SOCCER MATCH: ‘NO WORDS CAN DESCRIBE HOW AMAZING IT WAS’. Suddenly, the sign I saw at the rally came to life. The Saudi woman who stated that ‘NO WORDS CAN DESCRIBE HOW AMAZING IT WAS’ was not referring to the soccer match, the stadium or the players. She was expressing a much deeper feeling Saudi women can relate to and identify with. For this woman and for millions of other Saudi women, this was the first time they were allowed to enter a stadium and watch the game from their segregated section, (gender segregation is enforced by the state in Saudi Arabia.)

Women who are not bound and can afford to pay can go to a sport arena to watch games anywhere in the world, except in Saudi Arabia. Saudi women have not only been prevented from watching games in sport arenas, but are not allowed to drive and cannot travel or seek employment without a male guardian’s approval, within the male guardian system.

The Saudi women have done nothing wrong, other than being born women. Consequently, they have endured decades of debasing and chauvinistic political, religious, social and economic policies. The Saudi religious, political and business elites consider and treat women as inferior, unthinking and incapable of feeding themselves despite the fact that millions of Saudi women are highly educated and the few who have had opportunities have proven to be superior to the men who oppress and denigrate them.

Despite the most restrictive, discriminatory, inhumane and anti-human development policies and practices they face, Saudi women are fighting back in ways that are not only changing their conditions, but undermining the misogynistic and bigoted policies that have held their lagging country hostage for decades and promoted backwardness, extremism and terrorism.

Recently, the Saudi regime has announced some embryonic steps to allow women to go to sport arenas, attend segregated entertainment events, to drive, vote in meaningless municipal elections and to open guardian approved bank accounts.  These steps are not the actions of a benevolent government as western media and beneficiaries of Saudi largess claim. They are the result of Saudi women’s struggle to obtain their basic rights.

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Mission Statement

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The Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (CDHR) is a (501) (c)3 non-profit educational organization established in 2004 to promote peaceful, institutionalized political enfranchisement and human rights reforms to stabilize Saudi Arabia -- a key U.S. strategic ally and a major actor in the turbulent and volatile Gulf Arab region which supplies a large portion of energy sources important to the economies of trading partners and allies of the United States.  Such reforms would: allow greater development of the capacities of all Saudi citizens; endow them with the liberties and rights enjoyed by citizens in Western and other democratic societies; and eliminate the export from Saudi Arabia of intolerant and destructive ideologies which lead to devastating attacks on persons and institutions in other nations of the world. CDHR believes that achieving true stability in Saudi Arabia through these reforms is vital to U.S. strategic interests in the Middle East -- encompassing national security, economic, and geopolitical components. CDHR is apolitical, non-sectarian, and does not engage in lobbying activities.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 October 2017 21:30

Women can Democratize and Save Saudi Arabia

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Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, CDHR, Washington DC

November 3, 2017

Women can Democratize and Save Saudi Arabia, Prince Mohammed Operates Extemporaneously and Jihadis Setback

Prince Mohammed bin Salman Misspoke About Religious Tolerance

CDHR Commentary: In a speech to potential investors in the Saudi capital, Riyadh on October 24, 2017, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “pledged” to return to the era when the population of Arabia consisted of Jews, Christians and pagans who practiced their beliefs and rituals freely 14 ½ centuries ago.  He declared, ‘We are returning to what we were before — a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world.’

Prince Mohammed misspoken. Except for less religious oppression under the Hashemite rule in the Hijaz region, there has never been religious tolerance in Arabia since the establishment of Islam in the 6th century. When the Saudi/Wahhabi Ikhwan (brothers) invaded the Hijaz region in the 1920s and before, they destroyed Christian and Jewish cemeteries, historical infrastructure, artifacts and sculptures. They still do the same to Shi’a cemeteries in the 21st century.

Prince Mohammed has been issuing contradictory statements and promises on which no one seems to believe he can deliver. Endowed with unprecedented powers bestowed on him by his ultraconservative father King Salman, Prince Mohammed seems to be operating compulsively and erratically. For example, he stated in May 2017, that there can be no negotiations with Shi’a Muslims, specifically Iran, because they are trying to control the Muslim World, the majority of which is Sunni Muslim and cleanse it in preparation for the return of the Shi’a’s Messiah, the Mahdi.

Two months later, July 2017, Prince Mohammed invited a powerful anti-American hard core Iraqi Shi’a cleric, Muqtada-Al-Sadr to visit him in Saudi Arabia. Two months after that, October 2017, Prince Mohammed and his father invited the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi (a Shi’a) to visit Saudi Arabia to discuss re-opening of the Saudi-Iraqi borders, restoring diplomatic relations at all levels and reestablishing trade and other economic venues between ultra-conservative Sunni Saudi Arabia and its mostly Shi’a Iraqi neighbor. Now it looks like the Saudis are using Al-Abadi to play a fence-mending role with Iran, their major religious and geopolitical competitor.

However, regardless of Prince Mohammed’s desperate need to attract foreign investment to resuscitate the faltering Saudi economy, restore some of the ebbing economic and geopolitical Saudi influence regionally and globally and to prevent the return of thousands of Saudi terrorists from Iraq and Syria, he should be given the benefit of the doubt. The fact that he is making unprecedented public statements about forbidden topics, albeit embryonic and unimplementable without transformation of Saudi Arabia, are steps in the right direction, even if they do not get implemented.

Mohammed Bin Salman’s success and survival as a ruler depend on fulfilling at least significant portions of his declarations and promises. He is walking a very thin political line domestically, facing hesitant foreign investors, innovators and defenders. But more than anything else, he needs the support and trust of the millions of unemployed, disenfranchised and freedom-seeking Saudi youth (described as a  ticking time bomb), without whom he will be no more than another corrupt absolute ruler like all of his predecessors.

We wish Prince Mohammed luck and success; but luck alone tends to have a fleeting tenure even for absolute oligarch.

Saudi Women Allowed in Sports’ Arenas

CDHR Commentary: There’s no one to thank for this too little too late embryonic step other than the Saudi women's courage to defy chauvinism, extremism, misogyny and men’s inferiority complex. God bless Saudi women and the liberating social media, the creation of the “infidels,” a draconian phrase generations of Saudi power-wielders have used to maintain total control over every aspect of the population’s lives, livelihood, movements and thinking.

Maybe the young Saudi ruling elites are recognizing that their survival requires diversification of their sources of legitimacy. Accepting women as full citizens is the right move to make, especially if the intent goes beyond the deflective window dressing we have seen in recent years. Social change and mental reconstruction are challenging, but nothing is beyond repair, even in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Women Can Save And Democratize Saudi Arabia

CDHR Commentary: The Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, CDHR, has been inundated with inquiries about the reasons behind King Salman’s decree to allow women to drive and “why wait another nine months instead of now?” The reasons are many and nine months is the time it will take the regime to work out plans that will ensure permitting women to drive will benefit the king and his sons and  compensate for erosion in their power-base due to increasing defections among powerful clerics and their followers. This is also a deflective tactic by the regime to divert people’s attention from their current economic hardships caused by dwindling revenues, rampant corruption and increases in expenditures for arms procurement and external conflicts.

Regardless of King Salman’s and his designated heir Mohammed Bin Salmans’ motives, allowing Saudi women to drive is a victory against the misogynistic and anti-modernity religious extremists and traditionalists who consider women private property and are obsessed with their sexuality. This historical event will go down in history books as the beginning of the inexorable: the split between the ruthless Saudi and Wahhabi allies. This is a victory for a better future for the Saudi people, and thus, for Muslims and non-Muslims worldwide.

For decades, the autocratic Saudi monarchs and their zealot legitimizers and bedrock powerbase clerics have invoked tradition, religion and even science to disqualify and deny women their basic human rights, such as the right to drive, work, travel, choose their spouses or drive their loved ones to hospitals in times of life threatening emergencies unless permitted by their male guardians, a system equivalent to modern slavery.

Despite institutionalized bigoted and belittling state’s policies, many brave and resilient Saudi women have been defying authorities for decades. In 1990, 47 women took advantage of the presence of American women soldiers driving heavy military equipment in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Knowing and expecting that the State’s reaction would be swift and ruthless, those valiant women took their husbands’ cars keys and took a short ride in Riyadh. They were quickly stopped, detained, lost their jobs and accused of treason. However, their well-organized and brilliantly executed short ride began a domestic movement that drew global attention to the Saudi regime’s and its religious dogmatists’ debasing policies toward women.

While removing the destructive driving ban is an embryonic step that will be challenged, delayed and many women may even lose their lives at the hands of male relatives, it’s a step in the right direction. However, it will be premature, or a big mistake, to assume (as Saudi lobbyists, deluded commentators and apologists are preaching) that this step will be followed by removal of a multitude of political, social, religious, cultural and economic discrimination against women. King Salman is not known for supporting or empowering Saudi women; thus, it is safe to assume that he wants the world to blame society, not the system, for women’s oppression as he has stated all his life. One of his first actions when he inherited the throne in January 2015, was firing the only woman minister, Norah Al-Faiz.

The Saudi rulers are faced with intractable domestic challenges that can potentially push King Salman and his sons over the precipice, if quick solutions are not found. They are faced with an unprecedented revenue shortfall due to plummeting oil prices, dangerous royal family fragmentation, millions of unemployed youth, costly military actions in Yemen, de facto occupation of Bahrain and disintegration of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC.) These unsettling issues pose real immediate and long-term threats of the kind the detested Saudi ruling dynasty has not encountered since the establishment of its kingdom in 1932. They are also surrounded by Arab uprisings that have toppled other tyrannical Arab regimes.

Additionally, the Saudis are slowly dwarfed by the rise of other ruthless regional strategic and ideological competitors and players such as Iran, Turkey, Egypt under President Sisi, Iraq, Syria (Assad clinching to power), Hezbollah, ISIS, and Al-Qaeda, among others. Accompanying these daunting developments is the Saudis’ diminishing ability to purchase loyalties due to their severely reduced petrodollar revenues, the primary source of their income. The combination of these two threatening realities is chipping at the core of the Saudi domestic stability and their regional and global influence. The consequences of declining Saudi power can have more far-reaching implications than having been publicly addressed. The Saudi rulers will likely rely more on pervasive domestic political repression, destabilizing military adventures and extremist communities to maintain some degrees of influence and to extract favoritism abroad.

Furthermore, the Saudis’ traditional Western governmental defenders and partners are being increasingly challenged by their societies’ disapproval of embracing and protecting a regime whose name is synonymous with discrimination, extremism, terrorism and intolerance of other beliefs, explicitly Judaism and Christianity, whose adherents are labeled swine and apes in Saudi school books.

These recent dicey developments continue to pose real threats that the Saudis are neither equipped nor capable of solving without massive external financial investments, technological expertise, strategic defense and domestic support based on a sense of national obligation, not fear of intimidation by the system, as is the case now.

This brings us to the role the United States can or ought to play. The US is the only country that is capable and most likely willing to save the Saudi regime and defend its threatened kingdom. The question is at what price, for how long and is it in the US’s best interest to continue protecting an unpopular autocracy, given the changing undercurrents and variables within Saudi Arabia and more so, in the Arab world, including the Gulf Region?

The current Administration has an opportunity and is in a strong position to convince the Saudi rulers and other Gulf Arab US allies to rethink their policies and actions, both domestically and externally. They are likely to comply, as demonstrated by Defense Secretary Mattis’ and Secretary of State Tillerson’s carrot and stick approach during the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar. The Saudi rulers are more vulnerable, divided, weaker and unstable today than they have ever been. Given their long and beneficial relations with the US and knowing that America is their only savior or most formidable foe, the Saudi and other Gulf oligarchies will obey. They remember what happened to Saddam of Iraq, Mubarak of Egypt, Gadafy of Libya and Mohammad Mossadegh of Iran in 1953.

Given these realities, the US can condition its defense of the Saudis and other Gulf Arab ruling families on stability in each Gulf country, based not on the sword, but on empowering the millions of aspiring 21st century’s Arab men and women. Gulf rulers must share real power with their populations, many of whom blame and turn against the US and its democratic allies for their marginalization by their ruthless rulers who control every aspect of their lives and livelihood.

The first step is to persuade the ruling dynasties to declare their irreversible intent to become constitutional monarchies within 10 years. During that time, representative public committees must be formed to draw up new governing rules and regulations (i.e., non-sectarian constitutions) upon which power transition and sharing will be based. At the same time, free transparent and globally supervised municipal elections for local government’s councils can be conducted to wean people away from being submissive subjects to becoming self-ruling citizens.

Removing one of the most unjustified and destructive impediments (the ban on women’s right to drive) to potential progress in Saudi Arabia will provide the Saudi monarchy with a more reliable, stable and forward-looking powerbase, women instead of clerics. As the dominant political and military power wielders in the Gulf Arab region, the Saudis can save themselves and their Gulf allies by recognizing and accepting that if they don’t change, they will be changed.

It’s a self-defeating process to continue arguing that the Saudi and other Gulf populations are not ready for democracy because of their religions and cultures. People can adapt and embrace change, especially when it represents a vast improvement over what they have. Based on their career experiences, Secretaries Rex Tillerson and Jim Mattis know more about this fact than most people.

Saudi Women: Fighting Injustice and Challenging Extremists

CDHR Commentary: Ensaf Haidar, like many brave Saudi women such as Eman AlNafjan, Huwaider, Loujain, Maysaa Al-AmoudiSouad Al-Shammary and Manal al-Sharif, just to name a few, are in the forefront in the fight against political, religious and social injustice, inequality and intolerance in Saudi Arabia. Most of them have been imprisoned, stigmatized, exiled, denied opportunities and accused of being sacrilegious and brainwashed by the Western “debauched” way of life (i.e., freedom of expression.) And worst of all, they have been accused of being threats to the country’s stability, security and society’s cohesiveness. These are pejorative catchphrases the system uses to justify its policies of oppression. Saudi women have been targeted by the Saudi ferocious Wahhabi dogmatist institutions and its harsh Shariah laws for centuries.

These valiant women’s counterpart male reformers, like Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani and his eleven co-founders of the Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights'Raif Badawi (Ensaf Haider’s spouse), Hamza Kashgari (a free thinker), Waleed Abu al-Khair (a human rights lawyer), Shaikh Sulaiman Al-Rushoudi and many political reformers and social justice pioneers are subjected to the same maligning allegations, plus lengthy incarcerations, fines and other debasing treatment, such as flogging in public squares. It is estimated that there are currently 30 thousand Saudi prisoners of conscience. Most of them are rounded up and locked away in penitentiaries without charge or due process. It is known that a significant number of Saudi prisoners are advocates of free expression, religious freedom, gender equality and constitutional monarchy.

Despite expectations by many Saudis and assumptions by non-Saudi observers of Saudi affairs, younger royals are not only pursuing their autocratic elders’ repressive policies, but seem to be worse bullies, as stated by Dr. Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi political commentator and former advisor to some Saudi officials. Now he is running for his life because he said “what’s happening in Saudi Arabia” ‘…is unlike anything Saudis have experienced before…It was becoming so suffocating back at home that I was beginning to fear for myself.’ In fact, no one is safe or has any legal protection in Saudi Arabia. Decisions of life and death lie in the hands of the King and his apparent heir, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

The question the Saudi royals should be asking themselves is how do they hope to reform their faltering economy and save their threatened kingdom if they continue to pursue policies and practices of intimidation and if many of their best and brightest citizens are languishing, like Al-Ha’ir, in dungeons, for no reason other than being advocates of tolerance and stabilizing values? Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the next in line for the Saudi throne, and other princes and princesses can only save themselves and the country over which they have total control from continuing to slide toward a future of wars, extremism, terrorism and economic uncertainties if they share power with the population. Prince Mohammed can convince his father, the ultra-conservative King Salman, to release all political prisoners, not terrorists, from Saudi oubliettes and empower them to help save and move the country forward before the spillover of the Arab Spring finds its way to the Saudi royals’ fortified and gold-plated living rooms.

This can be done in a peaceful manner and can give the population a stake in the system which thus far is controlled by the absolute ruling Al-Saud family. The US and its Western allies have a stake in the stability and security of Saudi Arabia and its fragile neighboring Gulf Arab states. Instead of continuing to embolden the Saudi ruling family to continue its policies of oppression and marginalization, the Trump Administration, specifically, can best serve US interests by convincing the Saudi rulers that their 21st century’s aspiring young population, especially women, must be empowered to help govern their country and lead it toward a brighter, safer and more prosperous future for all.

President Trump takes pride in declaring repeatedly that his daughter, Ivanka, is his best and most capable advisor. Saudi daughters deserve to have opportunities to be the best and most capable advisors, governors and bread winners in the country where they are born and live, but in which they are now treated as property of men, the state and its rulers.

Jihadis Do Not Prepare for Victory, But for Actions After Setbacks

CDHR Commentary: Destroying their infrastructure, annihilating many of their members and uprooting known ISIS Jihadis from Iraq and Syria seem to create more anxieties than celebration in many parts of the world, including the US Congress. Even though the reactions are mixed, no one expressed victory over expelling ISIS from its entrenched positions in Iraq and Syria.  The nerves reactions by many observers and decision-makers are based on historical precedence. Well-organized and funded major Muslim Jihadi groups, like ISIS, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, have demonstrated their survival elasticity. They know that they are no match for powerful states’ mechanized armed forces, thus they plan in advance where to go and what to do when they’re defeated militarily.

Emboldened by their successes in terrorizing and defeating the Soviets’ (Russians’)100 thousand mechanized military forces in Afghanistan (in late 1980s), Al-Qaeda and its like-minded Afghani and Pakistani Jihadis under the leadership of Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, turned against their former allies, specifically the Saudis and the US for the same reasons that led them to rid Afghanistan of foreign invaders. As stated by Osama bin Laden in these sobering interviews, their objectives from the outset were to cleanse Muslim lands from imperialist “infidels” and destroy their designated Arab and Muslim autocratic regimes.

The Jihadis were bombarded, hunted and forced to hide in caves and in inhospitable remote villages in many countries. Despite that, the Jihadis regrouped, recruited more martyrs, raised more money and became deadlier than ever. They planned and carried out some of the 21st century’s most devastating attacks the world had not expected. They flawlessly planned and executed the murderous September 2001 (9/11) attack on the most advanced, democratic and powerful nation on earth, the United States of America. Two years later (2003), they carried out another devastating attack on the most fortified and autocratically ruled country in the world, Saudi Arabia, which happens to be the birth place of Al-Qaeda’s founder, Osama bin Laden and home to the ideology (Wahhabism) that has inspired his deadly organization to terrorize and kill thousands of people around the world.

After the demise of Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, many governments and analysts predicted that the Jihadis organizations’ ability to raise funds and recruit a new generation of martyrs is ending. Their prognostications were premature, to say the least. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are more powerful today than they have ever been. The Taliban are ravaging Afghanistan and Pakistan more frequently than ever. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates control large swaths of strategic locations in Yemen, around the Gulf of Aden where most of Arab and Persian oil passes through the Bab Al-Mandab straight. Al-Qaeda affiliates, like Al-Shabab and Abu Sayyaf continue to grow and wreak havoc in many parts of Africa and parts of Asia.

These realities are partially the reason for heightened global anxieties instead of sighs of relief after ISIS was militarily crushed in Iraq and Syria recently, despite Joint Chief of Staff General Joseph Dunford’s assurances that ISIS is in its way out. In September 2017, he forecast that “Six months from now,” ‘we’ll have continued to degrade, most importantly, their external operations capability: the ability they have to plan and conduct external operations. I think we’ll have undermined their narrative; they will increasingly not be able to say there’s a physical caliphate in existence. I think that’ll have an impact on their recruiting. We’ve already seen the numbers drop, the numbers of individuals who are inspired to join the ISIS movement.’

If recent history is any guide, Muslim Jihadis will prove General Dunford wrong as they have done on previous occasions. Jihadis will not be defeated as long as the ideological root causes of terrorism remain intact and Muslim autocratic regimes continue to repress their populations and prevent them from debating whether Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance and equality or, as many argue, inherently a violent faith.

Western powers and businesses have the means and flexibility to convince their autocratic Arab and Muslim trade partners to share power with their disenfranchised populations so that they can debate what kind of Islam they want. But first, separating religion from public policy and state functions can go a long way in defeating extremism, the incubator and nurturer of terrorism.

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Last Updated on Friday, 03 November 2017 18:59

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