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New King, Uncertain Future and Human Rights

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

March 26, 2015

New King, Uncertain Future, Islam and Muslims and Impact of Social Media

CDHR’s Commentaries and Analysis

Saudi Women’s and Human Rights Advocates’ Trepidation Is Justified

CDHR’s Commentary: While it may be a little premature to predict what King Salman’s agenda for Saudi Arabia might be, given his religious affiliations and bleak record regarding women’s rights and his staunch opposition to power-sharing and democratic reforms, it is safe to assume that women’s rights, religious tolerance, the advancement of human rights, civil society, codified rule of law and public participation in the decision-making processes will not shine under his watch. He and his Sudairi wing of the incredibly power-drugged princes (known as the Sudairi Seven) still believe, act and behave as if the country is their private property. In July, 2013, a defecting Prince, Khalid Al-Farhan Al-Saud professed that “Those holding power in the kingdom do believe that they own the state: Land and people. They insist to run the country with this belief despite political awareness of the people and repeated calls for justice and freedom.”

To remind the Saudi people of his family’s claim to the ownership of the country, after inheriting the throne in January 2015, King Salman summoned his new appointees to swear the oath of allegiance to him in the exact location (Dir-e-yah) where the Saudi/Wahhabi alliance was formed in 1744. Since then, he has been receiving other visiting Gulf royals, European and the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, in Dir-e-yah to show and explain to them the history of the Saudi family’s first capital with which he has been obsessed and on which he has been spending millions of dollars of public revenues to restore dozens of its mud buildings to look like they did more than two and half centuries ago.

Given his unwavering belief in his family’s ownership of the country, King Salman is unlikely to consider, let alone implement, any political reform measures that might imply public co-ownership of the country. Additionally, King Salman is committed to the strengthening of and adherence to the globally reviled Wahhabi/ Salafi dogma as exemplified by his close ties with and support for the zealous Saudi religious establishment and extensive connections with global zealot groups.

It’s not surprising that Saudi citizens, especially women, are apprehensive about their fate under Salman’s rule. As one Saudi woman stated, ‘His brother {King Abdullah} opened the road and now he will close it,’ she declared and went on to explain, ‘We know he is closer to the religious people than Abdullah was.’ Her and other Saudi reformers’ fear of King Salman and his Sudairi relatives’ unequivocal opposition to political reforms is justified. Their apprehension and resentment are shared by some of the ruling princes who have been critical of Salman and his wing of the family’s unflinching resistance to sharing power with other wings of the ruling family. Prince Talal, a long time promoter of “social contract” between the monarchy and its subjects, accused the Sudairi supremacist, “Here, the family is the master and the ruler.”

During his 60 year tenure as the governor of the Saudi capital, Riyadh, King Salman expanded and modernized the desert city’s infrastructure, but did very little to prepare its population to embrace modernity and its complex scientific and technological demands. He did not initiate scientific or liberal arts schools. He expanded and strengthened extremist educational institutions such as Imam Mohammed Ibn Saud University, which is known for graduating hardcore Imams and recruits for Al-Qaeda. He never hired and promote any woman to an executive position. He had an opportunity to show Saudi women that their suspicion of his anti-women attitude and practice is unfounded, but he did not. He could have appointed at least a woman among his new appointees when inherited the throne in January, but he did not.

Like his late full brothers, former Interior Minister Naif and Defense Minister Sultan, King Salman is a staunch supporter of the ferocious religious police whose job is to ensure women’s head- to-toe coverings, gender segregation, enforcement of prayer five times a day and to arrest, interrogate and imprison anyone they consider uncompliant with the repressive and medieval social mores they create and enforce.

One can only hope that King Salman and his administration will realize that the new generation of Saudi women are very different from their mothers and grandmothers. They are educated, very well-informed and irrepressible. Empowering Saudi women voluntarily can only strengthen, stabilize and propel the socially and politically lagging society into a peaceful, just, tolerant, unified and participatory polity.

The Al-Azhar Grand Imam Accuses Saudi Institutions Of Extremism Which Breeds Terrorism

CDHR’s Commentary: In a stinging speech he delivered at a Saudi-government-sanctioned conference “Islam and Countering Terrorism,” in Mecca in January 2015, the “Al-Azhar grand imam Ahmed al-Tayib” indirectly lashed out at the Saudis. He reiterated what many Saudis and others have been saying for decades about ‘bad interpretations of the Koran and the Sunna.’ Al-Tayib continued to remind the Saudis that accusing Muslims who do not adhere to their lethal Wahhabi dogma as unbelievers is dangerous, destructive and divisive: ‘The only hope for the Muslim nation to recover unity is to tackle in our schools and universities this tendency to accuse Muslims of being unbelievers.’  In other words, “To a Wahhabi-Salafi, all those who differ with them, including Sunni Muslims, Shi’ite Muslims, Christians, and Jews, are infidels who are fair targets.”

King Salman seems to be appeasing the Al-Azhar’s top cleric by echoing his harsh speech. In a statement read on his behalf at the same conference where Al-Tayib spoke, the Saudi King is quoted as saying, ‘Terrorism is a scourge which is the product of extremist ideology… It is a threat to our Muslim nation and to the entire world.’ This is almost exactly what a group of Al-Azhar scholars and Islamic movements’ historians said about Wahhabism at a conference in Cairo, Egypt, in April 2010. The scholars’ statement was in response to a comment made by Prince Salman, now king, who claimed that Wahhabism is the real Islam, which generated scathing responses from prominent Egyptian scholars and well-known writers and commentators.

The Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, CDHR, agrees with Al-Tayib’s and King Salman’s acknowledgement that Muslim extremists and terrorists are threats to Muslims and to democratic societies around the world. For autocratic and theocratic men like the Saudi king and the top Egyptian cleric to admit that Islamic “Terrorism is a scourge” and threat to humanity is encouraging. The question is why now and what are they going to do, to rid the world of their homegrown extremism, whose eradication is the key to defeating terrorism?  The answer is because the extremists they bred and indoctrinated are turning their guns on them. What are they going to do about their lethal extremists? They will use their Western allies to protect them and then turn around and accuse them of attacking Islam and Muslim lands. These are the same tactics that ISIS, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban use to recruit foot soldiers and suicide bombers.

Now that these influential political and religious authorities of major Arab states, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, have admitted that their institutions are the source of extremism, should they be held accountable for brainwashing and turning their citizens against Muslims and non-Muslims alike? The answer is yes, but the question is how. If they are serious about eradicating the source of extremism now and in the near and distant future, then they should revisit the seventh century’s interpretation of Muslim texts and reinterpret them to correspond with human evolution and to accommodate the consequences of numerous scientific, social, economic and religious transformative, world-shattering trends that have occurred since Islam was established more than 14 centuries ago.

This can be done by forming an independent representative council of Muslim male and female scholars, and social, political, economic, scientific and psychological scientists to research, analyze and debate their understanding of the original interpretation of Muslim texts. Based on their conclusions, they can select critical and independent thinkers (a “think tank”) to come up with new logical interpretations and explanations that do not change Islam’s basic principles, but will include modern definitions of human rights, gender equality, religious tolerance and the individual’s right to choose.

As the rulers of the land where Islam was established and where the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims’ holy shrines are located, the Saudi political and religious establishments are in a very strong religious and economic position to convene an inclusive Muslim conference to start the process of revisiting the original interpretation of Muslim text books and move forward. King Salman correctly described extremism and its byproduct, terrorism, as a “scourge which is the product of extremist ideology.” By all Muslims’ and non-Muslims’ accounts, the King’s brand of Islam, Wahhabism, is the extremist ideology he is decrying. He can help keep Muslims from killing each other and prevent potential global deadly retaliation against all Muslims. www.cdhr.info

King Salman Advising Against Intolerance While Rewarding Promoters of Bigotry?

CDHR’s Commentary: Ten days after he bestowed a prestigious Saudi prize on Dr. Zakir Naik, an extremist admirer of Osama Bin Laden and a bigoted promoter of enslaving and raping women and of denigrating other beliefs, King Salman called on Muslims to shun religious intolerance. During a reception for a throng of Muslim “scholars” in his palace on March 10, 2015, the newly inducted king told his compliant recipients of Saudi largess that “We have to follow what is stated in the Qur’an, the Sunnah of the Prophet and his followers.”

“The Custodian” of Islam, King Salman, and the interpreter and promoter of its holy books, Dr. Naik, seem to be on the same page. They are committed into upholding, implementing and enforcing the content and “supremacy” of the Quran, the Shariah and the Hadith as they understand them and as they see fit. Dr. Naik, the President of the Islamic Research Foundation and the recipient of the prestigious Saudi prize (King Faisal International Prize and the $200,000 that comes with it), who is also a supporter of Osama Bin Laden, has repeatedly told his estimated 100 million Muslim followers (in person and in visual and print media) that “There are many verses in the Koran which say you can have sex with your wife and with whatever your right hand possesses,” their enslaved women.

Additionally, the  xenophobic TV evangelist, who is scornful of other beliefs’ informed his large number of followers that “Enslaving the families of the kuffar (non-Muslims) and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Sharia,” Islamic law. King Salman insists that Muslims must “follow what is stated in the Quran.”

The Muslim people need to ask themselves if this is what Islam is or has become, a mitigating tool of enslavement, rape and intolerance of the overwhelming majority of the world’s population, most of whom are more socially, politically and scientifically advanced and religiously more tolerant than most Muslims.

Is it conceivable that King Salman did not know what Dr. Naik preaches, stands for and advocates, prior to honoring him for “his service (disservice) to Islam,” especially Naik’s explanation of the Quran? King Salman told the religious experts in his palace in Riyadh, “We have to follow what is stated in the Qur’an.” Does one assume that enslaving Muslim and non-Muslim women and raping them is “stated” in the Quran as Dr. Naik argues?

Is this the Islam Dr. Naik wants “every Muslim” to be a terrorist to defend? Defend Islam against whom, Muslims who use it to inflict death and destruction on each other or against non-Muslims who welcome and allow Muslims to build religious sanctuaries in their countries and to worship freely?

Dr. Naik is not the only influential Muslim who advocates unspeakable deeds in the name of religion and its texts. Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, the Taliban and other groups and individuals also promote malicious religious incitements with the intent of inflicting death and destruction on a multitude of Muslims and non-Muslims in order to gain power. They all quote the Quran, Shariah and Hadith to justify their atrocious actions. Their manifestos and recruiting manuals are filled with direct quotes from Muslim texts that Dr. Naik, King Salman, Mullah Omar and the Imams of the Red Mosque in Pakistan inculcate Muslims to follow and defend.

Calling on Muslims to “shun intolerance” contradicts the Saudi rulers’ well-documented actions of intolerance of religious differences at home and among different sects and brands of Islam, as exemplified by the raging Sunni versus Shi’a conflicts in which the Saudis play a major role. It’s no secret that the centuries’ old conflicts and the current pervasive carnage in most Arab and other Muslim countries are deeply rooted in religious animosity, or assertions of who is a better and more authentic Muslim.

King Salman’s predecessor, King Abdullah, became some kind of global hero due his overt personal (not policy) advocacy of international interfaith dialogues, none of which was held in Muslim countries because that would mean acceptance of and recognition that other faiths are legitimate beliefs.

As the ruler of the land where Islam was established and where Muslims’ holy shrines are located, King Salman, along with his ruling family and zealous religious establishment, shoulders a huge responsibility toward their muzzled and religiously divided population, the Arab people and other Muslims worldwide. King Salman can lead by example at home. He can eliminate discriminatory policies based on religion and gender at home if he hopes for other Muslims to “shun intolerance.”

The question is: how can King Salman and his intolerant clerics reconcile between rewarding people like Dr. Zakir Naik for commanding Muslims to reject and resent major religions (and their adherents) and call such incitements a service to Islam?

King Salman is right, some Muslims are leaving Islam and an astonishing number of Muslims are becoming more cynical of Islam and Muslims, in general, than at any time in Muslim history. This trend is not likely to stop or be reversed because more Muslims attribute their misfortunes and social backwardness to Islam and to those who use religion as tool of violence, oppression, discrimination and manipulation. The most severe critics of Islam are not Jews or Christians, but Muslims and ex-Muslims who found solace in other religions or in no religion. The Saudi ruling dynasties can lead the way by setting a good example of religious tolerance and acceptance of “The Other” regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, beliefs and religious orientation.

Are Muslims, Especially Arabs, Fixated On Self-Destruction?

CDHR’s Commentary: Whether I am giving a talk or conversing over a meal, some of the questions people ask can be perplexing and very hard to answer, despite one’s desire to know more about the inner nature of humans. On a few occasions, the questions asked have to do with the makeup of the Arabs and whether they and their religion are inherently violent. Even though I have wondered about some peoples’ actions and behavioral conduct, I tell the information-seeking questioners that I am neither physiologist, pathologist, neurologist, psychoanalyst, archeologist nor genealogist (terms I investigated, but definitions did not help). Therefore, I don’t know what drives groups like ISIS and Boko Haram to commit heinous crimes against innocent people.

Regarding whether Islam is inherently violent or not, my answer is I am not an expert, but like many people, I wonder whether the religious quotes and phrases autocratic and theocratic regimes and terror groups use to justify their murderous actions and policies, such as flogging, beheading and stoning, make Islam a violent religion or not. May be some readers can help explain, I cannot.

Currently, most killings of innocent people and destruction of historical and holy sites are committed by Muslims in Muslim lands. This piece (and many before it) offers some suggestions and ideas that are worthy of thoughtful reading which Muslims, especially Arabs, can deliberate and consider the benefits of implementing at least some of what the author is proposing. Continuing to leave the interpretation and implementation of their faith in the hands of extremist clerics and dictatorial regimes is suicidal given the way Islam has become and is being used. Islam can be reformed/modernized without making it any less of a viable belief, just like other major religions. On the contrary, reforming Islam will make it a true belief instead of a states’ tool that is used to control, punish and exploit people.

Islam is primarily an Arab religion. It was established in the heart of the Arabian Peninsula (now the Saudi kingdom,) its holy texts are written in Arabic and it has been exported to many non-Arabic speaking people throughout the world. The majority of Muslims now are non-Arabic speaking peoples who are less familiar than are many Arabs with the content, interpretation or practice of Islam. In other words, they can adapt to new interpretations of Islam quicker than most Arabs, especially in Saudi Arabia where Islam is literally interpreted and physically enforced violently.

Given this irrefutable fact, Arabs, especially the Saudis, cannot escape responsibility for leading a reform religious movement, and there are some indications that might be in the making, as exemplified by Egypt’s religious and political leadership. The ball is in the court of the Arab autocratic and theocratic elites and the weight is on their shoulders to alter the course of deadly, destructive actions and to save themselves from their lethal ideologues and, in the process, prevent potential disastrous global reactions to save peoples, economies and values from Islamists (terrorists, deviants, Muslim extremists etc.)

The time for taking reforming Islam seriously is now because not to do so will only continue to empower those who use the seventh century’s interpretation of Muslims’ textbooks to justify their barbaric actions and unjust polices which will only lead to calamitous outcome at home and at the international level.

Even Masters Of Censorship Cannot Escape Social Media Scrutiny

CDHR’s Commentary: According to this account, the Saudi regime is defensively and defiantly enraged by the international community’s swelling reactions (via game-changing social media) to its arbitrary arrest, lengthy jail sentence and heavy fines imposed on a liberal-leaning Saudi blogger, Raif Badawi (Raif.) In 2012, Raif was accused of apostasy because he allegedly posted sensitive comments about the Saudi religious establishment’s abuses on a blog he and Souad Al-Shammary (a female women’s rights activists) created to provide a forum for pro-social justice and human rights advocates to express their opinions about issues affecting their lives. The Saudi religious courts accused Raif of insulting Islam and declared him an apostate, an accusation that carries the death penalty under Saudi Shariah law. The bogus charge was dropped due to lack of evidence.

However, Raif was sentenced to 10 year imprisonment, 1,000 lashes and $277,000 in fines. Raif’s spouse and supporters flashed the severe and undeserved sentencing on social media and the international community, specifically social media users responded passionately. People around the world were aghast by the Saudi government’s decision to carry out the cruel 1000 lashes flogging over a period of 20 weeks in front of a mosque after Friday prayers. In other words, death penalty under different category.

The global support for Raif Badawi and other advocates of human rights and social justice in Saudi Arabia is not motivated by an international conspiracy against Saudis, as the Saudi newspaper Alegtasadiyah (economics) article suggests. It’s in reaction to the Saudis’ arbitrary and make-laws-as-you-go court system. Raif also represents a new generation of aspiring Saudi youth, which makes it hard for the international community, especially the Saudis’ Western allies, to ignore, since millions of their own youth can identify and empathize with him. “He is just the sort of internationally-minded, young intellectual that the late king's (Abdullah) emphasis on education was throwing up.” Modern societies and free media find the Saudi flogging and beheadings system cruel and repulsive.

International public opinion is one of the tools that are used to expose the brutality of regimes which grossly violate the basic rights of their citizens, guest workers, minorities and women. Saudi Arabia is a signatory to international declarations on human rights and ought to abide by what it agrees to, with or without global input, kind or critical.

If there is one person who deserves credit for campaigning relentlessly to alert and mobilize the international community to free Raif, that person is his spouse, Ensaf Haider, who did not leave a stone upturned.  Yes, a Saudi woman, a miracle worker, who collected her three young children and escaped to Canada after Raif’s arrest for fear of punishment by association, one of the Saudi system’s notorious features. Ensaf defied all odds and proved to the Saudi rulers and society that women are capable of facing formidable and wrenching challenges that most men might find too overwhelming. Ensaf’s extraordinary efforts to save her husband’ life and to alleviate their children’s pain should open King Salman’s eyes and enable him to understand that Saudi women’s aptitude and determination to obtain their citizenship and legitimate rights are irreversible.

Raif Badawi is not the only subjugated human rights and freedom-seeking activist who is languishing in Saudi dungeons (or who may have been released and silenced.) Many prominent Saudis like Mohammed Al-Qahtani, Professor Abdullah al-Hamid and his brother ‘Isa al-Hamid, Professor Matrouk al-Faleh, Mohammad Saleh al-Bjadi (co-founders of the banned Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, ACPRA), Shaikhs Al-Rashoodi and Al-Nimr, Khaled al-Johani (lone protester in the day of rage, 2011), Hamza Kashgari and hundreds, if not thousands, of other political prisoners are languishing in the merciless clutches of the Saudi government. None of them has been charged with any crime or conspiracy to harm the state or society. They promote political participation, the codified rule of law, women’s rights, religious tolerance, accountability and transparency.

King Salman has a unique opportunity to free such enlightened and patriotic Saudi citizens because they did not commit crimes nor have they caused any harm to Saudi society. Saudi Arabia’s stability, security and prosperity cannot be achieved and maintained by banning freedom of speech and expression. These are basic human rights enshrined in international declarations which the Saudi monarchs have accepted and signed.

Respect for human rights is universal. It is not defined by religion, fatwas, culture, ethnicity, social status or race. Using Shariah law, the Quran and Hadith to deny people their individual and collective rights has demeaned Islam and empowered murderous groups.



Vulnerable Royals, Salman’s Defining Challenges, Women’s Hopes and Enemies

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

February 17, 2015

Vulnerable Royals, Salman’s Defining Challenges, Women’s Hopes and Enemies

CDHR’s Commentaries and Analysis

Saudi Oligarchs Cannot Afford But To Compromise

CDHR’s Commentaries: Despite Saudi and western media experts’ recent contrary claims, there are two major fundamental reasons behind the new Saudi King Salman’s “re-shuffling” of the House of Saud: 1) Salman wants to reassert the dominance of his anti-reform Sudairi wing of the Saudi ruling family (known as the Sudairi 7) over the country’s affairs; and 2) Salman’s ruling family has never been more vulnerable than it is now; consequently, he wants to tie the US to his family’s continued despotic rule. Having accomplished his first agenda item by removing King Abdullah’s sons and supporters from key governmental positions and assigning these posts to his own, King Salman can focus on ensuring US allegiance to protect his family from looming threats.

Saudi Arabia is threatened by spillover of wars on its northern and southern borders. In the north, the country is facing unprecedented formidable threat from the newly established brutal Islamic State (ISIS) and from Iraqi Shia who harbor historic and modern animosities toward the Saudi/Wahhabi clans. In the south, Saudi Arabia’s neighbor, Yemen, is being taken over by ferocious Zaidis (Shia), whom the Saudis fear as a threat to their security due to the Zaidis’ ideological proximity to Iran, the Saudis’ major religious and strategic competitor in the Middle East.

Given these realities, the autocratic and theocratic Saudi rulers know that the only country that's willing and capable of protecting them is the United States. Historically, America has protected the Saudi monarchs since the establishment of their state more than 80 years ago. The US commitment to continuing its protection of the despotic Saudi regime seems to be unchanged, as reflected by President Obama and his entourage of powerful pro-Saudi former and current US officials (Republicans and Democrats) on his recent visit to the Saudi kingdom. Members of the President’s delegation to meet with the newly enthroned Saudi King Salman on January 27 included some of the architects and executors of the 1990-91 Gulf War (“First Gulf War”) and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The question is, at what price to the US, especially at a time when the Arab World is revolting against Saudi-like tyrannical regimes? Is it for Saudi oil as many argue or are there other reasons? Currently, the US is the world’s number one oil producer, it’s economy is recovering from years of recession and can easily import oil from other countries if need arises. Moreover, the US has reliable and stable allies within the strategic Gulf region like Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The US no longer has to rely on the Saudi regime for strategic bases.

On the other hand, the Saudi oligarchs are facing more domestic and regional threats now than at any time in their history. Their regional and global influence is dwindling and they are in dire need of protection, a service only the US has been providing and is able to continue for years to come, but at what cost. Given these facts, should the US continue to protect unconditionally an absolute shadowy regime known for its gross violations of human rights, support for extremist groups worldwide and whose religious dogma is recognized as a lethal threat to Muslims and to the international community?

Granted, America’s European allies and other major trading partners depend more on Saudi and other Middle Eastern oil than the US; therefore, ensuring uninterrupted production and shipment of oil from Saudi Arabia is of paramount importance to the stability of the world’s economies of which the US is a beneficiary. Safeguarding oil facilities and deliveries to world markets will give the US considerable political and economic leverage not only with the international community, but also with the Saudis.

As the world’s number one oil producer now and technologically capable of increasing and maintaining its oil, gas and renewable energy resources for years to come, as well as being the dominant military power in the Persian Gulf, the US is in a position of unprecedented strength to resolutely induce the Saudi oligarchs to begin an earnest political, religious, social and educational transformation of their archaic system. Such transformation will empower a new generation of pro-democracy and -social justice men and women who can guide their country through a gradual peaceful transition from absolute one-family rule to a pluralistic society.

Due to their unprecedented vulnerability and their rapidly shrinking options, the Saudi rulers will be willing to compromise provided the American government makes it clear to them that their current methods of ruling are not sustainable even with US protection. Presented with this prospect, the Saudi oligarchs have only one pragmatic choice: transform their system to accommodate their population’s modern demands including political participation, freedom of expression, equality under the rule of non-sectarian law, religious freedom and freedom of choice.

The Saudi rulers have to realize and accept (or be convinced by the US) that without transparent, tangible and measurable movement in this direction, their population will likely resort to violent methods, such as those employed by their counterparts in other Arab countries to overthrow their repressive dictators.

The Saudi rulers have to be unequivocally convinced that if this scenario materializes, the US will not send its sons and daughters to save a brutal and dangerous regime, but will intervene militarily to protect the oil supply upon which global

Yemen: One of King Salman’s Defining And Dangerous Challenges

CDHR’s Commentary: It’s not an understatement to say that the spillover of the conflict in Yemen will be one of the new Saudi king’s most daunting challenges, if not his worst nightmare. Yemen is in a crisis of what seems to be uncontrollable proportions due to an internal bloody power struggle between two diametrically opposed factions: the minority Zaidis or Houthis (offshoot of Shia Islam) and the majority Sunnis who have ruled Yemen since the overthrow of the Zaidi king in 1962. The overthrow of the absolute Yemeni monarchy and its replacement by a nationalistic military dictatorship could not have succeeded without direct military intervention by Egyptian President Nasser, a staunch enemy of the Saudi monarchy.

The Saudis vividly recall the turmoil that followed the 1962 military takeover in Yemen. They fear that the current power struggle in Yemen could draw Iran into sending its troops to ensure the success of the Houthis. If this were to happen, a sectarian conflagration (Shia v. Sunni) could make the sectarian carnage in Syria look tame. The Iranian Mullahs are more powerful and deadlier enemies of the Saudis than were the Egyptians in the 1960s. Additionally, Iran could be joined by other forces like Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, both staunch enemies of the Saudi/Wahhabi rulers.

The strategically located and historically ancient land of the Queen of Sheba, Yemen is a country of 26 million mostly impoverished people, but, unlike the Saudi population, insubordinate to their local and central theocratic and autocratic authorities. The Yemenis are an unruly people even at the peak of their loyalty to their tribal chiefs and clerics, whose services the Saudi regime was able to purchase and rely on to maintain control over Yemen since the dethroning of its king in 1962. Moreover, the Saudi oligarchs have considered Yemen their backyard colony and treated it as such. On their part, most Yemenis consider Saudi Arabia’s southern regions to be part of Yemen and may try to recover them under Houthi leadership.

Yemen has become a major security threat to the Saudi ruling family and to the country’s stability since Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula established a foothold in the lawless, inhospitable Yemeni terrain about a decade ago. From its inception, Al-Qaeda’s main objective has been the overthrow of the Saudi monarchy. Sharing more than 1000 miles of porous borders with Yemen, the Saudi rulers are faced with deadly border crossings by terrorists, drug and weapon smugglers, human traffickers and potential Yemeni military attacks if political instability continues in that country.

The Saudi regime and its Western supporters have a tremendous stake (geopolitical and terroristic) in reconciling Yemeni factions and in stabilizing the country. However, given the centuries’ old divisions within Yemeni society, mistrust of and contempt for the Saudis, as well as the rise of the Houthis to power, King Salman (and the West) may find themselves facing one of the most formidable challenges the autocratic Saudi monarchy has ever encountered. Based on these realities, King Salman may not be able to contain the crisis in Yemen peacefully, even with help of the Saudi monarchy’s avid western powers.

However, King Salman might be able to avoid a prolonged, bloody and costly war to defend the southern Saudi borders not only from spillover of the raging Yemeni conflict, but from other emboldened groups like Al-Qaeda and its affiliates in and out of Yemen. Two important immediate and achievable steps that King Salman and other Gulf ruling dynasties can easily take are, 1) to stop forcing their wishes on the Yemenis and, 2) to invest heavily in Yemen’s tattered economy through independent and unbiased international agencies.

The Saudi ruling families (the Saudi/Wahhabi alliance) have to realize that the days are gone when they can punish the Yemenis into submission, as they did in 1990 when they deported one million hard-working Yemenis because former President Saleh voted against a UN resolution to evict Iraqi troops from Kuwait by force. Sadly and myopically, the Saudi rulers don’t seem to have learned much since 1990. It’s estimated that 300 thousand Yemenis have been or will be deported from Saudi Arabia and more from the other Gulf states because of visa and work permit complications. Yemeni analysts describe the Saudi policy of economic punishment as a “witch hunt” aimed at threatening Yemenis with economic strangulation if they don’t succumb to Saudi domination over their country’s affairs.

Saudi and other Gulf rulers’ disdainful treatment of Yemenis will not only fail, but will increase Yemenis’ resolve (regardless of region and religious orientations) to strike back against their common enemies in Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries.

Saudi Women’s Hopes Are Not King Salman’s Wishes

CDHR’s Commentary: Saudi women are hoping that the cosmetic steps (“reforms”) initiated by former Saudi King Abdullah, will continue under his successor, King Salman. Saudi women and men know that Salman and his wing of the family, the Sudairis, are staunch opponents of any change in the draconian status quo. The Sudairis opposed Abdallah’s embryonic and inconsequential steps every inch of the way.

King Abdullah’s cosmetic and mostly unfulfilled promises (such as the five economic cities he promised) have neither materialized nor made any indentation in the absolute power monopoly held by the Saudi ruling family and its phobic religious establishment. In reality, more draconian laws forbidding simple and legitimate expression were enacted and more arrests, incarcerations, floggings and beheadings took place under his rule than under any of his recent predecessors. The Saudi people have to brace themselves for even more of the same under King Salman and his nephew, Interior Minister Mohammed Bin Naif, second in line to the throne.

The steps initiated by King Abdullah resulted in a largely illusionary sense of empowerment for many Saudis, especially women, the media and, to a lesser degree, advocates of democratic reforms. However, most of the Saudi population became familiar with elections in 2005, when a handful of carefully scrutinized pro-regime men (women were banned from participating) were allowed to run for municipal offices and vote for municipal candidates. Despite the elections’ discriminatory and meaningless outcomes, candidates were able to create platforms, promote them and organize voters to support their programs.

Not surprisingly, people conducted themselves professionally and in an orderly manner during the elections, just like experienced voters and politicians in democratic societies. The Saudi people’s conduct not only contradicted Salman’s claims that democracy is impossible in Saudi Arabia, but increased the rulers’ fear of the population’s demanding transition from an absolute to a participatory form of government.

What King Salman will or will not do remains to be seen; however, Saudi women (and the populace as a whole) know that the new ailing king is not known for his reform enthusiasm, progressive predisposition or any tolerance for political participation. He is a dogmatist who insists that the Saudi dogma, Wahhabism, is the real Islam, based on the Quran and Sunnah and upon which the Saudi State is predicated. Salman’s life-long belief and commitment to enforce the misogynistic Wahhabi policies means that women’s rights are not likely to improve, but will stagnate or regress, as exemplified by his appointments of only men ministers and members of committees which he appointed to deal with public issues.

Blaming Others For the Saudi Elitists’ Denigration of Women

CDHR’s Commentary: As this recent unprovoked and unjustified assault on basic human rights by a Saudi historian demonstrates, the Saudi elitists continue their centuries old war on women for no reason other than that God (or is it a different God than the one the Saudis adore?) created them that way, women as opposed to men. This supposedly prominent historian, Saleh Al Saadoon, argued that if women are allowed to drive, they will be raped if their cars malfunction.

When reminded by his interviewer (female) that women drive in other Arab and Muslim countries, Europe, Asia and America, he snapped that the rest of the world does not care if their women are raped, but Saudis do. His solution? Hire foreign female drivers to drive Saudi women around. In this case, if the cars break down then two women will be raped instead of one. The question is, who will be the rapists, Saudi men? Like other misogynistic Saudi “authorities,” he seems to imply that all Saudi men are heartless animalistic rapists. If this is his hypothesis, why punish Saudi women because of the failings of Saudi men including people like him, the religious police, the judicial system and others who claim to be defending women’s purity and morals?

Is he really against rape and human trafficking? Don’t Saudi cleric elitists argue that it’s legal (according to Shariah, Islamic law) that men can marry girls at any age, even as infants? They also argue that if women are allowed to drive, prostitution, threats to national security and increases in births of deformed children will ensue. These are documented accounts that can be googled and read by anyone anywhere in the world. Paradoxically, Saudis blame the rest of the world for its outraged reactions to Saudi transgressions, especially its maltreatment of women.

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