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Obama Visit, Gulf Rulers’ Vulnerability, Demotions and Turmoil in Arab States and Islam

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

April 21, 2016

Obama Visit, Gulf Rulers’ Vulnerability, Demotions and Turmoil in Arab States and Islam

CDHR’s Analysis and Commentaries

President Obama off to Saudi Arabia at a Time of High Anxieties and an Uncertain Future

CDHR Commentary: On the eve of his flight to Saudi Arabia, prognosticators and other Washington pundits are urging President Obama to repair fractured US/ Saudi relations when he meets with King Salman on Wednesday, April 20 in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. The discourse is mostly restricted to the same old themes: the Saudi royals’ role in stabilizing the Middle East, fighting terrorism and trade. Not surprisingly, none of Washington’s political drummers counsel President Obama to protest the repression of the Saudi people or to convey to the Saudi rulers the US increased concern over and objection to the Saudi establishments’ continued practice of creating new generations of extremists in Saudi schools and mosques.

Given the transformatory process the Arab world is experiencing, one would think that the foreign policy experts have learned that James Baker’s and Brent Scowcroft’s era of pragmatist (support the status quo regardless of who rules) foreign policies has ended with the dawn of the Arab Spring, which has just begun.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defence Ash Carter can serve their country, the Middle East and the extended international community best by making it clear to the Saudi and other autocratic Gulf Arab rulers that the US will no longer lend a helping hand to preserve weak and increasingly unsustainable repressive regimes in the Gulf Arab states. The United States has tremendous power and influence that can commandeer any and all of the Gulf Arab rulers’ attention, despite the conspiracy theorizers to the contrary.

At a time when President Obama is in a stronger position he has ever been in since he was elected seven years ago, the Saudis and other Gulf ruling dynasties are in a weaker and in a more vulnerable position than they have ever been. Overwhelmed by internal populous discontent and surrounded by looming regional threats, the current Gulf states’ (GCC) autocracies and those who will follow them will need the US for their survival and territorial defense.

The President can and ought to push for life-saving political reforms that need to be implemented expeditiously; otherwise, the ruling Arab dynasties of the Gulf will continue to endanger their survival, the safety of their populations and stability of the region they claim to be dedicated to stabilizing. Despite their public declarations and assurances, efforts to form and host a defense “Muslim Coalition,” as well as risky military adventures, the Saudis, specifically, are more likely to cooperate with than to rebuff the President of the United State at this juncture, or in the foreseeable future, if ever.

This is due to the Saudi rulers’ colossal losses in recent years, which include, but are not limited to: their ebbing oil-based global influence, effects of a daunting economic downturn, a failed mission in Yemen, an unsustainable occupation of Bahrain, unresolved turmoil in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, and Lebanon and, worst of all, the irreversible rising regional and global prominence of Iran. In fact, no week has passed in recent months without a scathing exposure of the Saudi government’s dangerous policies and its ideological role in the creation of Muslim terror groups worldwide. It should not come as a surprise that many institutions, from across the political spectrum, are calling on the US government to dump the Saudi monarchy.

This could be President Obama’s shining foreign policy legacy in the Arab World.

Islam, Muslims and Islamophobia

CDHR Commentary: Muslim regimes and societies continue to re-enforce the pervasive toxic image of their faith at a time when they should be doing all they can to show (in deeds not in declarations) that their faith is what they portray it to be, a religion of peace, justice, tolerance and the only belief that can save humanity, according to former Saudi King Abdullah (may he rest in peace.) As it is, Muslims, by their actions, continue to support the argument of those who portray Islam as anything but peaceful or tolerant, as demonstrated by the raging wars of Muslims on Muslims and by numerous examples like the saga of the people in this video.

Adherents of other major beliefs (Christians, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists) can denounce their religions, embrace other beliefs or choose not to believe without being stigmatized, let alone punished severely, in some cases by death. Most Muslim have been molded into believing that their religion is superior to all others, therefore, leaving it, criticizing it or even questioning its use as a tool of oppression, segregation, discrimination and exploitation is treason of the highest form.

The question that Muslim peoples (not regimes and their clerics and institutions) need to ask of themselves: is Islam incompatible with modernity, respect for human rights and freedom of choice? If the answer is yes, then why condemn those who say so; and if not, then what must be done? Re-interpret Muslim texts, separate mosque from public policy or leave religion up to the individual to decide?

It’s not enough to say that Islam is being commandeered by extremists, or to claim that Muslim autocracies and theocracies are taking advantage of passages in Muslim texts to justify their cruel policies and practices. Basing their judgement on what they watch on television, videos and read about in print, it seems that most people of the world believe that Islam is intolerant, violent, repressive of its adherents and dangerous to the international community.

Re-Visiting UN 16/18: Defending Religions or Suppressing Freedom of Expression?

CDHR Commentary: Given the ongoing carnage in Arab and Muslim lands (including intensified attacks on religious minorities), increased and bold attacks on democratic societies, this article (link below) is worth re-visiting.

The UN Resolution (16/18) is not designed to defend religions, but to deny free people their God given and constitutional rights to think and speak freely. The designers and promoters (OIC) of this resolution are the most disrespectful of religions, including their own, as exemplified by the death and destruction they rain on each other in the name of religion.

Those of us who critiqued the UN 16/18 five years ago were accused of being Islam and Muslim bashers.  The question is: Can anyone outdo Arab and Muslim autocracies and theocracies defamation of their faith?

Egypt: From Dominance to Mortifying Dependence

CDHR Commentary: From being culturally, militarily, strategically and socially the most dominant Arab country, Egypt is being reduced into a fragile state whose economic survival depends on conditional handouts from its historical staunch and anti-modernity enemies, the Saudis and other ruling nomadic-based autocracies of the oil rich Gulf Arab states. King Salman’s recent visit was to ensure Egypt’s continued financial dependence on Saudis and other GCC rulers, but that’s not all.

For centuries the Saudi/Wahhabi allies have accused the Egyptians of deviation from the Saudi version of Islam.  The Saudi rulers’ main objective is to turn Egypt into another Islamist entity under the Saudi /Wahhabi ideological influence. This is already happening, as exemplified by the Egyptian military rulers’ declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, crack down on courageous Egyptian liberals, secular thinkers, pro-democracy advocates, media and King Salman’s $20 billion gift to the Egyptian military regime.

The Unspeakable Treatment of Poverty Stricken Migrant Laborers in Saudi Arabia

CDHR Commentary: Many human rights groups and some conscientious Saudi journalists like this one have described the employment and treatment of about 10 million migrant workers in Saudi Arabia as equivalent to “Modern Slavery.” Despite their membership in international organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), whose rules and regulations to protect migrant workers from religious, financial and physical abuses are clear and are supposed to be upheld by all member states, Saudi employers (sponsors) treat their migrant workers as if they are subhuman or not human at all.

Most migrant workers in Saudi Arabia are over-worked, underpaid and, in some cases, never get paid as promised. Migrant workers are held hostage by their employers who confiscate their laborers’ official documents upon arrival in Saudi Arabia. Despite the existence of labor laws in Saudi Arabia, employers “have the upper hand” because migrant workers are considered less human than the Saudis, especially if the workers are non-Muslims, like Hindus, Christians and others.

This denigrating view is not only held and practiced by most Saudi sponsors, but by the Saudi regime, its religious establishment and the sectarian and bigoted Saudi judicial system. Tragically, migrant workers do not get any help from the governments of the lands from which they hailed or from international labor unions.

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Inclusive Caliphate

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

March 11, 2016

Inclusive Caliphate, Defeating ISIS, Women and Back Door Municipal Elections

CDHR’s Analysis and Commentaries

Is a Saudi-Led Caliphate in the Making?

CDHR Analysis: While the major international powers are futilely trying to stop ISIS’s ideological and territorial gains, a more inclusive Muslim Caliphate seems to be in the making. Realizing its inability to survive without external powers’ protection, Saudi Arabia, on the one hand, is courting the West to protect it and, on the other hand, is relentlessly pursuing unification of  autocratic and theocratic Sunni Muslim regimes to form a united  military force (coalition) headquartered in Saudi Arabia.

Based on what Saudi Defense Minister Prince Mohammed said (in Arabic) when he announced the formation of this 34-country coalition on Dec. 15, 2015, the Saudis’ long term objective may go beyond the overt pronouncements made by the Saudis that this force is intended to fight “terrorists” (as they define them.)  Known as masters of duplicitous schemes, the Saudi rulers are taking advantage of justified Western complaints that Sunni Muslims are not doing enough to fight ISIS. When asked whether the newly formed Muslim force will be used only to fight ISIS, Prince Mohammed replied that it would be used against any threat.

Considering the unprecedented threats the coalition regimes are facing domestically and regionally, one can assume, based on historical precedents, that these regimes’ first and foremost priority is to protect themselves from their unfulfilled and bottled-up populations. Given their obsession with their fragile grip on power, the Coalition participants are likely to use the newly formed military force to ensure their continued rule since many of them are too weak to prevail on their own. However, this military force may also be the first step in forming an inclusive Sunni Muslim Caliphate (resembling the Ottoman Empire) to defend the “Muslim Nation” in a potential clash between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Due to their religious and financial prominence and disproportionate influence, the Saudi/Wahhabi regime that rules Saudi Arabia, apparently in alliance with Turkey (in whose economy the Saudis have been investing hundreds of billions of dollars in recent years), are together the only powers that can rally support for this Sunni Muslim unification project.

The Saudi/Wahhabi allies’ concept of unifying Muslims (Ummah) under    their dogma has been more than a pipe dream.  From its inception in the mid-18th century in the poverty stricken Nejd region of central Arabia, the Saudi/Wahhabi alliance has not only been determined to mercilessly unify (Tawhid or “divine unification”) the scattered Arabian tribes to form a theocratic Caliphate under its rule. But the Saudi rulers have yearned to expand their acquisitions to other Muslim communities and beyond, as former Saudi King Abdullah pronounced in November 2011. His ultra-doctrinaire brother Prince Salman (now King) is even more emphatic about advancing the Saudi dogma, declaring in 2010 that Wahhabism is the true face of Islam.

The 21st century Saudi Kings’ declarations are consistent with the original 18th century Saudi/ Wahhabi “cathartic movement,” which aimed not only to  purify the desert dwellers, but all Muslims whom they considered blasphemers because, in the Wahhabis’ eyes, they had strayed away from Salafism (Islam as practiced during the era of its founding and lifetime of its Prophet, 570-632 AD). This long-held goal of purifying and unifying Muslims in a Caliphate-like state (“Muslim Nation”) remains uppermost in the minds of the Saudi rulers.

Given this self-promoting agenda, the Saudis’ wide-ranging and relentless efforts to unite approximately 1.4 billion Sunni Muslims, ostensibly to fight terrorism, should raise a basic question among Muslims and non-Muslims alike: is the Saudi ruling dynasty’s real objective the defeat of particular Muslim terror movements like ISIS or the creation of a broader Caliphate Empire?

The Saudi royal family now recognizes that it has been outmaneuvered by ISIS’s proclamation of a Muslim Caliphate and feels imminently threatened as a result. ISIS has a large following among Saudis because the ISIS leadership embraces the same fundamentalist Wahhabi ideology that is the basis of legitimacy for the Saudi royal family. In order to survive, the Saudi ruling family has had to neutralize or defeat any potential ideological Sunni competitor. For example, the founder of the Saudi state, King Abdul Aziz staged a bloody purge of the powerful Wahhabi Ikhwan in 1929. Recently, the Saudi royal family contrived and paid for a military takeover in Egypt in order not only to remove from power the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood (a powerful pan Arab Sunni party that threatened Saudi Sunni leadership), but to see that organization designated as a terrorist group.

Although the Saudis’ practice of unifying Muslims by the sword alone was largely abandoned after the establishment in 1932 of their Sunni Salafi state (as characterized by former Crown Prince Naif), the concept of Muslim unity continues to dominate the Saudi regime’s domestic and external policies.

Having failed to unify Muslims by force as they envisioned during nearly two centuries of bloody wars in the Arabian Peninsula (1744-1932), the Saudis are now using financial, political and ideological means to achieve their goal. It’s documented that the Saudi regime has spent more than $100 billion over the last two decades to spread its dogma throughout the world. As hosts (Custodians) of the 1.5 billion Muslims’ (including non-Sunni Muslims) holy shrines in Mecca and Medina, the Saudi/Wahhabi ruling dynasties maintain tremendous influence over Muslims worldwide. They infiltrate Muslim communities in many different ways. They build schools and mosques, train imams (clerics), contribute to questionable charities and pour billions of dollars into the purses of politicians in many Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Egypt, Sudan, Morocco and Turkey, just to name a few.

Now the beneficiary and threatened regimes of these countries are responding to the Saudi call for Muslim unity and joining the military coalition announced by Saudi Defense Minister Prince Mohammed on December 15, 2015. 20 of the “Muslim Coalition” countries are participating in massive unprecedented joint military exercises in Saudi Arabia, the likes of which the region has never experienced.

There are reasons why other Muslim regimes are cooperating with Saudi Arabia. Despite extensive meetings and disingenuous pronouncements of cooperation with the West by Arab and Muslim regimes to defeat Muslim terror movements, these oligarchies see themselves as the next targets of the ongoing international bombardments of groups like ISIS, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. In addition, the West’s centuries old commitments to defend Arab and Muslim rulers have been irreparably damaged due to the alarming rise in Muslim terror attacks on Western interests and populations, and due to unprecedented threats to Western democratic values.

During a stormy Arab summit in Damascus in 2008, the former Libyan despot, Moammar Al-Qaddafi, warned his Arab summiteer audience “that Saddam Hussein's fate awaits all Arab leaders,” a theme he repeated at another Arab summit in Doha, Qatar 2009. Although Arab regimes shared Al-Qaddafi’s apprehension, they kept their fears private until they agreed on a strategy that they erroneously think might save them.

Having finally concluded that they cannot expect unconditional Western protection (mostly from each other and from their suppressed populations), Muslim and Arab regimes feel compelled to depend upon each other despite their current and historical animosities and mistrust.

Given these unparalleled developments in the relationship between the West and the Arab and Muslim regimes, the formation, buildup and overwhelming military exercises of the “Muslim Coalition” are not designed merely to fight terrorism, stabilize the Middle East and to defend against threats from the region, but to warn international powers (specifically Western governments and businesses) against undermining the dictatorial status quo, especially in Arab states as stated recently by Saudi Crown Prince and Interior Minister Prince Mohammed Bin Naif. He deliberately declared that the “Arab nations need a unified front to counter their enemies who are bent on undermining their security, stealing their wealth and impoverishing their peoples.”

The significance and objectives of this Coalition and its military maneuvers should not be underestimated by either the surrounding countries (Iraq, Syria, Israel and Iran) or by Western powers. The “West” may end up paying the price for a coalition whose formation Western governments encouraged, albeit for different reasons.

If one is familiar with the long-standing, but unfulfilled Saudi/Wahhabi aspiration of uniting Sunni Muslims under its ideology, one can readily see that forming this Muslim Coalition is a major step toward founding an inclusive Muslim Caliphate to unify Saudi style theocratic and autocratic rule in the region. However, sustaining a formidable Muslim Caliphate militarily will be difficult if not impossible unless the West continues to sell the Coalition the best military hardware that money can buy and to help Arab and Muslim regimes build dozens of nuclear reactors, ostensibly for peaceful use.

The question is what if Western regimes and their arms’ inventors and sellers decide not to sell sophisticated arms that can and/or will be used against them? Judging by the current massacres of defenseless populations by their iron-fisted ruling regimes and by ISIS, one can safely assume that the desperate autocracies and theocracies of which the Arab and Muslim Coalition consists will use ISIS’s tactics domestically and globally to achieve their primary objective: continuing to rule at any cost.

Can ISIS Be Defeated By Guns And Bombs?

CDHR’s Commentary: Hoping that ISIS can be defeated by guns and bombs is a delusion. ISIS manifests a combination of a drive for complete male control over female sexuality and authoritarian Mosque-State control over all aspects of subject societies. In the long run, the defeat of ISIS will come from worldwide demonstration of the advantages -- social, economic and political--of ordered free societies open to the intellectual and economic contributions of all its citizens, of whatever gender or religious creed.

But the opportunities for this worldwide demonstration are blocked, in many Middle Eastern societies, by authoritarian, dictatorial regimes. These regimes pretend abhorrence of ISIS, but harbor within them similar impulses and objectives. Indeed, Saudi Arabia is considered the birthplace and home of the ISIS ideology, and much of the support of ISIS is believed to come from Saudi Arabia. Beyond this, ISIS serves as an effective weapon in the hands of regional competitors. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and others are arming and financing the groups that constitute ISIS.

Contrary to the confident pronouncements by Western presidents, prime ministers and generals that ISIS can be defeated on the battlefield, the West needs to look to making the costs of ISIS more substantial than its benefits to Arab and Muslim regimes. And Western powers, specifically, need to make much clearer that they do not support the repressive and archaic regimes that have spawned ISIS and other lethal ideologues.  Otherwise, ISIS will continue to expand, as this article implies.

There is another set of issues in play. Western polities are understandably concerned about intrusions by versions of Islamic belief and practice that threaten democratic values. The responses to these threats have demonstrated tendencies that can potentially erode democratic values and turn segments of democratic societies against each other.

Thus the international community, especially the ‘West’, has to choose between difficult options. One is to resist Arab and Muslim regimes’ ambitions to use the Middle East as a springboard to dominate the world order. Another is to try to help liberalize the regimes which combine authoritarian and archaic government. A third option would be to continue the current limited and ineffective military strikes and risk a permanent internal “state of emergency” as currently employed in France.

Guns and bombs alone will not defeat ISIS. They must be combined with an understanding of its ideology, confidence in democratic cultures, and the use of intellectual, economic, and political advantages across the entire scope of global engagement. Support for repressive rule is not the best tactic, but rather one of the worst.

Electing Saudi Women Re-enforces Gender Segregation And Inequality

CDHR Commentary: In a fearless open letter to the geriatric Saudi Minister of Municipal and Rural Affairs, Prince Mite'b bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, Samar Fatany, a prominent Saudi advocate of tolerance and  peaceful reform, courageously elucidated that the extremist wing of the ruling Saudi elites is not only blocking any potential progress (even cosmetic steps like municipal elections), but is endangering the country’s unity and inciting non-Muslims to blame Islam for intolerance, terrorism and cruelty, as exemplified by ISIS’s butchery.

Despite allowing carefully screened Saudi  women to run for office and despite the domestic election’s psychological euphoria, echoed by pro Saudi foreign media, Saudis did not expect any measurable change on the ground, given the past brief history (2005 and 2011) of  elections in which only men were allowed to run for office. Those men elected had no authority to impact the status quo since elections were primarily designed to silence domestic and foreign critics of the absolute Saudi rule.

As this courageous and visionary Saudi woman implied, electing women to powerless local councils was not intended to empower women, but to expand the destructive gender segregation and inequality to cover parts of Saudi Arabia known for their historical culture of tolerance and liberalism before being taken over by the Saudi/Wahhabi allies in the 1920s.

Samar Fatany began her blunt letter by stating: “Mr. Minister you have disappointed the city of Jeddah…perceived to be the most open city in Saudi Arabia…by imposing rigid rules to marginalize the women elected to the Municipal Council by demanding that they use separate entrances and isolated quarters. How can you allow the extremists to dictate their intolerant attitude over a progressive society like Jeddah? The culture of the people of Jeddah holds women in high regard and treats them with great respect.”

By allowing some Saudi women to run for office in a meaningless charade of political process, the Saudi rulers are misjudging a large segment of their increasingly educated, aspiring and well-informed population, especially women. Unlike their grandmothers, millions of Saudi women are college graduates, world travelers, social media addicts and unwilling to continue using the back doors.

Denying Saudi Women The Right To Work Then Blaming Them For Being Indolent

CDHR’s Commentary: In what seem to be well-rehearsed answers to questions asked by a reporter of The British Economist, Saudi deputy Crown Prince, Defense Minister and economic development overseer, Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (the king’s son), gave a positive, albeit misleading, account of the Saudi kingdom’s political, legal, economic, religious and social affairs. Among the many exaggerated and unsubstantiated answers the novice prince is quoted to have said is that Saudi Arabia has a legislative parliament. The Saudi people would be the first to contradict the Prince’s depiction of the rosy affairs of a regime known domestically and globally for its draconian political and religious policies and practices.

Another of the prince’s inflated claims is his accusation that Saudi women lack the interest to work. When asked about the reason for the staggering percentage of unemployed Saudi women (estimated at 82%), the apprentice minister was quoted as saying, (it’s the) ‘Culture of women in Saudi Arabia; the woman herself. She’s not used to working. She needs more time to accustom herself to the idea of work. A large percentage of Saudi women are used to the fact of staying at home. They’re not used to being working women.’

Prince Mohammed and his mentors, specifically his father King Salman, could not be more wrong about Saudi women’s lack of interest in and ability to work. Prior to the widespread imposition and stern enforcement of the misogynistic Saudi/Wahhabi policies, Saudi women (who are among the most resilient people in the world) were tilling and harvesting fields, building mud and straw houses, weaving and making clothing, fetching wood and water and herding their families’ flocks. The Saudi and Wahhabi dynasties have used their religious and political dogma to ensure that women remain totally controlled by men physically and financially for political and economic reasons, not because of religious and traditional customs, as they cagily assert.

In reality, it’s the system that should be held liable if most Saudi women are reluctant not only to seek employment, but to leave their homes for fear of attacks and humiliation by the ferocious governmental religious police who are obsessed with women’s sexuality and a daunting fear of their self-reliance.  The argument that women do not want to work offers the same unfounded excuses Saudi officials have used for decades, despite the fact that denying women the right to work is a state policy.

On the one hand, every conceivable man-made hurdle is institutionalized to deny the overwhelming majority of Saudi women the right to work. On the other hand, unemployed women are blamed for lacking the motivation to work, an excuse that Prince Mohammed and his family have used to render the female half of Saudi society dependent on and controlled by the other half, Saudi men.

In reality, women are not only prevented from earning a self-supporting living, but excluded from educational program that encourages work ethics and economic opportunities as this account demonstrates. By excluding women from the work force, the Saudi regime re-enforces social divisions, another aspect of its “divide and conquer” philosophy upon which the Saudi/Wahhabi state is founded.

The Saudi Rulers Ought To Emulate The British Experience

CDHR’s Commentary: In a recent article in The Financial Times, Nick Butler wrote a pragmatic piece suggesting that the Saudis reconsider their current oil policy. Butler advocates a pull back on oil production, making room in the oil market for slightly higher and more stable prices for other OPEC members like Iraq, Venezuela and Iran. In doing so, the Saudis would show some respect for economic forces and for other oil producers whose income, like the Saudis’, relies heavily on oil revenues. Like many observers of Saudi policies, influence and behavior, Butler understands that the Saudis’ global influence has been in a steady decline due to economic, political and strategic forces over which the Saudis have no control.

Butler speaks from a rich heritage. From their little northern island, the British ruled a global empire for centuries. While doing so, they transitioned from an agricultural era to an industrial epoch. And they transitioned from an authoritarian monarchy to a robust democracy with ceremonial monarchs. The British could not have accomplished these feats without canny navigation of oceans, air, and the winds of trade, as well as the requirements for capable and reliable forms of governance responsive to the needs of their people.

The rulers of Saudi Arabia have not managed any such accomplishments. Domestically, they seem to be resistant to any meaningful political reforms, without which their fragile kingdom will continue to experience severe internal turmoil, which will inevitably result in domestic disorder.

In international affairs the current Saudi rulers are acting boldly, but not visibly wisely, as exemplified by their military adventurism.

While the newest ruling generation of the Saudi Dynasty demonstrates ambition, they do not as yet exhibit much insight into the requirements for navigating international waters, or the need to enfranchise their population, many of whom are aspiring for better governance and a secure economic future.

Unlike the British, the Saudi monarchs seem to be defying all odds at a time when their survival depends upon domestic and international transformative compromise.

Abuses Of Poverty Stricken Migrant Workers In Saudi Arabia And Other Gulf States

CDHR’s Commentary: Despite being signatories to international declarations on migrant workers’ rights (especially the WTO), the oil rich Gulf Arab States (GCC) are among the worst abusers of migrant workers. 70% of the work force in these countries consists mostly of poverty stricken migrant workers who are severely abused by their employers and neglected by the international community, including labor unions and their home countries.

Due to their desperate need to make a meager living, these migrant workers tolerate unspeakable cruelty such as sexual and physical abuse of maids, 24 hour on call work schedules (drivers and maids), withholding of wages for months, and unhealthy living conditions for laborers. Most of these workers are virtually imprisoned because their employers confiscate their documents upon arrival. Additionally, the migrant workers in the Gulf States have no legal, social or religious rights, especially the non-Muslims, due to the autocratic, hierarchical nature of these societies and to the absence of non-sectarian rule of law.

One would think (for pragmatic reasons if nothing else) that the indigenous populations and their rulers would be grateful to these hard working men and women, who keep the economies of the Gulf States afloat, since most locals like to stay up late, arise late and put in 3 to 4 hours a day at work.

Hypocritically, the Gulf States (GCC) are allies of democratic Western societies, media and labor unions (such as the AFL-CIO), who turn a blind eye to unspeakable violations of human rights in these countries.

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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 and with your financial and moral support, we can do it. CDHR is a 501 (c) 3 tax exempt educational organization.

Please go to our website www.cdhr.info and click on donate to contribute via PayPal.

Or send contributions to this address:

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Last Updated on Friday, 11 March 2016 07:21
 

The Saudi Royals’ Perilous Responses

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

January 3, 2016

CDHR’s Commentaries and Analyses

The Saudi Royals’ Perilous Responses To External Conflicts, Economic Downturn, Domestic And Regional Threats And Declining Influence

Saudi Mass Executions: A Colossal Miscalculation

CDHR’s Commentary: While most people in the world are celebrating the dawn of 2016 and are hoping for a better year that is free from extremism and terrorism, the Saudi people are forewarned by their absolute ruling princes of a year of increased institutionalized state terrorism, costly repercussions of external wars and punishing economic hardships due to the drastic decline in oil revenues. The beheadings and death of 47 people by the state’s executioners and death squads in different cities in Saudi Arabia today (Jan. 2, 2016) are a reminder of the lethal ideology (Salafi/Wahhabi dogma) upon which the Saudi judicial system is based. It’s the same ideology upon which ISIS’s, Al-Qaeda’s and other Muslim terror groups’ manifestoes are founded.

Among the people killed today by the Saudi regime is a prominent social justice promoter, cleric Shaikh Nimr Al-Nimr of the Saudi Shi’a minority, whom the Saudi state and the majority of Sunni Saudi citizens consider heretics. These barbaric beheadings and murder by death squads are being carried out at a time when the Saudi oligarchs are mired in destructive wars in Yemen and Syria, in an ongoing occupation of Bahrain, and faced with a destabilizing economic downturn.

The Saudis may have thought that by executing these people (whom they label “terrorists”), they would avert international condemnation, given the recent murders of hundreds of innocent French and American people by Muslim terrorists, as well as the downing of a Russian aircraft and murder of its 224 vacationing passengers and crew. The Saudis have made a colossal miscalculation because the international community views the Saudi regimes’ mass executions as more barbaric and heinous than attacks by terrorists who can be hunted and “brought to justice,” while the Saudi regime is not only exempt from punishment for murder, but is dubbed “an ally in the War on Terrorism.”

By killing the prominent and popular Shaikh Nimr Al-Nimr, the Saudi regime may have intended to provoke a violent reaction by eastern Saudi Arabia’s sizable Shi’a population, which could include attacks on the massive oil facilities in the Shi’a region. If this were to occur, it would provide the Saudi oligarchs with an excuse to ruthlessly punish the Shi’a in the hope of provoking Iran to come to their rescue, an act that could draw the US into a confrontation with Iran, a long held Saudi objective.

Today’s action by the Saudi government has already provoked mass demonstrations in Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region, especially in Iran. The Saudis’ belligerent domestic and regional policies contradict the regime’s claim of being the only country that can stabilize the Middle East and defeat terrorism.

Apprehensive Saudi Response to Emerging Global Unity Against Terrorism

CDHR’s Analysis: Shaken by the November 13th carnage in France, the downing of a Russian plane and killing of its 224 passengers and crew in Egypt, carnage at a hotel in Mali, and the impact of these lethal events on Europeans and others  (as demonstrated by the curfew and shutdown of public schools and transportation in Brussels), the major European powers and Russia have no choice but to work in unison to defeat their formidable and ambitious common enemy, the Muslim/Islamist terror movements. The United Nations’ Security Council’s immediate unanimous passage and adoption of a quick resolution, which was followed by meetings between Western and Russian leaders go beyond the normal rhetoric of bombing terrorists in Iraq and Syria. “The (UN) resolution, introduced by France in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris a week ago, calls on the international community to mobilize and to organize efforts against the global threat posed by terrorism, to block the flow of foreign fighters and to crack down on terrorist finances.”  -

Noticeably lacking are any efforts by the French, Russians or even by the Obama Administration to mention, let alone involve, any Arab or Muslim regime, specifically the Saudis, other Gulf States or the Islamist government of Turkey. This can be interpreted as an admission by non-Muslim powers that Muslim regimes share ISIS’s lethal ideological project, expanding and implementing the supreme values of Islam worldwide.

Bypassing Arab and Muslim regimes is a drastic departure from the West’s repeated glorification of the efforts made by oil rich Arab oligarchies and Turkey as allies in the fight against Muslim terrorist movements. Ironically, the West has praised Gulf Arab regimes despite their well-known financial support for extremists and terrorists worldwide. The West, specifically the Obama Administration, has repeatedly maintained that the Gulf Arab states are true allies in the war against extremism despite the fact they adhere to the same religious dogma   practiced by ISIS and other bands of Muslim terror groups.

The fact that President Hollande did not include any Arab or Muslim country in his efforts to forge a more aggressive partnership to “bring ISIS to its knees” indicates that he and other European and Russian leaders are finally conceding that Arab and Muslim regimes created and perpetuate the problem, therefore, cannot be trusted to contribute to its solution.

The livid global reactions to the terrorists’ barbaric attack on Paris, followed by the swift passage of the UN Security Council’s resolution and by President Hollande’s promise to go after terrorists and their financiers “wherever they are,” seem to be taken seriously in places like Saudi Arabia, a country described as “an ISIS That Has Made It.” For instance, the Saudi Mufti, who is known for his fanatical religious intolerance and public support for extremists, told Muslims that “Islam encourages Muslims to deal with opponents and violators in a gentle manner.” This cannot be a sudden change of heart or the instant redemption of a man who in September 2015 called on Sunni Muslims to rid the world of the enemies of Islam, which is understood to mean Christians, Jews, Shi’a and those Sunni Muslims who reject the Saudi brand of intolerant Wahhabi Islam, or ISIS operatives, who threaten Saudi claims to Sunni leadership.

The head of the Saudi religious establishment (the Mufti) is not the only Saudi official feeling apprehensive about possible repercussions against Saudi Arabia by the non-Muslim coalition’s strategy to “destroy ISIS” and eliminate (Muslim) fanaticism, as stated by President Hollande in his solemn memorial speech.

At a gathering of the Interior Ministers of the   Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in the capital of Qatar, Saudi Crown Prince and Interior Minister, Mohammed Bin Naif, re-iterated the customary Saudi condemnation of acts of terrorism. However, he went on to express what sounded like Saudis’ fear of being targeted by the new non-Muslim coalition, namely Russia, France, Britain and other members of the European Union, whose citizens are being murdered by terrorists, most of whom are inspired by Saudi dogma and financed by Saudis and other Gulf Arabs. Prince Mohammed said that “Countries (non-Muslims) should not blame entire communities (Arabs and Muslims) for actions carried out by those claiming to represent them (ISIS and the likes), whether based on race, belief or nationality.” This is the first time this Prince (dubbed an anti-terrorism czar) has ever expressed concern about retribution leveled against Muslim communities by foreign powers.

Is it possible that the Saudi/Wahhabi regime has come to realize or has been warned by the new non-Muslim coalition to eliminate the root causes of terrorism (“Muslim fanaticism”) and that the Saudi role in spawning, financing and exporting terrorism is being reassessed? Additionally, are the Saudi rulers trying to escape possible global retaliation for their role in sponsoring extremism by announcing their intent to decapitate 55 Saudis the regime has labeled terrorists?

Given the strength, expansion of and devastating terror blows against the centers of Western and other non-Muslims civilizations, it might only be a matter of time before the terrorist-targeted non-Muslim populations force their governments to take drastic actions, including severe sanctions and/or military actions against the root causes of terrorism of which Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States stand accused.

Saudi Arabia Is Underwriting Terrorism” versus “Jihadism Is Not Saudi Arabia's Fault”

CDHR’s Commentary: The Saudi political and religious oligarchs can always count on American intellectuals and their institutions to defend them and promote their policies even at a time when many countries (including the US) are reeling from Saudi/Wahhabi inspired and financed terrorists’ attacks. In a recent article, apparently motivated by personal and institutional intent for financial gains, one of the critics of Saudi Arabia’s lethal dogma, Dr. Bernard Haykel of Princeton, calculatedly joined many Western intellectual Saudi apologists/defenders. This transformation from being somewhat critic of the Saudi establishment's Jihad incitements (including destruction of Christian churches) and support for extremists and terrorists to being a born again vindicator of the Saudis’ well-known role in exporting and financing Jihadis worldwide, is curious at best. By reversing his position on Saudi culpability for Jihadism, Dr. Haykel did not only contradict some of the most well-informed and credible Muslim historians, scholars, politicians and authorities at centuries old institutions, but denied well-known and documented Saudi/Wahhabi links to violent Jihadism.

Among the most intimately informed critics of the Saudi/Wahhabi use of violent Jihadism is Mansour Al-Nogaidan, a former jihadist Saudi/Wahhabi preacher, who wrote an account in this newspaper of his reasons to denounce the Saudi dogma as a violent, intolerant and anti-modernity creed. “I cannot but wonder at our officials and pundits who continue to claim that Saudi society loves other nations and wishes them peace, when state-sponsored preachers in some of our largest mosques continue to curse and call for the destruction of all non-Muslims.”

In April 2010, scholars and historians of Muslim movements at the Al-Azhar mosque (the oldest and most reputable Muslim institution) described the Saudi/Wahhabi doctrine as an idea and movement to be the most lethal enemy of Muslims and non-Muslims, which must be fought with all permissible means available. The same condemnation was repeated by a Muslim scholar who happened to be the president of the largest Muslim country, Indonesia. Dr. Abdulrahman Wahid stated that “Muslims and non-Muslims must unite to defeat the Wahhabi ideology.” He went on to implore the international community, “It is time for people of good will from every faith and nation to recognize that a terrible danger threatens humanity. We cannot afford to continue ‘business as usual’ in the face of this existential threat. Rather, we must set aside our international and partisan bickering, and join to confront the danger that lies before us.”

One cannot help but question why, at a time when Saudi Arabia is not only described as an “ISIS state that has made it,” but blamed for “underwriting terrorism,” American intellectuals like Dr. Haykel continue to absolve the Saudi dogma (Wahhabism) of “responsibility” for any Jihadi violence. Given his knowledge of the Saudis’ support for violent Jihadis, the most plausible explanation for Dr. Haykel’s reversal from critic to defender of the Saudi doctrine is that he and his institution, Princeton, aspire to obtain large grants from the Saudis and other Gulf Arab rulers comparable to the $10 million that was given to their prestigious competitor, Yale, to establish an Islamic/Shariah law center at the latter institution.

Tragically, these intellectuals and their institutions are not in bed with the Saudis because of their commitments to promotion of democracy, social justice, defense of human rights and protecting America against Saudi-inspired jihadist terrorism, but for financial gain.

Saudi Economic Downturn=Dire Consequences

CDHR’s Analysis: Consecutive Saudi kings have declared and reiterated (one king after another) that they would embark on economic reforms and creation of desirable and secure jobs (Saudization) for their millions of unemployed subjects, especially for the burgeoning male and female youth. None of this has ever materialized. The downright failures to implement any meaningful economic reforms are due to many factors which include, but are not limited to, the government’s fear of a financially self-reliant society, which is less likely to be held hostage to those who control their means of income and public services, such as healthcare, electricity, water, education and property ownership.

Most Saudis, especially women, depend upon the state’s (kings’) handouts, not only in the form of social welfare, but for pocket money for marriages, buying homes, long term interest-free loans (most of which are never re-paid) and other expenses.

At no time does the Saudi population get more showered with handouts (purchasing loyalty) than when a king dies. Every new king tends to outspend his predecessors in this bribery process, especially if the inheritor of the throne is less popular than his predecessor, as in the case of the current King Salman. When King Salman inherited the throne in January 2015, the first announcement he made to his expectant subjects was, ‘Dear people: You deserve more and whatever I do will not be able to give you what you deserve.’ And a gigantic handout it was.  “The massive handout, estimated to total more than $32 billion, includes a two-month basic stipend for all state employees, soldiers, students, and pensioners, as well as generous grants to various professional associations, and literary and sports clubs.”

The Saudi regime “employees 3 million out of the estimated 5.5 million-strong (indigenous) work force,” which extends the handouts to every household in the kingdom. As the major employer of Saudis and the absolute owner and dispenser of the country’s revenues, the regime is not subject to any accountability, transparency or public scrutiny. This arrangement allows for and encourages rampant corruption, especially at the top where the royals siphon public wealth with impunity.

Prior to and since the establishment of the Saudi state, the Saudi rulers have been able to ensure their subjects’ submission via handouts and fear of severe punishment. In recent decades, the regime has been able to provide generous handouts due to its massive income from oil exports. However, the Saudi regime is facing economic hard times due to the recent drastic decline in oil prices upon which the Saudi economy depends. According to Saudi businessman Prince Alwaleed, "Our country is facing a threat with the continuation of its near-complete reliance on oil, especially as 92% of the budget for this year (2013) depends on oil.”

Saudi income from oil exports has shrunk considerably and the regime’s expenditures have skyrocketed in the last two years, due to military interventions in Bahrain and Yemen and to costly underwriting of regime change, as in Egypt and Syria.

Given this new reality, how could the Saudi oligarchs reform their economy and create desirable jobs for their millions of aspiring, but frustrated youth, who are more likely to revolt or join extremist groups if the system continues to ignore and take them for granted? The recently proposed plan by Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the chairman of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs (who happens to be the King’s son, Defense Minister and Deputy Crown Prince), to “reshape the (Saudi) economy to withstand low oil prices” sounds like a normal reaction to the current economic crisis.

The question is how can the Saudi economy be reformed without addressing the endemic institutionalized obstacles such as rampant corruption throughout the Saudi economic and political system (especially at the top) and the total lack of accountability and transparency at all levels of the public and private sectors?

As a beneficiary of the current status quo, it’s dubious that the intent of Prince Mohammed’s plan is to institute a universal (applicable to all, including royals) reform of the Saudi economy as much as it is to eliminate and/or drastically reduce social programs and subsidized public services such as electricity, water, education, healthcare and other allowances. Hence, the burden of the economic hardship the country is facing now (which is expected to get much worse) will fall on the shoulders of the repressed Saudi people, many of whom live below the poverty line.

Given the current impenetrable economic and political domination by the thousands of Saudi princes and princesses and their privileged non-royal business partners, it’s unlikely that any economic burden-sharing, let alone comprehensive economic reforms, can be implemented without a major restructuring of existing political and economic arrangements, from the King’s Palace down to appointed regional governors, all of whom are royals.

The state’s revenues have been and remain totally controlled and distributed by a budgetary arrangement lavishing generous payments on the royal family despite fluctuations in national income. For example, the “birthright” payments to the estimated 40 thousand members of the extended royal family are siphoned off the top of the national budget. Managed by the "Office of Decisions and Rules," which acts like a kind of welfare office for Saudi royalty, the royal stipends in the mid-1990s ran from about $800 a month for "the lowliest member of the most remote branch of the family" to $200,000-$270,000 a month for one of the surviving sons of Abdul-Aziz Ibn Saud, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia. Grandchildren received around $27,000 a month, ‘according to one contact familiar with the stipends’ system, the cable says. Great-grandchildren received about $13,000 and great-great- grandchildren $8,000 a month.” Extra payments are allotted for marriages, palace-building and other expenses for extravagant royal social events, which in some cases include wild cocaine and call girls’ parties in major Saudi cities, like Jeddah and Riyadh, where non-royal drug traffickers are punished by death.

Given this royal birthright claim to the absolute control of the country and its wealth, it’s inconceivable that the inexperienced and ambitious Minister, Prince Mohammed, or any of his family can or will be allowed to wean the thousands of royals off their long-accustomed pillaging of public wealth without provoking a palace coup that could end the entrenched absolute Saudi rule.

On the other hand, if the intent of “reshaping” the faltering Saudi economy is to further squeeze the population, the outcome will be amplified public discontent. When this inevitable result occurs, the regime will increase its already razor-sharp repression to avoid a public uprising, as it did on March 11, 2011. This time around, it’s likely to boomerang. The country is mired in many conflicts, more isolated than ever, viewed (by Muslims and non-Muslims) as the swamp where ISIS, Al-Qaeda and other lethal ideologues are conceived, hatched and nurtured. Additionally, the royals’ regional and global influence is steadily declining, the majority of its multitudinous princes is marginalized by King Salman, many of the country’s zealot clerics are more loyal to ISIS than to the Saudi royals and the royals’ ability to buy domestic loyalty and foreign protection is diminishing.

It remains to be seen how the bloated royals tiptoe through this minefield. They need to decide whether the safety, security and general welfare of the Saudi people supersede their long-held belief that the country is their private property.

To offset the drastic decline in national revenues, the Saudi regime will be wise to accept reality and embrace safer options. The regime can: 1) terminate lavish stipends to royals; 2) stop foreign adventurism, including the war in Yemen, ending the occupation of Bahrain, discontinue financing the Egyptian military dictatorship and the financing of regime change in Syria, stopping exporting and financing extremism and terrorism; 3) repatriate billions of dollars ransacked from the public and invested in foreign economies; 4) transform the educational system to train Saudis to work in a newly-created technologically diversified economy; and 5) last, but not least, clean up corruption, especially at the top.

Without embarking on reforms like these, Prince Mohammed’s plan may just represent rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

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