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Intimidation and Incarceration are Not the Answers to Saudi Arabia’s Multitude of Domestic and External Perilous Challenges

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

September 18, 2017

Royals’ Vulnerability, Impact of Regime’s Policies, Women and Municipal Elections

CDHR’s Analysis and Commentaries

Intimidation and Incarceration are Not the Answers to Saudi Arabia’s Multitude of Domestic and External Perilous Challenges

CDHR Commentary: The recently reported rash of arrests of anti-government elements in Saudi Arabia is caused by repression, economic hardships and by King Salman's and sons' belligerent domestic and foreign policies. Since Salman and his sons inherited the Saudi throne in January 2015, they introduced severe economic measures of the kind most Saudis have not experienced. They started a war in Yemen, strengthened their occupation of Bahrain, blockaded Qatar and marginalized most of the experienced and powerful Saudi princes. The latter is a recipe for disastrous consequences not only for Saudi Arabia, but for its major ally and defender, the United States of America.

King Salman believes in and is committed to ensuring his family’s eternal ownership of Saudi Arabia. This is mostly the reason behind his empowerment of his sons and relegation of anyone he thinks might share power with the commoners. He loathed his predecessor, King Abdullah, for introducing window-dressing reform steps such as allowing women to vote in meaningless municipal elections and appointing a few women to the powerless Majlis Al-Shurah (consultative council), where appointed women have to enter the structure through the back doors.

King Salman is a staunch supporter of the Wahhabi anti-modernity and anti-human rights doctrine, which he believes is the true Islam that must be exported worldwide.

Blaming external powers and groups like the Muslim Brotherhood for the brewing discontent among millions of disenfranchised Saudi women and men is a futile attempt on the part of Saudi rulers to avoid dealing with the root causes of the people’s frustration, anger and marginalization. Faced with unprecedented and formidable economic, political and royal challenges, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is resorting to the same policies and practices his family, especially his father, is notoriously known for, brutality.

The guarded optimism many Saudis, especially his age group felt when Crown Prince Mohammed was propelled into powerful positions since his father inherited the throne two years ago, is being slowly replaced with cynicism and loss of hope for a better future under his watch. The novice Crown Prince may end up being  remembered as the Prince Of Chaos that he and his father, King Salman, myopically created.

“Saudi Arabia's Missing Princes”

CDHR Commentary: We hear short-lived news stories about arbitrary arrest, incarceration, flogging and mass beheadings of non-royal Saudi dissidents and alleged “terrorists,” many of whom promote democracy, free speech, religious tolerance, women’s rights and civil society. However, we hear almost none about reformers from within the autocratic Saudi ruling family who have spoken out against their family’s rampant corruption and draconian policies, as this account demonstrates.  Lack of recognition of and disregard for the efforts of royal dissenters, like Prince Talal Bin Abdul Aziz and the younger princes like Khaled Bin Farhan spring from worldwide cynicism about the Saudi ruling family as a whole.

Lack of international support for royal dissenters stems from fear that the influential Saudi monarchy would interpret it as an effort to undermine its legitimacy and to destabilize Saudi society. Support for royal dissenters by human rights groups is likely to be interpreted by critics of the regime as indirect support for the monarchy, since none of the royal dissenters has called for outright removal of the royal family from power.

Sympathizing with royal Saudi reformers, whether domestically or externally, is difficult for most people. This is due to the ruling family’s repression of their people, the Saudi association with extremism and terrorism and some royals’ behavior and actions at home or when they travel abroad. These are facts only the ruling family can change, but that is unlikely to happen as long as they consider the country their private property and have the blessings and protection of Western powers.

While global repulsive sentiment toward the Saudi ruling family’s repressive and denigrating policies and practices and its exportation and financing of extremist ideology is understandable, support for royal dissidents should not be ignored. Regardless of the reasons behind their willingness to speak up and expose the monarchy’s bankrupting corruption and severe political repression, the royal dissidents are advocating representative government, accountability and transparency, values that put them in the league of political reformers and advocates of social justice.

The Washington-based Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia promotes gender equality, religious freedom and human rights and supports political reformers, including the Saudi princes who are willing to risk their lives to promote accountability, transparency, non-sectarian rule of law and a representative form of government in Saudi Arabia.

“IS THE U.S. TURNING ITS BACK ON THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY IN ITS FIGHT AGAINST EXTREMISM?”

CDHR Commentary: This analyst wrote a comment in response to an article about Muslim minorities in Europe a while back stating that, "It's only a matter of time before Western and other non-Muslim societies turn against Muslims, starting with Muslim minorities in non-Muslim countries.”

As this article (by a Muslim) correctly stated: “Just saying that Islam is about peace, mercy and forgiveness is not enough. Nor is saying that the clear majority of Muslim people did not create terrorism, or even help in its emergence. We are, and we will be charged with this accusation at least until we demonstrate a much stronger effort to reform. Not doing so will result not only in the marginalization of Muslims in Western nations, but in banishing us from their social circles altogether.”

In other words, instead of quoting selective verses of the Quran to silence critics of Islam’s role in extremism and terrorism, Muslims have to prove that extremism and terrorism are alien to their cultures, religion and traditions. This assertion, which most Muslims have used, is unconvincing (even to many Muslims) given the raging carnage committed by Muslims against each other because of different interpretations of Islam, as in the Sunni versus Shi’a schism.

Accusing the US of “turning its back on the Muslim community” which is trying to separate its religion from extremism and terrorism only serves to deflect blame from its real target. While most Muslims are not extremists or terrorists, the burden lies on    Muslims’ shoulders here and around the world to eradicate the root causes of Islamic extremism and terrorism within their communities. Modern interpretation of Muslim texts is not only overdue, but will liberate Muslims from centuries old cycles of violence, intolerance and backwardness.

“US slams China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia for religious repression”

CDHR Commentary: Every Secretary of State and every State Department's Annual Report have condemned the same countries for the last two decades. The State Department has designated countries like Saudi Arabia a "Country of Particular Concern" due to its religious oppression and discrimination, but follow up is not pursued and no one is held accountable.

Democratic Western governments, businesses, learning institutions, media, many think tanks and labor unions keep supporting and emboldening violators of religious beliefs and basic human rights. This practice is not only endangering US global interests and national security, but contradicts the empowering democratic values upon which this great and free nation was founded.

As has been abundantly documented by multitude of prominent Muslim and non-Muslim historians, scholars and researchers, including Saudis and major Muslim institutions, like the Al-Azhar University have implore Muslims and non-Muslims to defeat Wahhabism, which inspires groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS. The Saudi people will be the first to admit that their society suffers economically, scientifically and socially Wahhabi religious constrictions.

Yemen:The Photos the U.S. and Saudi Arabia Don’t Want You to See”

CDHR Commentary: By the time the Saudi-led (hired) Muslim/Arab coalition is done with their onslaught, Yemen will be no more than piles of corpses, pulverized mud dwellings and heart-broken mothers comforting their children dying from starvation, cholera and shrapnel from falling cluster bombs. As this wrenching account and the UN state, the Saudis are committing war crimes in Yemen with the complicity and support of the most powerful and democratic countries in the world, the  U.S. and the U.K.

The autocratic Saudis, their multitude of lobbying firms, “pragmatist analysts,” arm sales merchants and most Western powers are either silent or support the Saudis’ invasion and destruction of Yemen. They support the Saudi claim that invading Yemen is a defensive measure to prevent the Iranian theocracy from establishing a Shi’a proxy on the southern Saudi borders. If this is the Saudi and their allies’ real objective, why not go after the Iranian Mullahs instead of committing war crimes against the poorest Arab country, Yemen?

As in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, the ravaging war in Yemen is increasing, not decreasing, Iran’s influence. Additionally, millions of Yemenis are likely to seek revenge by joining extremist and terrorist groups, not only against the Saudis and their coalition, but their allies and supporters as well.

Sheikh of UAE: “Empowering Women”

CDHR Commentary: Swathed in his nomadic desert white robe and sandals, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the absolute ruler of the UAE and one of the wealthiest men on earth, stood in front of a group of privileged women clad in black abayas and head covers and claimed that “Some people still wonder about the empowerment of women in our society. Such questions come most often from abroad.” This is correct because indigenous people can incur harsh royal punishments if they express their opinion and feelings about his regime’s draconian policies and practices.

The question the iron-fisted Sheikh should answer is: has he abolished the Shariah law and the four wives systems, both of which denigrate women and put them under men’s total control? These misogynistic systems must be delegalized, delegitimized and their upholders ought to be brought to justice, not under Shariah law, but under a non-sectarian rule of law that is applicable to rulers and ruled. This rule of law should apply not only in the UAE, but in all of the dynastically controlled Gulf Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, whose record of oppressing women exceeds all others.

These are embryonic steps that must be implemented before his Royal Highness Sheikh Maktoum should claim that women are fully empowered and free to choose.

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Qatar Crises Widened and Debating Women’s Rights Intensify

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

July 31, 2017

Qatar Crises Widened and Debating Women’s Rights Intensify

CDHR’s Analysis and Commentaries

The Two Kingdoms of Saudi Arabia

CDHR Commentary: For most Westerners and others, there is the kingdom of Saudi Arabia (the only country named after the family that rules it, “Saudi” Arabia.) But for non-royal Saudis and those who work (or have worked and lived in Saudi Arabia), there are two distinctly separate kingdoms, one for the royal family and its religious establishment and the other for the population and the 11 million maltreated Asian and other expatriate workers. Only when royal crimes against non-royals become public do most people see or hear of the difference between the two Saudi kingdoms. The cases of this submissive non-royal Saudi and foreigners like William Sampson, a Canadian who endured cruel abuses for crimes he denied committing, illustrate the other Saudi kingdom.

The Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia has received inquiries, three of which stood out regarding the vicious attack on an innocent citizen by a Saudi prince. One, what did the victim do to incur such humiliating social and physical abuse? He parked his car close to the prince’s property, according to what the prince said in Arabic on the video. Two, why didn’t the victim defend himself? In Saudi Arabia, standing up to or challenging a member of the royal family is illegal. Defying the supremacy and legitimacy of the ruling family is considered challenging the supreme authority of the king. Three, why did it take the king to order the arrest of the abusive prince? No members of the royal family are subjected to the state’s ferocious security personnel or to the punitive religious and political laws and policies which non-royals have to endure.

Regardless of their political status or royal lineage, every member of the vast Saudi ruling family considers the country his/her property by right of birth; therefore, the state’s religious and political laws are not applicable to them. Given this claim of ownership, the estimated 10 to 30 thousand members of the ruling family are not only protected from the state’s punishing laws,  but receive a generous monthly allowance, ranging from $270,000 for senior princes to $ 8,000 for distant relatives such as children of liaisons with maids and slave mothers. The allowances continue even when the country is going though dire economic hardships.

Given these privileges, Saudi royals can do whatever they wish, including the importation of alcohol and hard drugs, which they consume freely and sell on to the public. However, non-royals incur harsh punishment (including death for drug traffickers) if caught consuming or selling these forbidden substances by the ubiquitous security personnel, who dare not apply the same rules to the royals. Unlike non-royals, who are constantly surveilled and quixotically arrested for minor offenses, only the king can order arrests of royals, which only happens when royal crimes become public.  ­­­­­

These have been the state’s policies and practices since its founding in 1932. However, a new generation of royals are now in power and many young Saudis hope that things will change for the better; but thus far, there is no indication of that happening soon, at least as long as King Salman remains in the throne. He believes the country must remain the property of the ruling family under the control of his uncompromising Sudairi branch. This is why, many Saudis believe, he put the state’s internal and external decision-making authority in the hands of his iron-fisted son, Prince Mohammed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MosRmpoVKs

Miniskirt Should Be The Saudis’ Least Worry

CDHR Commentary: Nothing sparks more heated and divisive debate in Saudi society than women’s dress code, their right to drive or to be seen in human form (not clad in a black garment.) As demonstrated by the case of this stylish woman “Khulood,” pro-government traditionalists and indoctrinated Saudis called for her arrest and punishment for insulting Islamic tradition and the Saudis’ supreme ethos. Such egregious reactions are neither new nor coincidental. According to the Saudi religious establishment, its financier and users (the ruling family), there is no public place for women under their form of Islam unless they are invisible.

Arresting, imprisoning, interrogating and most likely abusing an aspiring young model for walking in an empty mud road has more to it than the way she chose to dress. She was arrested for trying to break away from rigid societal strictures imposed by a dogmatic system whose survival depends on ensuring that the population remains submissive and fearful.

The Saudi/Wahhabi system is founded on two premises: One is divide and control, and Two is to ensure that human development and aspirations are crushed in order to please God, obey the rulers and preserve Islam’s supreme teaching, as interpreted and applied by the Saudi state’s religious and political ruling elites. Continue:  www.cdhr.info

As expected, Khulood was arrested and reportedly released by the system, but will likely face what many educated, enlightened and free spirited Saudi women and men who dare to embrace modernity endure after the system releases them. She is more likely to have to sign a sworn statement that she will never commit any social, political or religious action (i.e., think out of the box.) She will be banned from traveling (which is the same as, or worse than, imprisonment), talking to the media and may face unemployment for life. Additionally, she will be subjected to family punishment for defaming their tribally-based honor and for non-obedient thinking.

Given the stifling conditions under which Saudi women live from cradle to grave, it’s not accidental that at least 1,000 educated Saudi women risk their lives and flee the country every year to seek asylum in non-Muslim countries. Some of them are not lucky enough to reach the land where they want to live. They get arrested in airports, handcuffed and sent back to face punitive treatment or death.

Even though Khulood was released one day after her unwarranted arrest on July 17, the system’s intended message is clear, warning others not to challenge social taboos.

Punishment in Saudi Arabia is disproportionately severe relative to the offenses committed. Arbitrary arrest, detentions for years without charges, flogging and beheadings in public squares and hanging corpses on electric poles for weeks are designed to keep the Saudi people living in perpetual fear of the system and its ubiquitous security apparatus.

Faced with unprecedented domestic economic difficulties and ruling family volatility, as well as regional and global challenges, the young cadre of Saudi princes appointed recently by King Salman to inherit the mantle of leadership, should put in place a political reform plan to share power with the population, most of whom are the same age or younger than the current ruling princes. Short of this, the royals will continue to depend on the sword and religious extremism domestically and on foreign powers’ protection, a strategy that worked in the past, but no longer practicable for the future.

Gulf Crisis Highlights Discrimination Against Women

CDHR Commentary: Arab women, in general, are among the most marginalized and oppressed people in the world, and no group has it worse than women of the Gulf Arab states, especially in Saudi Arabia. This is due to religious totalitarianism, nomadic culture, backward educational systems and anti-modernity dynastic rule.

Wretchedly, the heads of states in the Gulf Arab countries are praised by Western governments, institutions and businesses for political stability (albeit by the sword,) welfare systems (handouts and bribery,) their war on terrorism and loyalty to the West. Courting and appeasing the Gulf Arab autocrats and tolerating their denigrating policies toward women, their intolerance of religious minorities, maltreatment of expatriate workers, and their indoctrination against non-Muslims will not defeat, but escalate extremism and terrorism despite Gulf rulers’ claims to the contrary. As social, political and economic conditions continue to deteriorate due to declining global dependence on fossil fuel, a Gulf Arab Spring will erupt, with women at the forefront.

In the event a Gulf Arab Spring occurs, Arabists and bandits at Middle Eastern and Islamic Study Departments in American and other Western universities will lament, “we did not see this coming,” just like they said when the current raging Arab Spring erupted. Stay tuned.

Tillerson and Mattis: Hands off Qatar

CDHR Commentary: Despite President Trump’s rash endorsement of the Saudi instigated blockade of Qatar, Secretaries of Defense and State Mattis and Tillerson told the blockading monocracies hands-off. Based on their vast experiences in the region and their understanding of the Saudis’ goal, these seasoned senior officials understand that the blockade is designed to turn Qatar into a submissive colony of the Saudis, who would assume control of its wealth and policies. Beside their personal vested interests in Qatar (military installation and energy bonanza), the two Secretaries understand that an intra-Gulf dynasties’ military confrontation could force the US to take sides, potentially drawing other countries into the fray.

Qatar hosts the largest and most strategically important US military installation in the Greater Middle East. In light of this, Secretary Mattis hurriedly signed a “$12 billion deal” to sell “Boeing F-15 U.S. fighter jets” to Qatar in order to send an unequivocal signal to the Saudi-led blockaders that the US considers Qatar an ally that should not be tampered with. Furthermore, Qatar “...sits atop the world’s third largest gas reserves.” As former chief of the Exxon/Mobil “Empire”, Secretary Tillerson knows the importance of natural gas as an indispensable component of future global energy supplies for decades to come. Based on his business experience with and mistrust of the Saudis, it is safe to assume that Tillerson wants to make sure the Saudis and their UAE proxy rulers will not be in a position to dictate the production and marketing of the vast and profitable Qatari energy reservoirs. Tillerson, like Mattis, signed an accord with the Qataris to cooperate in ending terrorism financing, a face-saving compromise to the Saudi demand, but also to send a message to the Saudi-led band of four that the US will not tolerate economic strangulation or any use of force against Qatar.

Having  “… underwritten the regional order for almost 70 years” and given the presence of formidable US military might in the Persian Gulf, the US is likely to continue to be the dominant player in the energy-rich   Gulf region for years to come. This is not a bad thing, given the fact that repressive powers like China and Russia are eager to establish a permanent foothold in and around the Gulf region, as exemplified by China’s recent establishment of a military base in Djibouti.  Notorious for their repression of their own populations, Russia and China would support tougher subjugation of the peoples of the energy-rich Gulf states.

Continued US dominance in the Gulf region will require more than military might and personal relationships. The US can serve its short and long terms best interest by taking into account the burgeoning aspirations of the Gulf Arab states’ populations, especially women. The Trump Administration’s stated priority is stability in the Gulf region, presumably under the current totalitarian monarchies. This policy is doomed to fail, as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared, “For 60 years, the United States pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East -- and we achieved neither.”

If recent history is any guide, continuing to support autocratic ruling dynasties in the Gulf Arab states will not lead to stability, but most likely to another Arab Spring, which would have far reaching strategic and economic consequences regionally and globally.

Qatar Blockade: A Misleading Power Play

CDHR Commentary: Three of the four Arab autocracies (Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain) that are demanding Qatar raise the white flag are threatened by domestic political restlessness, pro-democracy movements, economic hardships and home bred extremism and terrorism. These countries continue to emphasize that they are blockading Qatar largely because of its support for terrorism.

Claiming to fight terrorism has become a powerful tool in the hands of dictators who use the slogan to deceive the international community, especially gullible Westerners. It’s hypocritical that the Saudis are punishing the Qataris for supporting terrorism when the two regimes were allies in arming and financing Syrian opposition groups, some of whom were Al-Qaeda’s affiliates, like Jabhat Al-Nusrah.

By claiming to fight terrorism, the Qatar blockaders are diverting attention from their problems at home and hoping to hide their real agenda, which in the case of the Saudis is to colonize the smaller and weaker states of the Arabian Peninsula, as exemplified by Saudi actions in Bahrain and Yemen.

While Qataris are by no means Jeffersonian democrats, nor can they claim to be innocent regarding support for extremists like the Muslim Brotherhood and its Qatar-based spiritual advisor, Shaikh Yousef Al-Qaradawi, comparing the Qatari regime with the Saudis, the Qataris are socially and politically more advanced, stable and by far more tolerant.

Unless the current Saudi-instigated turmoil in the Gulf is resolved quickly and peacefully, the consequences could plunge the US into a larger crisis involving Iran and Turkey. The US has a vast economic and strategic stake in Qatar. That small, but wealthy country sits atop the largest natural gas reservoir in the world and is home to America’s largest strategically located air base in the Middle East. These are the reasons Secretary of Defence Mattis and Secretary of State Tillerson denounced the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar, despite their boss’s uninformed compulsive support for the blockade.

Donate: Your contributions to CDHR’s efforts to address tough issues, invoke thought-provoking discourse and suggest peaceful solutions are crucial. We need to continue our educational outreach worldwide. CDHR is a 501 (c) 3 tax exempt educational organization.

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

Or send checks to this address:

Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, CDHR

1050 17 St. NW, Suite 1000

Washington, DC 20036

 

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