Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia
August 3, 2010
Saudi News & Commentary by Dr. Ali Alyami
Muslims are at War with Themselves and in Conflict with the West
Director’s Comment: There is an escalating conflict within and between Muslims societies over different interpretations of Islam and religious rituals. Muslim on Muslim killings, the destruction of minorities’ holy shrines and other cultural heritages, as well as the ongoing carnage in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Iran are but some examples of bloody conflict among Muslims. The rampant oppression (in one fashion or another) of Muslim and non-Muslim minorities in all Arab and Muslim countries bears witness to a religion mired in contradictions and at odds with itself and, by extension, with the rest of the world, especially the West.
In reaction to the recent destruction of one of Sufi Islam’s oldest and most revered shrines in Pakistan, a Muslim writer in Saudi Arabia wrote, “For whatever reason, the cancer of extremism is fast eating into the vitals of the entire Muslim world. A lunatic fringe has hijacked their faith and claims to speak on their behalf and all Muslims can do is wring their hands in helplessness. In their long and eventful history, Muslims have never faced a greater challenge to their identity and existence. This sickness within is far more dangerous than what they confront from without.
Where are Muslim voices of reason and sanity? Where are our leaders, our Ulema and intellectuals when we need them so badly? Why don't they come out in the open to speak out against this distortion of our faith and morbid celebration of death? If their voices aren't heard, they must shout from the rooftops but speak they must. There's no other way to stop this madness. This is no time to hide.”
Is Muslim Disunity the Enemy?
Director’s Comment: In a statement read on his behalf at the Muslim World League conference on July 31, 2010, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was quoted saying that disunity is Muslims’ greatest enemy. Two questions come to mind: Have Muslims ever been united, and if miraculously they can be, what would their unity accomplish for their mostly disenfranchised, impoverished, scientifically and technologically backward peoples? The answer is that nothing would come from Muslim unity except strengthening the hand of theocrats and their institutions that deny most Muslims their basic human rights. Most Muslim countries have done very little to advance their lagging societies individually, so things could only get worse with united theocracies.
The Saudi government and its domestic, regional and international Islamic charities and agents have been working on all fronts to unite and mobilize the faithful against non-Muslims, especially the West. It has been ubiquitously documented that the Saudi government has been paying for most Muslim institutions and groups throughout the world for decades and this financing has intensified since the 9/11 attack on the U.S. by mostly Saudi nationals.
The Saudi government has been investing handsomely in the economies of the 57 member states and entities of the Organization of Islamic Congress, including $400 billion in the Turkish economy over the coming four years. In short, the Saudi government is using its petrodollar revenues not to modernize its society, but instead to promote its austere brand of Islam, Wahhabism. The Saudi ruling family uses a variety of channels and methods, especially the Muslim World League among others, to spread Wahhabism throughout the world, including in the U.S. The Saudi government’s objective is to establish extremist and loyal Muslim communities throughout the world on which it could rely to promote the Saudi ruling elites’ interests. They have succeeded in achieving this goal in many Muslim and non-Muslim countries. The only beneficiaries of united Muslims would be the Saudi autocrats and theocrats.
Youth Restlessness and Identity Crises: Ticking Bomb
Director’s Comment: The enormous failure of the Saudi government and its pre-modern methods of coping with changing times is steadily undermining the country’s stability and endangering its social and political cohesiveness. The Saudi government’s unwillingness to recognize and focus on its internal problems and construct modern solutions for modern problems pose unprecedented threats to the system and society. Prominent among the major problem is the burgeoning youth (men and women) who are reported to be more than 60% of the population. Growing up in the rapid and complex age of computers, cell phones, satellite channels, pornography, Facebook, Twitter and blogs where they can chat with each other and the rest of the world, Saudi youth identify more with their counterparts in San Francisco, Casablanca, Brussels and Madrid than they do with their parents, religious teachings and Saudi cultural values.
Enigmatically, the Saudi ruling elites do not seem to take notice of the writing on the wall. They insist on obsolete solutions for all needs and occasions: Memorize the Quran, pray five times a day, obey the king and blame the West and Israel for homegrown and nurtured problems. Young Saudi men and women have been showing signs of discontent and restlessness for years. Some of them went on a destructive rampage in Alkhobar city in eastern Saudi Arabia and in Mecca in 2009. Most of them are unemployed and resent their socially, religiously and politically oppressive institutions, gender segregation, total lack of entertainment and grim prospects for the future. Delaying positive and modern responses to Saudi youth’s needs and aspirations is a guaranteed recipe for instability, crimes and increased participation in extremist and terrorist groups’ activities, but who is listening or noticing?
Why Do They Flee?
Director’s Comment: The saga of expatriate housemaids and family drivers (“modern slaves”) in Saudi Arabia and other oil rich Arab Gulf Sheikdoms continues unabated. It is estimated that there are about fifteen to twenty million expatriate cheap laborers in the autocratically ruled Arab Sheikdoms, Kingdoms and Sultanates in the Arabian Peninsula. The majority of these unlucky laborers (eight to ten million) work in Saudi Arabia and are considered to be among the most abused migrant workers in the world according to human rights groups and activists. It is also estimated that between one to two million of these abused and neglected men and women (mostly from Asian countries) are housemaids and family drivers in Saudi homes. They serve around the clock for meager salaries and can be physically punished and sexually abused by any family member of the house in which they toil. Their passports are confiscated by their sponsors (masters) the day that they arrive in Saudi Arabia, making the workers hostages of their employers. The only way for them to change employers, travel or spend time with their compatriots is to run away. They have no recourse to air their grievances, especially those workers who are non-Muslims. The embassies of the countries from which they hail rarely help them because most of those countries are recipients of Saudi government largess, including subsidized oil supplies. The workers cannot organize labor unions because all forms of civil society in Saudi Arabia are forbidden, even for native Saudi citizens.
Saudi Women Excel and Lead Competently
Director’s Comment: Under severe political, religious, economic and cultural conditions and man-made hurdles that subsist only in Saudi Arabia in the 21st century, many Saudi women are courageously pushing boundaries. There is no other country on earth where institutionalized and scrupulously enforced policies exist to deny women their full citizenship and human rights. Women are prevented from developing their natural talents and applying them to support themselves and contribute to the building of their country, and the price for such unnatural practices is very high. For example, Saudi public and private sectors employ between eight and ten million imported workers while more than 80% of educated and able Saudi women are denied the right to work. Saudi women are forced into depending on male relatives for all their needs, including applying for a job and obtaining life-saving medication. This denigrating practice is known as the male guardianship system and it is enforced by all government agencies. Despite these destructive policies and restrictions, many Saudi women are leading the way in undermining their number one nemesis, male oppression.
Some of Saudi women’s remarkable accomplishments are noticeable and measurable in the media, limited businesses and academia, but above all in female-run learning institutions throughout the country. Known for its progressive residents’ laissez-faire attitude, Jeddah is the home of Dar Al-Hekma (house of Wisdom) women’s college. Founded in 1999, Dar Al-Hekma is graduating some of the best and brightest students anywhere in the world. Dar Al-Hekma is successful under the enlightened leadership of its dean, the sophisticated, highly educated and women’s rights advocate Dr. Suhair Hassan Al-Quraishi, and tireless instructors like Reem Asaad, the internationally known leader of the lingerie movement (dubbed the Bra Revolution in Saudi Arabia by a Swedish paper).
Despite its short history, small size and very modest budget, Dar Al-Hekma has graduated close to one thousand highly trained Saudi women who pursue careers in a country where there is still official gender segregation in the workplace and where a highly educated woman must provide a male relative’s approval before she can be considered for employment.,. Both the students and faculty of Dar Al-Hekma strive to excel, be financially independent and propel their country into a bright, tolerant, safe and prosperous future. These women deserve the support of the Saudi government, media, wealthy and enlightened Saudis and the international community, especially the U.S, Saudi Arabia’s reliable ally.
If replicated throughout Saudi Arabia without intervention from any government ministry or agency, especially the religious establishment, the Dar Al-Hekma model could change the educational landscape of Saudi Arabia. Dr. Al-Quraishi and her colleagues have proven their first-class capabilities and have had the experience to excel. They should be entrusted with creating five new campuses in Riyadh, Qatif, Braidah, Abha, and Ha’il. The Saudi private sector and government can spare $ 1 billion for the expansion of this national treasure.
Empowering Saudi women is in the best interest of all Saudis, rulers and ruled. Because of its centrality to Islam and its possession of large quantities of oil reserves, Saudi Arabia’s stability and security matter to the international community. There is no better way to achieve stability, prosperity and security than to support Saudi women in their quest to obtain their full rights and their place in Saudi society, the Muslim and Arab Worlds and the international community.
Sell Them to the Highest Bidder
Director’s Comment: Saudi advocacy groups are using modern technology to promote Stone Age habits. They are encouraging wealthy Saudi men to do what has been practiced in Islam’s birthplace for centuries: own four women because it is legal to do so. In the past, this repulsive form of human trafficking was encouraged by men to prevent women from indulging in sexual activities after losing their husbands in the perpetual tribal wars that ravaged the region. Men justified the four wives’ system by saying that it kept women pure and their male relatives’ honor unblemished, but the real purpose of the system was to deny women their natural right to decide for themselves and determine their own destiny.
The new advocates are using the new social media (never mind that they consider its inventors to be infidels) to promote the sale of women to wealthy men. They have introduced Facebook campaigns supporting the four wives system and therefore are reaching much of the young Saudi population. The men advocate that “every Saudi and Arab man who is financially and physically able to marry more than one wife should not hesitate to do so in order to end spinsterhood among our women and help cap the high marriage costs that have deterred many young men from getting married.” The real goals behind the four wives system and its equally destructive cousin, the institutionalized male guardianship system, are to marginalize women and to prevent social cohesiveness, unity and collective productivity. The Saudi government uses the Machiavellian form of rule—divide and conquer.
The price that Saudi society, the Arab and Muslim Worlds and the international community are paying to deny Saudi women their basic human rights is dismally high. Saudi women are still prevented from participating in the decision-making process, especially in the areas of education and religion. Because of Saudi Arabia’s centrality to Islam, empowering Saudi women can resonate throughout the Muslim world and can eventually undermine the domestically, regionally and globally known Saudi mortal doctrine (known as Wahhabism) that promotes religious totalitarianism worldwide.
Saudi Women are Exemplary
Director’s Comment: The attached article (Arabic text) diagnoses different aspects of Saudi society, especially as they relate to Saudi women. It details the multitude of counterproductive measures that Saudi institutions and society put in place to deny Saudi women the right to use their talents and contribute to the well-being of their country. In spite of formidable obstacles, many Saudi women are fighting for their rights and have shown that they can succeed when and wherever they are permitted to put their abilities to work.
For example, Saudi women are prevented from driving in Saudi Arabia, but can drive when outside of the country including in Arab Gulf states, most of which lie across the Saudi borders and share the same culture, history, tradition and religion with their bigger brothers, the Saudis. At a recent press conference in Dubai, the UAE’s chief of police reported that Saudi women are the best, safest and most polite drivers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Traffic citations in the UAE are recorded according to violators’ ethnicities and nationalities.
If Saudi women are some of the best drivers outside of their country, why are they considered unfit to drive at home? The overt and nonsensical excuse is that women are emotional, incompetent and seductive; consequently, they would cause death and destruction in Saudi roads. In reality, the unspoken reasons are much deeper. They are political, economic and social. The Saudi ruling elites’ major fear of women driving and becoming mobile and financially independent emanates from the regime’s insecurity. The royals see self-reliant, educated, independent and free thinking Saudi women, and men for that matter, as the biggest threat to their domination over the county’s power and wealth.
Just imagine the effects on society if women were recognized as full citizens (human beings) by the system. Their enfranchisement will require millions of new jobs, improvement in the dilapidated and deficient infrastructure and bureaucracies and a competitive society. This means more money has to be spent on new projects, schools, services and modernization of institutions. Where would the money come from to meet these new public demands and needs? It would come from the treasury and here is where things can get complicated. As of now, most of the national income is controlled by the ruling family and a large portion of it goes to the royals’ bank account and the rest gets distributed to domestic loyal servants and foreign aids and investments.
By attending to the needs of half of its ignored population, women, the Saudi government would be forced to be at least partially accountable and transparent as well as subject to more public questioning of where and how the public wealth is spent.
Read Article (Arabic)
The Center for Democracy & Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (CDHR) is a non-profit 501(c) (3) organization based in Washington, DC. CDHR provides new and accurate information for the benefit of the public, the business community and policy makers about the current situation in Saudi Arabia. CDHR’s goal is to help bring about a peaceful democratic transition from a single-family autocratic rule to a participatory political system where the rights of all Saudi citizens are protected under the rule of civil laws.
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