Saudi Judicial System and Social Reform
Commentary by Dr. Ali Alyami
“War on Terrorism” to Crush Pro Democracy Advocates
Director’s Comment: Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and their unprecedented, far-reaching repercussions domestically and globally, the Saudi government has embarked on a hunting program ostensibly to catch and incarcerate alleged terrorists and terrorists to be. For this effort, the Saudi government has been showered with sycophantically praises, specifically from its Western friends and supporters. Famous for its arbitrary arrests and imprisonment of people without charges and/or trials for months and years, many Saudi citizens and human rights groups have been raising questions about the extensive waves of arrests, and whether the Saudi government is actually using “War on Terrorism” to destroy pro-democracy Saudi citizens. "Using the anti-terror campaign has been the conspicuous Saudi policy to arrest and harass political reformists and human-rights activists," says Mohammed al-Qahtani, co-founder of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, which has become the most p ublic face of a maturing national civil-rights movement.
As the attached account indicates, the state’s methods of arbitrary arrests and incarceration remain unaltered. The highly contested case of prominent pro political reformist “Suliman al-Reshoudi, a 73-year-old former judge turned activist” seems to attest to the fact that the Saudi judicial system has not changed despite King Abdullah’s royal decrees to modernize the religiously controlled institution. The Saudi autocratic monarchs consider political activists more dangerous to their control than religious extremists. This is evidenced by the fact that many extremist clerics are on the government’s payroll.
It might be prudent for the US government, companies and other institutions to reconsider their cooperation with the Saudi government when dealing with war on terrorism or siding with the Saudi government against its people. The Saudi people are very astute; they could tell if the West is contributing to their oppression by collaborating with their repressive regime and its institutions, such as the Saudi Ministry of Interior.
Shopping for a Spine Butcher
Director’s Comment: A presiding Saudi judge is shopping around for a hospital, willing to cut a sentenced man’s spine in half in accordance with Islam’s Shariah law, practiced in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is the birth place of Islam and home to the religion’s holy shrines, that 1.5 billion Muslims face and pray towards five times a day. The Judge (Saoud bin Suleiman Al-Youssef), from Tabuk has been searching for a hospital that would agree to destroy the spine of Abdul-Aziz Al-Mutairi, aged 22, who was convicted of damaging another man’s spine in a fight two years ago. According to the attached article, the brother of the injured man said that his family “…would be ready to send the attacker abroad to perform the operation if it were not possible in the Kingdom”.
Human rights groups and even Saudi newspapers have documented accounts of Saudi courts, which have ordered for individuals to have their teeth smashed, their eyes pocked, limbs and heads chopped off, in the designated “chop chop” public squares. The latter is a common ritual after Friday prayers in Saudi Arabia.
It would only take a Royal Decree, not only to put an end to arbitrary Saudi court abuses, but to reform Islam to make it compatible with globalization, democracy and modern living. A great deal of resentment by non-Muslims and Muslims is directed toward the way Saudis practice and use Islam as a tool of oppression, discrimination, incitement and intolerance of other beliefs and their adherents.
The question is: why should Muslims be surprised, incensed or feel the world does not understand Islam, if the practices of stoning women to death or beheading Muslims who open up to other beliefs, persists?
What should the US Government do about cases like this and others, such as the gang-raped 19 year old Saudi woman Bint Al-Qatief, who was sentenced to flogging for being seen sitting in a car with a man not related to her? Nothing, said former national security advisor Fran Townsend, during an interview on CNN. Ms. Townsend is now a partner at former Secretary of State James Baker’s law firm, with an office in Saudi Arabia.
Hammering Nails into Her Bones
Director’s Comment: Due to total absence of codified and institutionalized rule of non-sectarian laws applicable uniformly to all citizens and residents of Saudi Arabia, horrendous crimes against dependents (children and wives) and defenseless expatriates, especially housemaids (modern slaves) occur frequently. The cruel punishment of this unprotected Sri Lankan maid is not isolated or least severe according to personal accounts made available to CDHR and other groups.
The fate of the estimated ten million migrant workers (mostly Asians), in particular house servants, is determined by their employers whose rights are determined by the government’s pre- modern judicial system. This is the same judicial system that hands down harsher punishments to gang-rape victims (see Bint Al-Qatief) than to their rapists. Defenseless maids, family drivers and other expatriate laborers in Saudi Arabia rarely report the heinous crimes in fear of losing their jobs and/or of deportation, and when they do their employers (masters, owners) are hardly punished for their crimes, especially if the victims are non-Muslims. The pre-ordered expatriate laborers are treated as hostages, their passports are confiscated by their employers upon their arrival to Saudi Arabia and they cannot move, mingle with others, or communicate with their families without their employers’ permission. They are not paid regularly and some of the maids are on duty 24/7.
Not only are the unlucky expatriates mistreated by many of their employers and even more so by the arbitrary Saudi sectarian judicial system, but they are also ignored by their own governments. This is due to the Saudi government and its businessmen’s heavy-handed financial influence on those governments and their businesses. The expatriates are not only forgotten and ignored by their governments, but also by the UN, the World Trade Organization (WTO), migrant workers’ agencies, labor unions, Saudi Western democratic allies and all Arab and Muslim institutions in the West.
When it comes to the Saudi government’s domestic and foreign policies, as well as their practices and thereof repercussions on the Saudi people and expatriates, everyone looks the other way.
The Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (CDHR), calls on the migrant workers’ agencies, international labour unions, the World Trade Organization, human rights groups as well as decent peoples and governments, to stand up and expose the rampant abuses of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia.
Unabated War Against Saudi Women
Director’s Comment: In their undiminished insistence that the country’s wealth, decision-making and governorship remain property of the ruling family and its theocratic partners, any meaningful reform in Saudi Arabia will remain aesthetic. The recurrent tactic has been to pre-design royal decrees that sound liberal to the public, but are sure to be rejected by the religious establishment and its royal handlers, such as Princes Naif and Salman. The king consequently benefits of a favorable public opinion, despite the fact his highly praised reform efforts remain “ink on paper”, especially when it comes to women’s rights.
Case in point is a recent decision taken by the Panda supermarket chain, to hire 16 women cashiers in a store in Saudi Arabia’s most liberal city, Jeddah. Members of the religious establishment immediately protested against the company’s decision. They called it “ungodly” and urged people to stop patronizing the supermarket. Despite the fact that the women were covered from head to toe (except for their eyes) and are only allowed to serve families, the store was empty of customers, and cashiers were sitting idol as of last reporting on August 31, 2010. Not surprisingly, there was no word from King Abdullah to support the supermarket’s decision to hire women cashiers or to instruct his religious zealot to quit harassing people.
These duplicitous political maneuvers employed by royals, usually result in an unfair blame of society for rejecting women. Religion is also blamed for denying women their basic citizenship rights. In reality, neither society and/or religion are responsible for denying women their natural and human rights to feed themselves and support their families. It is politics and the Saudi economy that are responsible for denying women their right to work. Allowing women to work would challenge the country’s economy as well as its sterile, patriarchal ideology. These same policies exonerate the system from meeting its obligations toward all members of society.
The attached article explains the regime’s methods of playing genders against each other by blaming it on society, tradition and God.
"Shift in Arab Views of Iran?"
Director’s Comment: Anyone who is not aware of the realities in the Arab World, would think that Arab public opinion actually matters. It doesn’t. Arab public opinion, especially in Saudi Arabia, is shaped by institutionalized fear, intimidation, and swift reprisal if individuals deviate from what they have been fed by their mosques, schools and governments’ controlled media. In general, the only three things Arabs are relatively safe to express or fight over freely are: Praising their rulers, defending Islam and blaming the US and Israel for their staggering and homegrown political, social and economic ills.
The pollsters who collected the data specified below never asked Saudis or Egyptians how they feel about their ruling autocratic, theocratic dynasties and their oppressive policies. They never asked how Saudis’ and Egyptians’ perceptions of themselves, the West and the wider international community were formed. One can only hope, that decision-makers who read these polls, are both aware of the realities in the Arab world and the agendas of the pollsters themselves. The pollsters operate under the Saudi and Egyptian rules and close supervision.
“US to sell Saudi Arabia arms worth $60bn in biggest deal”
Director’s Comment: Despite spending tens of billions of dollars on military hardware and detective technologies during the course of the last fifty years, the Saudis have never fought a war, big or small, on their own in the past; nor will they dare do so in the future. To sustain a major regional war, i.e with Iran, would require citizenry support and participation. Citizens of Saudi Arabia would not, nor should they be expected, to lay their lives on the line for a regime they consider corrupt, archaic, and repressive. Consequently, the hereditary rulers will continue to rely on external entities to protect them from external aggression, domestic uprisings and from each other. In addition, the regime knows that engaging in real wars would expedite their downfall.
The pending $ 60 billion arms sale to the unstable Saudi monarchy, may help the US economy in the short run, but could boomerang for three major reasons. First, given the Saudi people’s sprouting, enigmatically ignored needs and skyrocketing expectations (in particular that of the youth, women and minorities), the Saudi regime’s stability is likely to erode regardless of how many arms and external protection the autocratic monarchs purchase. Long-term stability must be built within, on service to the population, rather than through a military muscle show. Secondly, the hi-tech hardware purchased could end up in the hands of the wrong people, including members of the ruling family who share extremist and terrorist groups’ objectives. Thirdly, the question to ask is, do we need the Saudi regime to get more leverage over our domestic and foreign policies, by investing even more in an already bloated defense industry?
The Saudi people have been warned about potential threats from Iran. They remain skeptical. For the past seventy years, they have been lied to and told that Israel is their mortal enemy, obstructing the transformation of their vast desert kingdom, from inhospitable sand dunes into a garden of Eden. To the monarchs’ and their beneficiaries’ discomfort, the Saudi people are slowly discovering that these narratives were just a fictitious ploy by their ruling autocratic and theocratic elites to deflect their attention from their homegrown social, political, economic, educational and religious ills. It would be revealing to find out how and where the majority of the Saudi people like to see their money spent. Would they want the oil bounty to be spent on arms purchase to protect the ruling family, or on repairing and modernizing their dilapidated infrastructure?
Based on what I know, they would happily choose the latter. Major Saudi cities don’t have sewage systems, reliable drinking water or electricity systems. In addition, city streets, businesses and residential areas are not even numbered. Modern streets, hospitals, sewage systems, and the like would do more for the poorly served Saudi citizen, than inordinately expensive fighter jets flying over their heads and deafening their ears.
Our government and other institutions should rethink focusing on short-term gains and invest in human development, prodemocracy movements, empowerment of Saudi women, promotion of religious tolerance, free press and modern institutions. The Saudi people, their perceptions, expectations, and demands are taking off in a full speed. The effectiveness of the sword and influence of prayer callers and fatwa issuers are slowly diminishing; yet the regime and its domestic and external beneficiaries continue to ignore the writing on the walls.
Governors, Beware of Saggy pants and logos
Director’s Comment: During his annual meeting with regional governors (all members of the ruling family), second Deputy and Interior Minster, Prince Naif, alerted the governors to pay special attention to the case of Saudi youth that wear their pants in a non-conformist style. As the man in charge of domestic security, he feels that some young Saudis have stepped out of the government’s dictated social conformity rules, by deviating from government’s enforced dress code.
The danger of permitting such behaviour might cause the youth population to become less obedient and enable them to start thinking out of the box. He warned parents to make sure their offspring behaved properly and encouraged the governors to find ways to keep the youth occupied. Naif among other recommendations, Naif instructed the governors to create regimentally controlled government clubs, which translate to close management of youth behavior and movements.
Incongruously, the saggy pants and logo wearers are the ones who defy and undermine the power and dictate of the religious extremists and their rejectionist ideology. Could it be that the ruling family feels safer with religious extremists than with a new a generation of globally minded young Saudis who are open to new ideas, lifestyles and acceptance of other peoples’ values and contributions? Ask educate and prodemocracy native Saudis and the answer will be unequivocally yes. Something to think about and re-evaluate.
Caveat to Muslims in the West?
Director’s Comment: A resounding majority of the British population (75%) believes that “Islam is negative for Britain.” This sentiment is not confined to the British. We are witnessing unprecedented movements across Europe, against the infringement of Muslim culture, religion and dress code on European societies. Europeans and outspoken Americans are taking actions to ban Muslim cultural encroachment on their lives and on their democratic values. Blinded by their small victories and perceived religious supremacy, Muslims in their homelands and in other parts of the world, do not seem to take notice of other peoples’ impatience with their unsolicited way of life.
Historically, when a society feels threatened by external enemies or by a segment of its population, it can be mobilized to do horrendous damage, to that segment and to itself in the process. Recent history is replete with vivid examples. Muslims in the West are seen as a threat to Western culture, way of life and economic stability. In a scientifically based survey taken by the Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA) -a Muslim polling entity- found that their religion and its adherents are immensely resented in the United Kingdom. The poll revealed that a staggering 94% of British citizens see Islam as a repressive religion, especially for women. The surveyors, like most Muslims, attributed this negative view of Islam and Muslims, to non-Muslims’ misunderstanding of their religion. iERA's senior researcher Hamza Tzortzis said, "We wanted to do something positive with the survey results rather than just say, 'It's so sad'. So, the organisation's strategy is to give a n ew realm of possibility for people to comprehend Islam, have a proper respect for Islam and see the human relevance of the faith."
The question is: what do Muslims want non-Muslims in Britain, America and the rest of the world, to know about Islam that could change their negative views of Islam? Based on what non-Muslims see on the news, experience and hear in the streets, in mosques, in Muslim schools in Britain -let alone in Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia- the overwhelming majority of the British (77%) do not want to be associated with Islam. Unlike most Muslims, the majority of Westerners relate to each other through social interaction, merits, common values, tangible contributions and tolerance of differences. Most Muslims, relate to others through religious orientation.
For non-Muslims, religions are private theologies, whereas for Muslims, religion is more than a private belief system; Islam is a way of life that governs every aspect of Muslims’ lives, including their behavior, relationships and perceptions of themselves and the world. The Saudi government for instance, the world’s most influential exporter of repressive Muslim ideology, uses Islam’s religious tenets as the country’s constitution and law. Simultaneously, Saudi Arabia has been rated one of the most authoritarian regimes in the world. Is it any wonder the West wants to prevent Islam from taking root in their democracies?
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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