Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, Washington DC
July 27, 2011
Saudi Current News
CDHR's Commentary and Analysis
Saudi Response to the Arab Uprising
Anti-Terror Law or Re-enforcing State Terrorism
CDHR Comment: In March 2011, King Abdullah decreed a set of reforms aimed at preventing the Arab Uprising from spilling over to his kingdom. Intended to neutralize the dire threat posed by the Arab Uprising, these de-facto bribes included cash handouts, housing projects, an increase in the already oppressive security personnel and a prohibition on any criticism of the religious establishment and government officials (royals). These initiatives were designed to send a clear message to the Saudi people: there will be no “Arab Spring” in this kingdom. Recently, the regime announced an “anti-terror” law to reaffirm King Abdullah’s stern warnings in March.
Amnesty International, leaked a new Saudi “anti-terror law” which the organization, along with pro-democracy Saudi activists, consider a threat to freedom of public expression. The law would be another oppressive tool for the already absolutist regime. For example, Saudi courts are manned by King Abdullah’s religious extremist appointees, and the Kingdom’s “Basic Operating Law” which bestows all powers on the king and members of his family. The new “anti-terror law” is designed to strengthen the system’s already heavy-handed layers of security apparatus.
Adding more repressive laws is indicative of the ruling elites’ myopic vision and inability to realize the depth and potency of the growing domestic desire for democratic reforms, especially among youth, women and minority groups. Failing to acknowledge their people’s demands for democratic change will only increase public discontent. The ruling elites have failed to understand that their old ways of purchasing loyalty, intimidating dissidents, introducing harsher laws, issuing religious edicts, fatawi, and using external threats like Al-Qaeda and Iran have outlived their usefulness for the most part. Continuing this practice at a time of the unprecedented Arab Uprising against tyranny and corruption is indicative of the Saudi regime’s physical, mental, political, social and economic detachment from its society’s aspirations of liberty, accountability, equality and justice. Read Article
Saudi Top Spy Turns Muslim Evangelist
CDHR Comment: Mired in palace quarrels over who will be the next king and how to counter the unprecedented Arab Uprising, the Saudi ruling family is mobilizing its most outspoken and influential agents to remind its captive population of the supremacy of Islamic values over the man-made rule of law. The Saudi ruling elites are not only concerned with democratic uprising in their country but more so with democratization of Arab and Muslim countries.
In a recent speech (see link below-in Arabic) at Cambridge University, former Saudi top spy and ambassador to the US and UK, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, gave an unusual speech to a mostly non-Muslim audience. He declared that paying Bayaa, or divine submission, in this case to absolute monarchs, is the equivalent of voting in free elections in a democratic society. He went on to cite a saying attributed to Prophet Mohammed: “Those who do not pay allegiance to the ruler cease to be part of us.” Prince Turki was essentially implying that those who do not submit to the rule of the monarchy are heretics and therefore risk going to hell.
The prince proclaimed to his well-informed Cambridge audience that his country “is advancing and protecting men’s and women’s rights" and "that religious scholars, the Shurah council [appointed and powerless consultative council], the ruling family, tribal leaders, academic scholars, and businessmen are all part of the decision-making process in Saudi Arabia.” This is a false assessment because Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy. Saudi Arabia has been ruled by an autocratic and theocratic government since the founding of the state in 1932. Foreign and domestic polices, as well as the State budget, are solely determined by the king and a few of his senior brothers. The public plays no part in the decision-making processes in Saudi Arabia.
The Washington-based Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, CDHR, has argued for years that the Saudi autocratic monarchy has used religion to justify its draconian policies domestically, regionally and globally. Prince Turki’s speech bears testimony to his family’s use of religion as a tool to maintain control over its country, people, and wealth. This argument is shared by most Saudis. One would think that an educated and experienced statesman like Prince Turki would know not to assume that his audiences in and out of Saudi Arabia are naïve about the absolutist nature of the Saudi regime.
During his speech, Prince Turki declared that his government’s “overriding foreign policy is to avoid meddling in other countries’ internal affairs.” This statement defies well-known facts. The Saudi military presence in Bahrain, the harboring of the deposed Tunisian and Yemeni dictators, support for Hosni Mubarak to the bitter end, and support for the murderous Iraqi insurgents are facts that belie Prince Turki’s assertions. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia supports NATO’s operation in Libya, as well as Saad Hariri coalition in Lebanon—just to name a few instances of willful Saudi interference in other countries’ internal affairs.
Prince Turki’s claim that his government “is advancing men’s and women’s rights” contradicts the facts on the ground. Numerous accounts of gross violations of basic human rights in Saudi Arabia are well known and documented by credible human rights groups and government agencies, including the U.S. State Department. According to some Saudi rights activists and others, thousands of Saudi reformers and government opponents are languishing in Saudi prisons without charges or trials. In terms of women’s rights, Saudi Arabia is the only country where women are prohibited from voting and driving. The overwhelming majority of women are denied the right to work, participate in sporting events, such as the Olympics, and travel without a male guardian.
The questions that interminably repeat themselves are: How long will the Saudi authorities keep insulting their voiceless people by giving disingenuous speeches, issuing hollow royal decrees, and invoking religion to silence their critics? How long will the regime assume that its people are ignorant of the realities they see and experience on a daily basis? How long before the regime realizes that the use of religion as a means to rule and oppress its people has outlived its usefulness? How long will the people remain silent? Read Article
Regardless of How Good, They Are Not Good Enough
CDHR Comment: Women conceive men, incubate them for nine months, deliver, nurture, serve, and protect them, but when most men grow up in Saudi Arabia, they treat women with disdain. Contemptuous attitudes toward women in Saudi Arabia are shared by ruler and ruled alike. Disrespect for and discriminatory policies against women are institutionalized and enforced by the state. Saudi men are obsessed with and greatly fear women’s sexual indulgence and all the perceived shame which it inflicts on men’s honor, ego and chauvinism. Therefore, Saudi women are kept out of sight—even when they walk in the streets; they are disguised in disfiguring black garments.
Saudi women could be brain surgeons, lawyers, scientists, mathematicians, professors, first-class computer and petroleum engineers, bankers, pilots, authors, psychologists, political analysts or skilful media reporters; yet, they are treated as minors to be controlled by male relatives and the male guardian system. This social institution grants men total power over women in virtually all aspects of their lives.
The Saudi autocratic and theocratic ruling elites willfully misinterpret and exploit religion and cite nomadic tradition to justify their discriminatory policies against women. There is no country where women are more marginalized than in Saudi Arabia. This unnatural, inhumane and destructive practice is the reason that Saudi Arabia lacks a productive indigenous work force, social justice, a modern and fair judicial system, human development, and scientific advancement. No society in human history has ever progressed with only half of its population.
Preventing Saudi women from contributing to their lagging society is bankrupting the country, strengthening the hands of religious extremists and terrorists, and posing a mortal threat, not only to the progress and unity of Saudi Arabia, but to the international community. Supporting Saudi women’s right to full equality and participation in the decision-making processes is in the best interests of the Saudi people, Muslims, and the international community.
Presently, a new generation of educated Saudi women is taking the lead in ridding themselves of the yoke of economic, political, and social injustices. They are actively defying religious terrorism of which they are the brazen target. They are demanding their rightful place in a society which calls for the right to drive, the right to manage their businesses, the abolition of the primitive and denigrating male guardian system, and full employment opportunities which could provide financial independence.
The international community, especially Western democracies, ought to see the positive outcomes of empowering women in Saudi Arabia. Given Saudi Arabia’s centrality to Islam, the benefits of empowering Saudi women will resonate throughout Muslim communities worldwide. Read Article
Their First Choice is to be Productive and Self-Reliant
CDHR Comment: As the attached survey shows, Saudi women do not want rich husbands or to start families. Instead, they want to work, become productive citizens, and be free from financial dependence on men. These are basic life demands that are normal for all societies, except in Saudi Arabia. One might ask why Saudi women are not allowed to work, feed themselves, contribute to society, and determine their own destinies. The answer is simple and age-old: divide and conquer. The Saudi ruling elites’ very survival depends on dividing society along religious, gender, regional and ethnic lines.
In addition, by rendering half of Saudi society third-class citizens (or nonhumans in some cases) and hiding them behind high walls and faceless black garments, the system exonerates itself of half of its obligations to its citizenry. Furthermore, if women were allowed to work, they would likely form unions and demand better healthcare, pensions, public transportation and a definitive voice in the decisions that affect their lives and livelihoods. They would also interact with male coworkers, debate important issues—like the legitimacy of the Saudi monarchy—and form civic bonds. These are the main reasons why the autocratic Royal Family continues to stifle the will of Saudi women. It is not religion or tradition that causes the marginalization of the overwhelming majority of Saudi women; it is pure politics and economics. Read Article
The People of Najran: Condemned for Their Religious Beliefs
CDHR Analysis: Tucked in a historically and agriculturally rich valley on the southernmost border of Saudi Arabia, Najran is Saudi Arabia’s first line of defense against Al-Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), drug and gun smugglers and the inevitable overflow of the Yemeni Uprising. Historically, Najran is an ancient and religiously revered region. It is the home of Al-Khadoud, a city said to have been built by Queen Sheba herself during her journey from Yemen to visit King Solomon in Jerusalem. The people of Al-Khadoud are even mentioned in the Quran, as Ashab Al-Khadoud. Some portions of their dwellings can still be seen within a fenced area of Najran proper. For fear of attributing the marvel of the historical underground city to Christians or Jews, both of whom used to dominate the Arabian Peninsula before the introduction of Islam in the seventh century, Saudi officials have restricted excavation of the site, especially to Christian and Jewish archeologists.
Known for their loyalty to the Saudi ruling family and for their fierce defense of their land, the estimated 500,000 people of Najran are condemned by their government, its religious establishment and sadly by most of their compatriots. Why? The people of Najran do not adhere to the state’s imposed, austere version of Sunni Islam, which the majority of the Saudi people practice. The people of Najran are of the Ismaeli religious orientation, an offshoot of Shi’a Islam. As a result, they are considered heretics by their government and its dangerous Wahhabi religious extremists. Like their counterparts in Eastern Saudi Arabia and the Medina region, the people of Najran are officially barred from holding most government positions, especially in the judicial system and the public schools. They cannot be teachers or judges.
Despite its vital strategic location and its people’s loyalty to country and government, Najran is among the least developed regions in Saudi Arabia. Its healthcare, educational, irrigational and economic infrastructures are inferior in quality and quantity to other regions of comparable size, even those which lack the strategic significance of Najran. Saudi officials and their Western allies are convinced that the immediate threat to Saudi stability is more likely to come from across the Yemeni border.
One would think that the threatened Saudi absolute monarchy would work tirelessly to modernize Najran, take special care of its residents, and grant them autonomy over their religious, educational and judicial affairs. This would be a pragmatic and prudent move that would help ensure a base of popular support in a country where the government is fast losing legitimacy. However, the Saudi regime shows no signs of changing its current course. On the contrary, it forces the people of Najran to seek support from others and then accuses them of being agents of foreign entities, such as Iran. One area which the Saudi government needs to repair is the court system in Najran. Like the rest of the country, Najrani courts are staffed by inflexible Sunni religious judges who consider the Ismaeli people of Najran heretical. Due to this prejudice, Najranis are often presumed guilty before they seek justice in the government’s courts.
One prime example of Sunni courts’ contempt for the people of Najran is the sentencing of an 18-year-old teenager, Hadi Al-Mutaif in 1994; he was accused of insulting the Prophet Mohammed. When he appeared before a judge he was deemed a deviant nonbeliever and sentenced to death by beheading. His family traveled to the King to beg for mercy and ask him to halt the beheading, which he did. That was almost 20 years ago, but Hadi still languishes in a filthy Najrani dungeon for saying something less harmful and insulting than was said by at least two clerics, neither of whom was imprisoned or even lost their government job. Psychology Professor Tariq Al-Habib once said that the Prophet had an inferiority complex and the well-known cleric, Shaikh Yousef Al-Ahmed, called for the destruction of Islam's holiest mosque in Mecca because it encourages gender mingling.
It is reported that Hadi decided to go on a hunger strike because he "prefers death to life in prison." The people of Najran are organizing a protest before the Saudi governor of Najran—a man who happens to be one of King Abdullah's sons. The Washington-based Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia is calling on all human rights advocates to expose the Saudi government’s unjust judicial system and its double standard of applying harsh punishments against law-abiding citizens simply because of their religious orientation.
Saudi-Pakistani Alliances Mean More Oppression and Support for Extremists
CDHR Comment: The Saudi regime’s mounting fear of domestic and external threats to its domain is now manifesting itself in intensified efforts to unite like-minded despots in pacts and in the reinforcement of old relationships. These maneuvers ensure support for its implicit policy to prevent or delay the Arab Uprising from bringing down its increasingly unpopular rule at home and weakened position abroad. The Saudi monarchy is embarking on an unprecedented campaign to forge alliances among Arab autocratic monarchies ranging from Jordan and Morocco to the rest of the oil-rich Gulf States' ruling dynasties. In addition, the rulers are intensifying their efforts to increase their influence on the 56 Muslim countries which comprise the Organization of Islamic Conference. The Saudi regime is also strengthening its bilateral relations with Turkey and especially Pakistan by investing heavily in major projects in both countries.
Since Pakistan became a state in 1947, the Saudis have had tremendous influence in the country, especially with its top military brass, but also with its prime ministers, presidents, religious groups and educational system. It has been reported that the Saudis financed the Pakistani nuclear program and may have procured weapons of mass destruction from that country—weapons which could then be loaded up on the missile which the Saudis purchased from China in 1987. These alliances may be designed to do more than just crush domestic uprising against the Saudi monarchs and neutralize Iran’s highly politicized threat to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States’ autocratic dynasties.
The Saudi regime has been engaged in uniting Muslims and Arabs for decades. The purpose of this strategic move is to rid Arab and Muslim lands of Western presence and influence which the Saudi regime views as a mortal threat to its draconian rule. No one should underestimate the Saudi regime's veiled intentions or overlook its strategic maneuverings. Read Article
Buying Sophisticated Military Hardware will not solve Staggering Saudi Problems
CDHR Comment: Procuring more sophisticated military hardware will not save Saudi Arabia from external threats nor will it muzzle the Saudi people's cries for political reforms, social justice, and an end to corruption, marginalization of women and oppression of minorities. The Saudi monarchs’ obsession with domestic security and their fear of foreign enemies supersede all other considerations such as focusing on the root causes of the problems that threaten the stability and security of the country, its people, and the monarchy itself.
Instead of addressing rampant corruption, attending to the concerns of youth and women, addressing modern needs and unemployment, and enhancing political participation and accountability—the very same forces driving the Arab Spring—the Saudi rulers are strengthening their oppressive state’s apparatus. They throw more people in prisons without charges, reinforce the ferocious and regressive religious establishment, and increase the number and power of the states’ repressive security personnel as decreed by King Abdullah in March 2011. Read Articles
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