Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, Washington DC
August 25, 2011
Saudi Current News
CDHR's Commentary and Analysis
Change is in the Air
Saudi King Calling on Syrian Dynasty to Reform or Face Extinction
CDHR Comment: After five months of a murderous campaign by the Assad dynasty against peaceful pro democracy protesters, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia issued a stern warning "To our brothers in Syria, Syria of Arabism and Islam: Peace, mercy and blessings of God be upon you: The repercussions of events in sister Syria resulted in the loss of large numbers of martyrs, whose blood was shed, and other numbers of wounded and injured. Everyone knows that every sane Muslim and Arab or others are aware that this is not of religion, values, or ethics. Today, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia stands before its historical responsibility towards her brothers, demanding the stoppage of the killing machine and bloodshed, use of reason before it is too late, introduction and activation of reforms that are not entwined with promises, but actually achieved so that our brothers the citizens in Syria can feel them in their lives as dignity, glory and pride.”
Despite the King’s use of carefully chosen religious vernacular (“martyrs…every sane Muslim and Arab or others are aware that this is not of religion, values, or ethics”), the intent and tone of King Abdullah’s statement are more complex than they might suggest. He is sending messages to different audiences: Reassuring Sunni Muslims (the overwhelming majority of the world’s Muslims are Sunnis, most of whom resent Saudi doctrinal interference in their affairs) that the Saudi rulers are their saviors; weakening Iran’s influence in Syria, and by extension Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon; appeasing his source of legitimacy, the Saudi and other religious extremists; and maintaining the West’s support without which the absolute Saudi ruling dynasty would have been overthrown years ago.
As soon as the king’s statement hit the press, thousands of social media users in Saudi Arabia, the Arab World and globally started an intense discussion and exchange of sarcastic comments. Many of the comments ridiculed the Saudi ruler for advocating reforms in Syria while his government rounds up reformers and throws them in prisons for calling for peaceful reforms within Saudi Arabia such as a constitutional monarchy, the rule of law, an independent judicial system, women’s and minority rights, freedom of expression and tolerance of religious differences, just to name a few.
Commentators suggested that the absolute Saudi monarch was nudged by the US to lead an Arab condemnation of the Assad dynasty’s brutal campaign against its people. A good number of speculators believed the Saudi rulers waited until they saw who would prevail before they chose sides. Many others believed that the Saudi ruler realized that the Assads’ days are numbered and wanted take credit for being the straw that broke the camel’s back. The Saudi power wielders are duplicitously clever. Customarily, they support several major combatants in any conflict in Arab and Muslim countries until they figure out who would be their best pick or the least harmful to their interests. Other social media users assumed that it took the Saudis longer time to decide which side to support because of the complexity of the Syrian pro-democracy movement. Syrian society has long been divided along religious, tribal, regional and ethnic lines. However, these groups are now uniting in the pro-democracy movement. The movement includes the majority Sunni Muslims who are Arabs, Kurds, Armenians and others. In addition, 10 to 15% of the Syrian population is Christian many of whom are also part of the pro-democracy movement.
Despite the validity of the views expressed above, this observer of Saudi policy and political and strategic maneuvering holds an alternate view. The Saudi decision makers had hoped that Iran and Hezbollah, their major rival for regional political and religious leadership and influence, would send troops to aid their Alawite ally as the Saudis did in Bahrain. Such a move by Iran and Hezbollah would have given the Saudis, the US and the Israelis an excuse to retaliate against Iran and destroy its military infrastructure, especially its nuclear capabilities. To the disappointment of the Saudis, Iran and Hezbollah did not send any overt aid to the Assad regime. Therefore, one can safely assume that the previously discussed factors then came to the fore in triggering the sudden Saudi denunciation of the Assad regime’s brutality against the Syrian people.
In addition, the autocratic Saudi rulers are worried about facing the same fate as the Assad regime. They are counting on the religious, gender, ethnic and regional divisions they created and continue to re-enforce in order to control their disenfranchised population. However, having witnessed the unity and cooperation among the more diverse Syrian communities against the Assads’ brutal dictatorship, the absolute Saudi rulers realized that the Saudi people, regardless of region, religious orientations and ethnicity will unite against their common oppressor, the Saudi monarchy. Wouldn’t it be better to introduce reforms in Saudi Arabia “willingly” rather than “drift into the depths of chaos and loss?”e.
The Saudi Palace “Open Door” Tradition
CDHR Comment: Saudi journalist Athwan Al-Ahmari, an admitted recipient of the Saudi monarchy’s “open door” handouts, wrote an article (http://www.alwatan.com.sa/Articles/Detail.aspx? ArticleId=6760) in which he profusely praised King Abdullah for meeting with him and a few Saudi government students in Washington and treating them like his own children. Based on this meeting and on two other occasions, this journalist, like many domestic and foreign Saudi regime drumbeaters, present a distorted image of the Saudi monarchy’s “open door” tradition. The Saudi “open door” custom is a pre-modern nomadic tradition where tribal chiefs mediate conflicts and feed some of their followers in order to maintain mental and physical control and receive gifts from those who could spare some of their meager possession. The Saudi ruling family has continued and expanded on this paralyzing and addictive dependency on the men in power.
The Saudi kings and some members of their family designate certain times and dates when the most marginalized of their disenfranchised subjects can come to the royals’ gargantuan Majjalis and Ghoruf Ta’am (waiting and dining rooms) to eat, air their grievances, and plead for justice and handouts. When the royals make their grand entrance, the aggrieved subjects, exclusively male-audience, get up, form long lines, approach their host, and kiss his head, shoulder, hand, and occasionally knees. After this servile ritual is concluded, the distressed men hand him a piece of paper with their grievances. The host king or prince is normally surrounded with body guards, advisors and other onlookers, who take custody of the grievances, study the audience, and expedite the process. Most grievances relate to disputed properties, complaints of wrong judgments by the arbitrary judicial system, and unpaid small loans. However, the attendants are mostly supplicating for handouts.
Historically, chiefs, selected through tribal consensus, opened their tents to fellow tribal members to come for coffee, poetry contests, or to settle disputes over land, water wells, and stolen goats. The chiefs received gifts like sheep, horses, camels, milk, butter, dates, and other farm products for their services which included reconciling differences and solving small and large scale problems. The chiefs normally shared their gifts with the givers in a very clever manner. For example, the chiefs would kill a few sheep or a camel and invite the whole community to eat. The hungry guests saw this gesture as a generous offer by the chiefs even though the sheep and camels were previously given to the chiefs by some of the invitees. This voluntary and un-institutionalized tribal process worked well until the establishment of the Saudi State.
After the formation of the Saudi State, the king became the chief (Sultan) of all tribal chiefs and by extension their followers. The chiefs’ loyalties and responsibilities shifted from an informal local, social, and problem-solving arrangement to a policing system where the chiefs of the tribes became representatives of the central authority of the king and defenders of his interests and the security of his territorial sovereignty, the Saudi state. As time passed, the fabric that held the tribal communities together as a supportive and nurturing unit began to physically disintegrate at the local levels. The chiefs and their followers started to identify with the Saudi monarchs and their offspring and depend upon them for food, security, and problem solving. This process reduced the once proud and ferocious chiefs of Arabian tribes and their followers into helpless, child-like, and dependent subjects and the property of the Al-Saud family. The people of Arabia are the only people who are named after the family that tyrannically rules them. They are called “Saudis.”
The monarchs and their sons continued the tradition of open door rituals with an entirely different meaning and duplicitous agenda. They eventually opened their palatial and intimidating palaces to all the subjects of their kingdom some of whom would travel for days to seek the monarchs’ wisdom and handouts. The Saudi kings and many of their sons established the system of hand, shoulder, head, and knee kissing by their subdued subjects to ensure their total submission to him and his family. The king continued to moderate conflicts and maintained the power to enforce the royals’ supremacy and decisions regardless of whether the conflicting parties were satisfied with the result or not.
In summary, the highly praised and advertised open door tradition under the Saudi royals’ system is designed to ensure their subjects’ submission to the ruling monarchs and to make sure that the public never forgets who the masters and the servants are. Furthermore, the royals seek to demonstrate through this practice that they are the only ones who can provide justice even though their institutions are responsible for most of their subjects’ complaints and long-lasting denigration.
Saudis Find Solace in Seductive Soap Operas Not in Mosques
CDHR Analysis: Despite an intense campaign by Saudi authorities to re-enforce adherence to Islamic values, more Saudis are watching soap operas and other worldly dramas than going to mosque during Muslims most holy month of Ramadan (http://asharq-e.com/news.asp?section=7&id=26276). Spear-headed by King Abdullah and his top religious and government agents, the autocratic and theocratic Saudi regime is intensifying its customary efforts to convince the increasingly unreceptive Saudi population to follow the state’s imposed religious teaching and practice of total submission to the ruling family.
In light of the Arab Uprising, many Saudis are aspiring to a participatory political structure which their rulers argue is an unsuitable Western concept, therefore antithetical to Muslim belief. The cornerstone of this new and highly politicized anti-democracy campaign is King Abdullah’s gargantuan project (the largest to date) to enlarge Islam's holiest shrine in Mecca at a cost of 80 billion Saudi Riyals or $21billion (http://arabnews.com/saudiarabia/article491057.ece).
The King’s top religious authority, Mufti Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Al al-Sheikh, has declared peaceful protest by democratic reformers as un-Islamic, divisive, and a threat to the state, or in this case, the theocratic and autocratic ruling dynasties (http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2011/03/07/saudi-clerics-condemn-protests-as-un-islamic/). Another top religious cleric, Sheik Saleh Al-Fawzan, is inciting religious condemnation of Saudi men and women who are opposed to child marriages. He “…issued a religious ruling to allow fathers to arrange marriages for their daughters ‘even if they are in the cradle’. (http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/world/cleric-fights-ban-on-child-marriage/story-e6frf7lf-1226104619386). Even the former intelligence chief and ambassador to the US and UK, Turki Al-Faisal (King’s nephew), has been recruited to denounce those who do not “pay allegiance” to his family as non-Muslims (http://aawsat.com/details.asp?section=4&issueno=11910&article=630097&feature).
The intense, expensive and highly politicized religious fervor rehearsed and blasted through the Saudi state controlled media by the highest authorities in the land has been orchestrated in response to ominous external and internal developments. Externally, the Saudis are surrounded by contagious public revolutions against tyrannical and corrupt Arab regimes. Since the Saudi people suffer from the same social symptoms that sparked the unprecedented Arab Uprising, many observers are predicting that Saudi Arabia is ripe for political turmoil regardless of the Saudi royals’ massive monetary handouts and harsh reprisals against democratic reformers. However, the deadly threat to the absolute ruling Saudi dynasty is domestic.
Internally, a fast growing number of Saudis, especially among the social media generation, are more interested in seeking tangible, worldly rewards rather than going to mosque and being told how to live their lives. A recent (link above) report indicates that more Saudis are watching soap operas and other non-religious programs at times when they are supposed to be praying and/or fasting, especially during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. In other words, Saudis are spending their time in front of their TV sets, Satellite channels, or computers tweeting each other and the rest of the world about gender mingling, women’s right to drive, freedom of expression, corruption, and job opportunities, to name a few.
Until the advent of modern technology, specifically social media and satellite channels, many of the Saudi people had been isolated from each other and from the rest of the world. This was due to the Saudi regime’s heavy-handed censorship of information and destructive use of religion to turn their subjects against each other, non-Muslims, Muslim minorities (Shi’a, Sufis, Baha’is and Ahmadis) and other Sunni Muslims who do not adhere to the austere Saudi brand of Islam, Wahhabi doctrine. The tyrannous Saudi elites do not seem to understand that the world is not flat anymore and their people, especially the Facebook generation, are affected by global progress and events. In reality, an unprecedented number of Saudi citizens are realizing through that Islam has been used as a tool of oppression, denial, deprivation, and exploitation by their absolute ruling dynasty.
External Empowerment of Saudi Consultative Council (Shura)
CDHR Comment: A version of an ostensibly anti-terror law was leaked to Amnesty International (AI) on July 22, 2011 (http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/proposed-saudi-arabian-anti-terror-law-would-strangle-peaceful-protest- 2011-07-22) and was found to include sections that were designed to incriminate pro-democracy and human rights advocates and critics of the Saudi ruling family, as opposed to punishing hard-core terrorists. After a copy of the top-secret law was released by AI, the Saudi autocratic authorities were infuriated, blocked AI’s website, and denied the human rights group’s assertions that the law could be used to terrorize innocent people.
As it were, AI was correct in accusing the Saudi authorities, specifically the Ministry of Interior, of duplicitous intent. After the law was exposed and highly contested by Saudi human rights advocates and social media users, the Saudi government decided to send the law to the 150 appointed but powerless male members of the Consultative Council for further review. According to the attached article, the Council decided that the law could be used to punish anyone, especially those who call for reforms and increased protection from the Saudi government’s arbitrary abuses as they are enshrined in its Shariah law-based judicial system.
The moral of this comment is that, if it were not for AI’s exposure of the supposedly anti-terror law, the Consultative Council would never have seen it nor would its input have been sought by the Saudi power wielders. The question that the 150 appointed members of the Council should be asking themselves is: “Do we have real power to protect the people and their interests or are we being used by the Saudi theocratic and autocratic establishment to deceive the disenfranchised subjects and justify the government’s draconian policies against its voiceless citizens.
Maids Are Reacting With Vengeance
CDHR Comment: As documented by human rights groups in and out of Saudi Arabia, the estimated 10 million Asian and other non-Western migrant workers (some of whom are house maids or “modern slaves”) are frequently maltreated by their Saudi employers. These mostly overworked and underpaid laborers live in slum-like camps, often do not receive their salaries on time and cannot leave the country due to confiscation of their official documents by their employers (sponsors) upon their arrival in the country. The migrant workers are literally held hostage and have no recourse to seek justice other than the mercy of their abusive employers, or masters as employers are addressed by maids. Tragically, the maids and other Asian laborers receive no help from the embassies of their countries of origin in Saudi Arabia. This is due to the fact that the governments and businessesmen of their homelands are recipients of Saudi foreign aid and profitable business contracts.
Mistreated by their Saudi employers, denied recourse to seek justice when abused, and ignored by the governments of their countries of origin, some maids are reacting to their abuses with vengeance as evidenced by the murder of an employer and poisoning of another’s children*. The two examples cited on the attached articles are not the only reported cases, but the case of the beheaded 54-year old Indonesian maid, Ruyati Binti Sapubi**, is not only highlighting the abuses of the neglected migrant workers, but also impacting the most populated and tolerant Muslim country, Indonesia, and the least tolerant and most autocratic Muslim government, the Saudi ruling family. The Indonesian government and people were united in condemning the Saudi government’s secret beheading of Ruyati Binti Sapubi. The president of Indonesia wrote an angry letter to the Saudi king and relatives of maids in Saudi Arabia took to the street in front of the Saudi embassy carrying signs saying “Saudi Arabia enemy of humanity.”
The Implications of Norway Massacre for Muslims in Europe, Australia and the US
CDHR's Analysis: The massacre of innocent children and adults by Norwegian self-described nationalist, Anders Breivik, on July 22, 2011 rocked the national psyche of Norway, one of the world’s most tolerant and peaceful nations. The massacre caused horror and excruciating pain that parents and loved ones of the victims will endure for the rest of their lives. Furthermore, the tragedy created a new environment of fear, mistrust and suspicion among the indigenous Norwegians who began to demand tougher laws for terrorists. The recent tragic Norwegian experience also sent a clear signal to those who tolerate infusion of Islam, as an identity and value system, into Western secular societies.
However, no group should be more concerned about the reasons behind the carnage in Norway than Muslims in Western societies and their known financiers in Arab countries, especially in Saudi Arabia and other oil rich Arab countries. Anders Breivik and his Justicular Knights group are described as right wing nationalists, but to write them off as lunatics and unrepresentative of many people in Western societies is not only erroneous, but dangerous. They represent the sentiments, feelings and fears of millions of Europeans, Americans, Australians, and Canadians toward Islam as an identity and a value system. Breivik’s well-written and articulately detailed 1,500 page manifesto made it clear that his “mission” was to prevent the introduction of Muslim ethos to his country and the rest of Europe—a feeling shared by millions of Westerners, including secular people from Arab and Muslim countries, especially women.
Europeans see the introduction of the unsightly and disfiguring Barqa and Abayah, high-rising minarets emitting alien calls for prayer through deafening sound systems, and lines of Muslims rubbing their faces on the dirt while praying in the streets in Paris as unwelcome intrusions to their centuries’-old, established democratic way of life. They see Muslim immigrants’ condemnation of Western lifestyles and dress codes, gender mingling and interacting, consumption of alcohol and pork, and the practice of sex before marriage as an unacceptable infringement on their freedom of choice and individual liberty to be the authors of their lives, livelihood, and destiny.
One hardly hears any cultural or religious conflicts between Westerners and non-Muslim immigrants such as Buddhists, Jews, Sikhs and Hindus who have largely been able to preserve their traditions, but also assimilate within the established order of their new adopted Western countries. Ironically, most Arab and Muslim immigrants, rich and poor, leave their homelands because of social, political and religious totalitarianism as well as lack of economic and other opportunities unavailable to them in their tyrannically ruled societies.
One of many overriding fears of Westerners is the introduction of the Shariah Law and Shariah Compliance as well as Islamic Banking and judicial system which they see as threats to their free market system, non-sectarian democratic constitutions and bill of rights which protect citizens from government abuses and impositions of the wishes of a few autocratic and theocratic ruling oligarchies—as is the case in all Arab and most Muslim countries. Westerners compare their advanced social, political, economic, religious and scientific systems to those of Arabs and Muslims. Of all immigrants to the West, most Muslims seem to misunderstand the difference between preserving one’s personal attachment to old traditions and the use of those traditions to set them apart from the cultures, traditions, lifestyle and values of their adopted countries.
Unlike most Muslims, Westerners, Christians and Jews, believe in religious freedom regardless of beliefs and religious orientations. Therefore, it is not Islam as a personal belief, but rather Islam as a value system, which Westerners oppose. In view of the recent carnage in Norway and the reasons cited by its perpetrator, Muslim immigrants and citizens in countries where the majority of the population believes and lives differently than Muslims should wake up and take a solemn inventory of how the indigenous citizens view them, their cultural habits, and their faith as an identity and value system.
Separation between religion and state as well as freedom of religious expression are twin tenets enshrined in non-sectarian documents and protected by the codified rule of law in Western societies. Under the rule of law, individuals’ rights to choose the belief, lifestyle, and affiliations which they desire are guaranteed as long as they do not infringe upon the rights of others and are in accordance with the established laws. Sadly, none of these empowering values and freedoms of choice exist in Muslim and Arab countries. Not only do Muslim immigrants have difficulties embracing, paying allegiance to and abiding by non-religious based laws, but they then pass their value system to their children and grandchildren who were born in Western countries. This is partially the reason why American-born Muslims descendants join Muslim terror groups as in Somalia and Pakistan, for example.
Finally, had the recent carnage in Norway been committed by Muslims, especially in countries like in the US, Canada, England, Germany, France or Australia, severe reprisals against Muslims could have ensued. Given many Westerners’ heightened rejection of Islam as a value system and identity (not as a belief), it is only a matter of time before violent confrontation between citizens of Muslims extraction and native Westerners becomes a reality. Samuel Huntington saw it coming in his Clashes of Civilizations’ narratives 16 years ago.
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