Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, Washington DC
December 21, 2011
CDHR's Commentary on Current News and Developments
Saudi Response to Arab Uprising
The World needs Islamic guidance” Says the King
CDHR’s Commentary: In a speech read on his behalf at an influential Muslim scholars' conference in November 2011, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia sounded self-assured that “Only Islam’s mercy, light and guidance can provide people with a way forward in life and toward the Hereafter.” The King went on to implore all Muslims to convince non-Muslims to come to and embrace the Muslim faith [i.e., the Saudi brand of Islam, Wahhabi doctrine] because he inexplicably believes that non-Muslims are in need of redemption and “Islam, with its comprehensive divine values and a balanced view of life, is alone capable of rescuing humankind from its current behavioral predicament…”
The King reminded Muslims that it’s their obligation to convert non-Muslims to Islam, “The Muslim Ummah has a responsibility to call people to Islam through its Da’wa work around the globe.” Perhaps King Abdullah is not cognizant of the fact that he is presiding over one of the most religiously oppressed and least politically free countries on earth. Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam, home to its two holiest shrines, the Quran is its constitution and the Shariah is its law. In other words, Saudi Arabia is ruled in accordance with Islamic teachings, laws and commands, as interpreted by the Kingdom's Hambali/Wahhabi “religious” men.
King Abdullah’s well-timed and pointed plea to the 1.5 billion Muslims during their holiest occasion, the annual pilgrimage rituals, and its far-reaching implications never made it to Western news outlets, despite the fact that the West is his target. One would think that King Abdullah is asking Muslims to perform the impossible given the current slaughtering of Muslims by other Muslims, but he is not. Millions of people around the world are economically hurting, vulnerable and looking for solutions from any source, specially the divine ones.
It is not accidental that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, particularly in Western societies where the overwhelming majority of the populations see Islam as a belief, not as a domineering value system that controls every aspect of its adherents’ lives, perceptions and relations with non-Muslims. The majority of Muslims have been brainwashed into believing that the rule of law, freedom of choice and individual liberty are antithesis to divine laws, therefore blasphemous.
King Abdullah's call on Muslims to spread Islam and its Shariah law must not be taken lightly. He is the “Custodian” of Islam’s two holiest shrines in Mecca and Madina to which most of the world’s 1.5 billion poverty stricken, oppressed and indoctrinated Muslims look for guidance, instructions and money. It would be naïve and myopic to think that the King’s call would fall on deaf ears as many in the West seem to think. After all, he is the absolute ruler of the most religiously and financially influential country in Arab and Muslim lands and beyond.
Prominent Muslim scholars from the prestigious Al-Azhar University and others have described the Saudi brand of Islam, Wahhabism, as enemy number one of Islam and Muslims. The former President of Indonesia Abdulrahman Wahid, a world renowned Muslim scholar himself, called on the international community to unite and defeat the Wahhabi doctrine because it poses a deadly threat to democracies and harmony among people. The West should listen and prevent Islamist ideology from taking root in Western societies, where it will result in social strife, divisions and conflict as is the case in many Arab and Muslim countries and communities.
Some argue that King Abdullah has made changes to rein in extremist activities. King Abdullah has removed a few clerics and some inflammatory phrases from Saudi schools’ text books, eliminated some terrorists in Saudi Arabia and convened interfaith dialogues. While these activities are considered reforms by some, especially in the West, others see them as deceptive window dressing to silence foreign and domestic critics of the debauched Saudi state- imposed doctrine, Wahhabism.
In reality, under King Abdullah’s leadership, Islamist religious fervor has been heightened as a result of implicit and explicit Saudi accusations that the West is engaged in a war against Islam. He has strengthened the Saudi clerics by making it illegal to criticize them domestically and has united Muslim countries, including Iran and Turkey, through the Organization of Islamic Cooperation which consists of 57 states and is headquartered in Saudi Arabia. Spread of Wahhabism throughout the world has been exponentially intensified under King Abdullah more than under any of his predecessors.
Islamists Have Nothing to Offer, But Religious Totalitarianism
CDHR’s Commentary: While there is legitimate apprehension circulating in the Middle East and around the world regarding Muslim parties wining preliminary elections in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, one has to listen to what the heads of these parties say. They are promising an end to corruption, poverty and oppression. These are the reasons that drove millions of people to the streets to risk their lives to rid their countries of oppressive despots who have subjugated them for decades. These Muslim parties’ fates will be the same as the ones they are replacing if they do not keep their commitments to the new generation of Arabs whose worldly aspirations and needs overcame their crippling fear of their states’ cruel police and security apparatus. It seems that many Western analysts and experts are overlooking an extraordinary factor when they write about or discuss the Arab Uprising even when facts on the ground contradict their abysmal forecasts.
All an astute observer has to do is to look at the freedom and justice seekers (men and women) facing states’ tanks and bullets in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. They are willing to pay the ultimate price to end centuries of religious and political totalitarianism. This new generation of Arabs who are tortured, shot at, killed, starved and incarcerated will not stop at anything less than liberation from the yoke of oppression imposed by the men and institutions that have coercively dominated their lives and livelihoods for decades and centuries. For the first time in their tumultuous history, the Arab people are looking inward instead of blaming outsiders for their systems’ gargantuan failures to meet their basic worldly needs.
Unlike the Islamists, the new generation of Arabs yearning for freedom did not have platforms to air their grievances until now. They discovered that freedom is not free and decided to create platforms from which they can make their voices heard and their needs met. Tahrir (liberation) Squares are the new platforms where they can force whoever wins elections and rules think twice before going against their demands for better governance that works for them instead of enslaving them.
What the Arab masses, rich and poor, are fighting and dying for is above and beyond what the Islamists are capable of offering: liberation from all forms of dictatorship, especially oppressive religious taboos and the imposition of stifling doctrines. One can learn a lesson from the Iranian masses’ support for the Islamists Revolution in 1979, until they discovered the Mullahs for who they really are: Power seeking hooligans. The Arabs, especially liberals, youth, women and minorities, in Tunis and Egypt are already engaging the Islamists politically and in some cases physically over their political future. At the end of the day, the freedom fighters will win, especially if they receive genuine support from the West which has thus far taken very cautious measures in selective places and continues to support tyrannical systems in places like Saudi Arabia and other small but wealthy Gulf states which finance Islamists and anti-democracy groups in Arab and Muslim countries and the international community, especially the West.
The Tehran Theocratic Mullahs’ Loathing for “The Great Satan” and Its Saudi “Puppets”
CDHR Analysis: There is nothing that the theocratic Mullahs in Tehran would rather do than tarnish the absolute Saudi monarchy’s image and render insignificant its leadership among Muslims and within the international community. It is a well-known fact that these last two tyrannical Muslim regimes are competing for Arab and Muslim leadership in the hope of securing global recognition and legitimacy for their draconian rule at home. In addition, the cruel Iranian regime will stop at nothing to drive a bigger wedge between the absolute Saudi monarchs and their most important protecting ally, the US. However, plotting to attack the Saudi embassy in Washington and kill its hundreds of personnel including King Abdullah’s yes-man ambassador will back fire in a way even the vicious Iranian regime is not suicidal enough to undertake.
The similarities between the autocratic and theocratic regime in Tehran and their counterparts in Riyadh are well known. They are anti-democracy, anti-women, anti-non-Muslims, anti-human rights and share a common objective of ridding Arab and Muslim countries of Western influence so they can continue to oppress their people in the name of God and Shariah law. Both foster, export and finance extremist and terrorist groups in order to spread their influence and extract concessions from Western governments as the Saudis did with Britain regarding Arms Sales’ bribery in 2008. Knowing that Tehran’s despots and their counterparts in Riyadh are brimming with hate for the US and Israel as well as for each other, it should not be surprising, albeit unlikely in this case, that someone in Tehran would attempt to hire assassins to hit a small Saudi target, especially in the West. The theocrats in Tehran are vying for a leading role among Muslims; and bullying their Saudi competitors along with their US ally would enhance the image of the Iranian regime among many Muslims regardless of religious differences.
Like the Saudi royals (recall King Abdullah's urging President Obama to "cut the head of the snake”), the tyrannical regime in Tehran wants to drag the US and/or Israel into a prolonged war in an Arab or Muslim country so it can convince the rest of the mostly poverty stricken and marginalized Muslims of the “Crusaders’ war” against Islam and Muslims.
Even harsh critics of Arab and Muslim ruling hooligans’ politics and practices would find the Justice Department’s alleged Iranian escapade to be unconvincing, especially at a time when the Iranian regime knows misbehaving could generate a crippling military response by a combination of regional and international coalitions. The Tehran theocrats are vicious, but not suicidal.
“What Do Saudi Women Want?”
CDHR Analysis: Saudi women want the most basic rights: recognition as full human beings, full citizenship, financial independence and the right to move freely. With gargantuan respect and admiration for Ms. Eman Al Nafjan’s intelligence, courage and struggle, I beg to differ with some of her insinuations that the majority of Saudi women prefers to live under what amounts to a modern slavery system. I agree with Ms. Al Nafjan that many women (and men) in the motherland remain nostalgic for their past and fearful of what’s denied to them. I disagree that the majority of the severely disenfranchised population, especially women, would not appreciate something better than living under institutionalized discriminatory and intimidating policies, harshly enforced by a system whose hegemonic survival depends on dividing, conquering and ensuring the population's dependence on handouts and omnipresent fear of God, whipping sticks and the sword. Like any people, if Saudi women and men have free cho ices based on facts and knowledge of better alternatives, the overwhelming majority is more likely to denounce every aspect of their rasping culture, distorted religious teachings and suffocating social and political arrangements.
The Saudi people can learn, think for themselves and distinguish between the good, the bad and everything in between. They can change and in due time embrace values that are the antithesis of what they have been programmed into believing are supreme to all other values, especially those of the “infidels," which most educated Saudi men and women strive to attain. This is evidenced by traveling Saudis, most of whom cannot wait to board a plane and strip off their suffocating and unsightly attire and to slip into the outfits people they have been told are dirty, unethical sinners and hell-bound blasphemous unbelievers.
I agree with Ms. Al Nafjan and millions of Saudis and other Muslims that religion has been used as a tool of oppression, discrimination, segregation and intolerance against those who think out of the box, as well as non-Muslims and Muslim minorities. This is why many Muslims are not only questioning the authenticity of their faith, but severely criticizing it and many are leaving it altogether. The quandary is not that Saudi women and men cannot labor for, embrace and appreciate independence, self-reliance and liberation from the yoke of political, social, sexual and religious totalitarianism, it’s the system under which they are forced to live and coercively obey. All the people need is freedom of choices to venture into the unknown, explore their untapped potential and put them in good use for themselves and for their influential country.
What needs to be done to alter for the people of the motherland, including those who rule, is a re-interpretation of Muslim textbooks, leaving religion to the individual, transforming all institutions to meet people’s needs now and installing an accountable and transparent mechanism whereby the people are in charge of their country’s safety, prosperity and destiny. This will take time to blossom, but the time to start is now before violence becomes the only hope for people to realize their dreams and become the authors of their fate.
Finally and based on first hand experiences, I found Saudi women to be the most resilient people I have ever met, worked with, befriended and watched since I was a child in the oppressed southern region of the vast land of Arabia. Sadly and inexplicably, the theocratic and autocratic iron-fisted ruling men are not taking notice of the people's aspirations and based on their history and state of mind they are not likely going to change until they have no choice. By then it will be too late for everyone as this article concludes.
Women Driving Will End Virginity in Saudi Arabia
CDHR’s Analysis: The most offensive new charade to justify barring women from driving was issued by the religious wing of the Saudi ruling men recently. It stated that, “Within 10 years of the ban being lifted… there would be ‘no more virgins’ in the Islamic kingdom.’ To augment its tradition of denigration of Saudi women, the religious establishment’s report went on to say allowing women to drive will ‘provoke a surge in prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce’. This accusatory and repugnant declaration by the Saudi government’s religious establishment is designed to debase Saudi women, maintain man’s domination over every aspect of their lives and turn people against each other as they do by turning the majority Sunni Muslims against their brothers and sisters religious minorities. All is done because God and Islam demand it according to the Saudi High Religious Council.
Prior to and during the early days of the establishment of Islam some 15 centuries ago, women in the vast and inhospitable Arabian deserts were free to travel, work with men in farms, herding and grazing animals, harvesting and selling their goods in communal markets and most of them barely covered most of their bodies. Incomprehensibly, 15 centuries later, Saudi women are not allowed to travel, seek jobs, go to schools, obtain life-saving medication or give birth to babies in hospitals without male (male-guardian) permission. They are prohibited from mingling with men (publicly or in the work place), they cannot choose their spouses, practice law in courts or vote in cosmetic municipal elections. They are the only people on this planet that are barred from driving despite the fact that many Saudi women are doctors, scientists, brain surgeons, professors, businesswomen and pilots. However, there are limits to how much people can endure.
The Saudi women are fighting back in all fronts, especially for their most basic right: free movement. In recent years, many Saudi women have been challenging the system’s nebulous policies and futile reasoning for denying them the right to drive. Their demands to drive draw domestic and international attention and support, consequently severe reprisal by their insecure government, including imprisonments, intimidations and threats to some of them, their families and their supporters. The regime, through its religious establishment, is resorting to the most abhorrent and insulting reasons to perpetuate its repression of women as this article indicates.
Crown Prince Nayef -- The next Saudi King?
CDHR’s Analysis: A shadow has darkened prospects for democratic reform in Saudi Arabia with the announcement that the most envied, loathed, and feared man in the country is now heir to the throne. Unless the present king, the elderly and ailing Abdullah, outlives him, the newly named Crown Prince Nayef – himself in his late 70s – is likely to preside over an even more repressive kingdom than Saudi Arabia already is today.
Unpopular domestically, regionally, and globally, Nayef is known for his heavy-handedness, his unequivocal support for the religious establishment, his objection to judicial and political reforms, his opposition to the rights of women and minorities, and his control of the entire Saudi security apparatus.
The Libyan people's appreciation for Sarkozy and Cameron should have sent a clear and chilling message to the remaining Arab autocracies like the Saudi royals. Not only should Arab dictators be worried about their people’s hunger for freedom, but the recipients of Arab regimes’ largess in the West should rethink their allegiance to an irreversible fading era in the Arab world. Arab regimes’ apologists in the West continue to insist that most Arabs and Muslims are content to be semi slaves to their religion, culture and their absolute rulers.
Despite all this, and because of the challenges facing the Saudi regime at home and abroad, King Abdullah and some senior members of the ruling family deem Nayef to be the right man to rule Saudi Arabia next. President Obama, too, issued a positively laudatory statement—“I congratulate King Abdullah and the Saudi people on the selection of Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz as crown prince. We in the United States know and respect him for his strong commitment to combating terrorism and supporting regional peace and security”—even though Prince Nayef is reported to have refused to cooperate with the FBI after the 9/11 attacks on the United States and still insists that those attacks were caused by a Zionist conspiracy. Needless to say, Nayef has never declared his support for the Arab Peace Initiative with Israel.
For the West and other major oil-consuming countries, stability in Saudi Arabia, still the largest oil exporter, supersedes all other considerations, regardless of the price and who must pay. Any major disruption in oil production and shipment from Arabia could create global economic havoc with unmanageable consequences. This situation will continue until a reasonably priced alternative to oil is available.
What is being myopically overlooked, however, not out of ignorance but out of disconcerting necessity, is that Nayef’s ascent to the throne could expedite the very instability in Saudi Arabia that so many are hoping to avoid. If he becomes king, Nayef will preside over a fast-changing and restless society that is less fearful of authority than in the past. Nonstop, lively exchanges on social media show that the Saudi people expect the worst under his reign. The majority of the Saudi people, like other Arabs and people everywhere, yearn for an alternative to their oppressive regime and its outmoded, unresponsive, and dysfunctional institutions. It’s estimated that between 60 and 70 percent of the Saudi population is less than 30 years of age and that over 40 percent of men and women in the 20-24 age group are unemployed. This is a ticking time bomb. Government handouts will not silence these people for long.
Even if Nayef is sufficiently ruthless to guarantee his family’s safety, keep its unruly members in line, and maintain stability for a time by sheer force, he may still be the least suitable man to rule Saudi Arabia in a period of escalating demands for change. These demands come from a generation that is disconnected from the world Nayef and his aging brothers were born into and live in still. Nayef will strengthen the Wahhabi religious establishment to intimidate the populace and keep them in check, as he has always done. A more theocratic and dangerous Saudi Arabia is inevitable under Nayef. It will be partly the fruit of the West’s appetite for Saudi money and oil.
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