Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, Washington DC
March 12, 2012
Saudi Current News & Developments
CDHR's Commentary and Analysis
Saudi Women Have Had It
CDHR’s Commentary: Saudi women are gradually and irreversibly taking charge of their lives and livelihood. Having been denied their citizenship rights as equal members of Saudi society since long before the establishment of the Saudi state in 1932, Saudi women are saying "no" to institutionalized and severely enforced marginalization, oppression and neglect. They are the most vocal advocates for justice, equality, tolerance and inclusion. From demanding release of their loved ones from Saudi dungeons, to campaigning to hire women to sell lingerie in department stores, to removing of business wakil, to voting in cosmetic municipal elections and to the beating and (in some cases killing) of abusive husbands, Saudi women are revolting against an autocratic and theocratic chauvinist system and male domination.
One of the most brilliant and courageous actions taken by a large number of women to make their legitimate grievances heard took place on March 7, 2012, in Abha, the capital of the picturesque Asir region. In what seemed to be a well-planned and organized show of defiance, “the students of Abha girls’ college” carried out a major demonstration against disrespect by their teacher and dilapidated and unhealthy conditions of their college.” As usual a massing of the government’s security agencies, including the detested religious police descended on the college campus and tried to quell the “uprising” to no avail, at least for a while. “Fifty three (53) students were injured and transported to different hospitals in the region”, according to Saudi media reports.
Events like this Saudi women students’ demonstration would be a normal practice in most countries, but in Saudi Arabia this is a major, if not an earth shaking, undertaking, especially by women. As has been documented and condemned by the international media and human rights groups, Saudi Arabia is the only country where discriminatory policies against women are institutionalized and enforced by government agencies. Among the most well-known harmful government’s policies against women are denying them the right to drive, denying them freedom of movement without male permission (the denigrating male guardian system) and denying them economic opportunities, employment competitiveness and financial equality.
The Abha girls’ school is not the only women’s educational institution that lacks modern equipment, and a safe and healthy environment. Most Saudi girl’s schools are located in rented, neglected and unsafe structures. One would think the Saudi authorities would spend the people’s money on modern schools, hospitals, water treatment and better healthcare systems for all. Instead, the Saudi rulers and business people are investing in building infrastructure such as the proposed rail system to connect the Saudi state with Jordan and the rest of the autocratic Gulf monarchies as well as the proposed bridge to connect Saudi Arabia withEgypt.
The current Saudi government’s actions and policies in general, as well as Saudi males’ choking domination over women will only expedite what the regime is imprudently trying to avoid, a people uprising against their common oppressor as others in the region have done.
The Saudi Doctrine: A Lethal Threat to Freedom of Expression
Championed by the Saudi regime, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s UN Resolution 16/18 calls for any criticism of Islam to be criminalized internationally; harmless tweets are now grounds for torture and possible execution as evidenced by the arrest and deportation of Mr. Hamza Kashgari from Malaysia to Saudi Arabia to face charges of apostasy and blasphemy.
CDHR’s Commentary: The minute a harmless expression concerning the Prophet Mohammed was tweeted by a Saudi columnist and blogger, 23-year-old Hamza Kashgari (Hamza), thousands of angry responses called for his blood for the "crime" of "blasphemy and apostasy" which are punishable by death in Muslim Countries. Hamza's misfortune started when he tweeted a few messages explaining an imaginary conversation he had with Prophet Mohammed in which he told the Prophet, "On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you've always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you."
In non-Muslim countries, this would be considered personal opinion at best, or who cares, he is entitled to his personal opinion. Not in Muslim countries, especially in Saudi Arabia whose king and many of its population insist that Islam is the religion of peace, forgiveness and the only faith that can save humanity.
Within a few hours after Hamza’s tweets hit the social media, more than 30 thousand angry responses flooded internet chat rooms, websites and videos. Some Saudi clerics called for Hamza's execution and put bounty money on his head. Ironically, the very same clerics who demanded Hamza’s torture and execution for offending the Prophet Mohammed consider celebrating the Prophet’s birthday a sacrilege. They want people to celebrate and glorify the Prophet all the time, not only once a year. In addition, any celebration of occasions other than the two major Muslim Eids (Al-Fiter and Eldha, marking the end of Ramadan fasting and completion of the Hajj’s annual rituals) are considered Bid’ah, a novelty, or infidel’s tradition.
Realizing that his life was threatened, Hamza took the first flight out ofSaudi Arabia to seek asylum in New Zealand, a non-Muslim state in which freedom of expression and individual liberty are enshrined in a non-sectarian constitution. Unluckily for Hamza, he had to change flights inMalaysia, a country the West gullibly praises as a moderate Muslim state.
What Hamza did not know was that the Saudi authorities had called their counterparts in the Malaysian regime in Kuala Lumpur and instructed them to arrest and return Hamza to Saudi Arabia, where he will most likely be tortured, executed, or deposited for decades in a Saudi dungeon—much like Hadi Al-Mutaif of Najran, who at the age of 18 was sentenced to death for saying “pray on --" (one of the Prophet’s private parts). He was spared the death sentence because of global pressure, but incarcerated for 18 years, from 1994 to 2012.
It’s not a surprise that the Saudi clerics reacted with vengeance, that’s what they are paid to do. However, one would think by now that the Saudi people would have taken advantage of Hamza’s controversial tweets and engaged in constructive discussions about taboos imposed on them by their autocratic and theocratic rulers, who use religion to divide, oppress, segregate, control and exploit them.
What concerns us at the Washington-based Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (CDHR) is not what Hamza said, but his right to express his personal views freely. However, freedom of unfavorable religious expressions under the Saudi ruling family’s system is considered an insult to the state and its rulers. According to a royal decree issued by King Abdullah in April 2011, criticism of the royals and their clerical front men is forbidden -- which puts these exclusive rulers on the same footing as the Prophet.
The saga of Hamza and Malaysia’s decision to arrest a transient passenger and deport him to be tortured in Saudi Arabia must be taken gravely by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, as correctly noted by British blogger/columnist Andrew Brown: “The case of Hamza Kashgari, a young Saudi journalist who has just been deported from Malaysia to face trial on charges of blasphemy, is one that should frighten and disgust anyone who cares about freedom of speech or religion.”
As barbaric as it may be, torture and execution are common practices under the Saudi state’s Shariah law as evidenced by 79 executions in 2011 and 8 in Jan. and Feb. 2012--the year just started.
The repercussions of Hamza’s misfortune are dangerously multifaceted. The Saudi regime wants to remind its already subjugated citizenry that although they may run, they will have no place to hide, especially in Muslim countries.
The regime also wants to convince Muslims worldwide that the Saudi rulers are the only true defenders of Islam, especially at a time when Muslim parties are ascending to power in countries like Egypt andTunisia. The Saudi autocracies fear that these parties will overshadow them because they are elected by and accountable to the masses whose revolutions put them in power.
In addition, the Saudi autocracies want to remind the beneficiaries of their largess and nepotism, especially the 56 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), headquartered in Saudi Arabia, that far-reaching financial and religious measures will be applied if Saudi demands are not readily heeded as in the example of Malaysia.
However, the real target of Saudi religious and economic intimidation and blackmail are Western democracies, their institutionalized religious freedoms, and freedom of all forms of expression. This is what the OIC’s sponsored United Nations (UN) Resolution 16/18 is designed to accomplish: silence freedom of expression. It must be rejected by “anyone who cares about freedom of expression and religion.”
Contrary to its misleading tone and the disingenuous argument of its promoters, defenders, appeasers and apologists in the West, UN Resolution 16/18 (“anti-religion defamation”) is intended to criminalize freedom of speech and individual liberty, globally. The question that Secretary Clinton and her European counterpart (s) must ask when they meet with representatives of the OIC to discuss 16/18 is why criticism or defamation of religion leads to violence only by Muslims in and out of their lands of origins. If any more discussions of this anti-freedom-of-expression resolution are necessary, they must be held publicly so Muslims and non-Muslims can see and hear the damage 16/18 would do to them.
Finally, UN Resolution 16/18 is predicated on the August 5, 1990 Arab Declaration on Human Rights which unequivocally states that Shariah law supersedes all civilizational norms and universally accepted declarations on human rights: “Every man shall have the right, within the framework of Shari’ah, to free movement and to select his place of residence whether inside or outside his country and, if persecuted, is entitled to seek asylum in another country” (Article12.) This is proof that if it were not for Shariah law, Saudi writer Hamza would not have been arrested by the Malaysian bandits and sent to be tortured in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Government“…Promote the Values of Freedom, Justice and Equality?
CDHR’s Commentary: In a recent speech to a large gathering of Muslim representatives in Latin America and the Caribbean in Buenos Aires,Argentina, Saudi Deputy Islamic Affairs Minister Abdul Aziz Al-Ammaremphasized “… Saudi Arabia’s efforts to support Muslim minority communities in different parts of the world without interfering in the internal affairs of their countries.” What help the Saudi regime could possibly offer to Muslim communities in the Western Hemisphere that could improve their lives? Muslims in the West are doing extremely well in every sense of the word. Unlike the mostly oppressed people in the Muslim countries, Muslim communities in the West have religious and political freedom, individual liberties and economic opportunities that are superior to anything they had or dreamt of having in their countries of origins.
In fact, Muslims thrive in non-Muslim countries than they do in their own. This is because they are treated equally under the rule of non-sectarian laws that are applicable to all citizens and residents of Western societies. None of this can be said about any Muslim country, specifically Saudi Arabia where non-Muslims and non-Saudi Muslim communities have no right under the Saudi Shariah law. They are not even allowed to practice their beliefs nor do they have any protection from their Saudi employers’ abuses.
It’s well known that the Saudis hand out substantial sums of money to Muslim organizations, Mosques and religious schools throughout theWestern Hemisphere and the rest of the world. The Saudi regime’s very well designed strategy is to promote Islam, specifically its brand, the Wahhabi austere doctrine, through varieties of venues including businesses, mosques, embassies, prominent educational institutions, Islamic schools and interfaith dialogues. The objective behind the Saudi support for Muslim communities is deep and dangerous. They want to implant pockets of Muslims communities, especially in the West, who identify with Islamic teachings and traditions regardless where they live.
The Saudi strategy to empower Muslim communities in the West and elsewhere are handled by top Saudi government officials. In Feb. 2010, former Saudi Defence Minister, Prince Sultan summoned the most powerful princes, financiers and clerics including Saudi Foreign and Intelligence minister, minister of the treasury and a horde of clerics and other officials to his lavish palace in Riyadh and instructed them to increase their support for Muslim communities in their adopted countries. He told them those communities should be able to build or develop their Muslim identity within their areas of living.
Staying the Course is Unsustainable
CDHR’s Analysis: The Saudi regime continues to rely on obsolete methods of ruling their population at a time when domestic, regional, and global events and trends demand drastic restructuring of the dated Saudi social, economic, political, religious, and educational institutions. Despite its unprecedented income derived from high petroleum prices, Saudi per capita income is the lowest of all the Gulf Arab states. The country suffers from rampant corruption, especially at the highest levels of government. This is due to a total lack of accountability, transparency, freedom of the press, and the ruling family’s control of the entire national income and treasury. Unemployment among the youth, among men and women alike, remains very high because most of the jobs in the country, from hotel receptionists to high tech experts, are given to expatriates.
Saudi Arabia employs about 8 to 10 million expatriates, the overwhelming majority of whom are imported from poverty-stricken Asian countries and are willing to accept any compensation under severe, often inhumane conditions. The rest are technocrats who come to perform jobs the Saudis lack the proper training to undertake. This is due to a poor school system dominated by the religious establishment, which is opposed to non-religious education. In addition, the regime continues to emphasize nomadic and religious teachings and traditions such as King Abdullah’s brainchild, the lavish Al-Janadriyah annual nomadic festivals, and Defense Minister Prince Salman’s favorite project, memorization of the Qur’an, in which he personally pays cash prizes (“from his hard earned personal income”). The religious establishment, the long arm of the system, continues to issue fatawi against reformers and critics of the system’s anti-democratic policies and practices.
What seems to be incredibly lacking is a coherent and forward-looking leadership that realizes the Saudi people, especially the burgeoning youth population, are becoming more informed and sophisticated, and they are increasingly aware of their legitimate social, economic, and political rights as they compare their misfortune with the fortunes of their counterparts regionally and globally. For their own survival and for the country’s prosperity and stability, the autocratic and theocratic Saudi dynasties ought to wake up and see reality for what it is, not a desert mirage. The Saudi people are changing, the Arab World is changing, and the world is changing while the ruling Saudi dynasties continue to pursue policies whose time has passed many decades ago.
Due to its centrality to Islam and its possession of large but dwindling quantities of petroleum deposits—Venezuela has more oil reserves than Saudi Arabia now—stability and security of Saudi Arabia are of major concern to Muslims and non-Muslims. The Saudi rulers must change their pre-modern thinking, however, and realize that it is only a matter of time before their disenfranchised population will have no choice but to do what their counterparts in the Arab World did and are still doing. The Saudi population may take to the streets and rid themselves of oppression, corruption, marginalization, and usurpation of their basic rights.
There are a few doable steps that could easily be implemented immediately: free elections of the Shura Council, granting women their full citizenship rights (including an end to the destructive ban on driving), declaring the slave-like male guardian system illegal, allowing for religious freedom, and putting an end to press censorship. Opponents to these steps do not have to participate, but Princes Naif and Salman can easily convince them not to stand in the way, especially since the opponents to reform do so largely to show their support for the rulers’ wishes.
A Glaring Warning to Saudis
CDHR’s Commentary: While the killing of a Saudi diplomat, Khalaf Mohamamd S. Al Ali, in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, on Tuesday, March 6, 2012 may have been committed by a cold blooded thief, Saudi officials, businesspeople, and house-wives should take notice of this tragedy. There are hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi laborers inSaudi Arabia including family drivers, housemaids, ditch diggers, doctors, and engineers. Like most of the millions of Asian expatriates (many of whom perform cheap labor and live in conditions comparable to “modern slavery”), the Bangladeshis are treated contemptuously by their employers and even worse by government agencies, specifically the labor and judicial agencies. For example, “Saudi authorities beheaded eight Bangladeshi workers who were found guilty of robbing and killing an Egyptian man” in October of 2011. This cruel practice by far exceeded the code of Hammurabi’s severe punishment, "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”.
Not only do Bangladeshi laborers and their families have axes to grind against the Saudis, but so too do many of the liberal pro-democracy and non-sectarian citizens of Bangladesh. Saudi Arabia is known for its affiliation and support for the notorious Jamaat-e- Islami movement, which is active in Bangladeshi politics and has been tied to Al-Qaeda and other terrorist and extremist groups throughout the Muslim World and in the West.
Arabs, Muslims, and non-Muslims associate Saudi Arabia with religious extremism, suicide bombers, religious incitements, intolerance, and oppression of women and minorities. Wherever the Saudi people go, they feel negative vibes and receive unwelcome receptions, even from those who live off the Saudi government’s largess and profitable business dealings. Nowhere do such encounters happen more often than in airports, even among those in Saudi Arabia’s neighboring countries. This reality can be changed by the Saudi people. They can reject the religious extremists amongst them, restructure their institutions and embrace democratic and tolerant values based on human dignity, not race, religion, gender, or ethnicity.
“…no area better to excel in than the Holy Qur'an”
CDHR’s Commentary: Saudi children are pushed into competing in memorizing the Qur’an before they can understand what it means. The skillful memorizers are financially compensated by Saudi Defense Minister, Prince Salman. His objective is to ensure the continuity of the rule of his family, whose legitimacy and ruling longevity depend on Saudi Arabia’s austere brand of Islam known as Wahhabism. “Prince Salman’s award for the recitation of the Qur’an represents clearly the great effort in pushing young people and schools to focus on teaching verses from the holy book.”
Ingraining religion into children’s minds is a long-term investment for the ruling Saudi elites. Like Prince Salam, Interior Minister and Crown Prince Naif cannot imagine a country without adherence to a literal interpretation of the Qur’an and uncompromising enforcement of its tenets by his well-known, ferocious religious police. Questioned by a journalist in 2009, Prince Naif yelled, “The Kingdom is an Islamic country. Therefore, the Commission of Virtue Promotion and Vice Prevention will be present as long as Islam is present on the earth. The promotion of virtue and prevention of vice, in accordance with the Qur’an and Sunnah, is a major pillar of any Islamic country.”
These two princes now control the country’s external and internal defense and security. They may end up in the Saudi throne unless a palace coup d'état denies them that luxurious inheritance. Naif is the apparent successor to King Abdullah, and Salman is likely to be his Crown Prince. They are the last two members of the powerful Sudairi Seven, seven full brothers born of King Abdul Aziz’s favorite wife.
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