Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, Washington DC
April 6, 2012
Commentaries and Analysis of the Saudi Current Scene
Public Demands Versus Regime’s Resistance
Defamation of Whose Religion?
CDHR’s Commentary: While King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is being lavishly praised for organizing international interfaith dialogues, he, his controlled media, the Saudi- based Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the highest Saudi religious authority continue to show utter intolerance of other faiths, especially Christianity. In a recent offensive response to a question by a Kuwaiti parliamentarian regarding building churches in the Arabian Peninsula, the Saudi Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh, was reported to have said that it was not only forbidden to build churches in the Arabian Peninsula, but the ones in existence must be destroyed.
While it is reported that the Saudi Mufti said there too many churches in the region, in fact, none exist in Saudi Arabia which occupies 70% of the Arabian Peninsula. It’s estimated that there are about 3.5 million Christians, mostly Catholics from the Philippines and India, among other nationalities working in the Gulf Arab countries. The Mufti ought to know that there are fewer churches in all of the Arab World than there are mosques in Michigan, New York and California, let alone London, Paris and Amsterdam, where Muslims practice their religious rituals openly and freely. They are also protected by the same laws that protect the overwhelming non-Muslim majority in those places.
The Saudi Mufti’s entrenched animosity toward Christianity and other faiths is not surprising. Based on his religious teachings, he believes Islam is supreme and other beliefs are blasphemous. Tragically, he reflects the overall sentiment in Saudi Arabia, especially among senior government’s official like Crown Prince Naif and Defense Minister Prince Salman. This is evidenced by the Saudi policy of the death sentence meted out to any citizen who chooses to convert to other religions.
What’s most disconcerting about the Mufti’s pejorative remark is King Abdullah’s total silence. As the ultimate authority in the country and the self-appointed reconciler among different beliefs, the King could have at least distanced himself from the inflammatory and violence-instigating comment by his country’s top religious representative. The reason the Saudi King did not do or say anything about the senior Saudi cleric’s dangerous remark is because he, like his religious establishment, feels Islam is superior and the only hope for humanity.
21st Century Versus the Age of Darkness
CDHR’s Commentary: This interpretive article shows what exists and has been in existence for centuries. Can the undeniable civilizational and cultural divides between authoritarianism in the East and individual liberty in the West be narrowed to the point where most Arabs change their perceptions of themselves, embrace freedom of choice and question the ultimate man's and religions' peculiar dictates (habits)?
I say yes. The process, albeit embryonic, has begun in the East. The West can supplement the unprecedented process by letting go of its unchanged images of Arabs, letting go of tyrannical Arab dynasties and allying itself with the new generation of aspiring Arab and Muslim women and men who crave freedom and die to liberate themselves from cultural and religious totalitarianism.
The Arab people’s Revolt of 2011 is a manifest example of what marginalized people are willing to do to change things for the better for themselves and by extension for the international community, especially democratic societies. Letting the Arab people's Revolt of 2011 expire in vain, derailed by political landlords or taken over by religious extremists would be a tragedy of disproportionate consequences.
15 Centuries Overdue, but Better Late Than Never
CDHR’s Commentary: After centuries of vilification of women as inferior and unworthy of respect, the desert men of Saudi Arabia are slowly inching toward recognizing that men’s fear of women (gynophobia) is an incapacitating ailment that has deprived Saudi Arabia of half of its citizens’ best brains and desperately needed contributions. The male Saudi’s fear of losing control over female women’s sexuality plays a detrimental role in male perceptions of and attitudes toward women. This tragic yet widespread national mindset explains why male relatives slash women’s throats if they indulge in sexual activities outside of marriage. Men are not subjected to this malevolence.
In some cases, women are gunned down if a male relative is informed that they have been seen talking to non-related males. They can be prevented from fleeing for their lives from burning schools if they are not covered in disfiguring black from head to toe. For the Saudi government’s paid religious police, the lives of schoolgirls are not worth saving if they might also expose their faces to strangers.
While this cruel punishment is practiced by individuals in other Arab and Muslim countries and is justified as defense of family honor (honor killing), autocratic and theocratic Saudi institutions encourage sadism against women from cradle to grave.
The institutionalized male guardian system (total male control over every aspect of female lives and livelihood), concealing women in black from head to toe, financial dependence on males, poor education, and denying women the right to drive, travel, or practice law in Saudi courts are some of the state's severe discriminatory policies and practices against women. These denigrating policies and practices translate into sanctioned male possession of women.
However, things are changing. Many women are taking charge of their lives and livelihoods. This transition from male domination to gradual but irreversible women’s liberation is due to the increasing number of educated women and the last ten years’ unprecedented exposure of the true nature of the Saudi ruling elites and their domestic policies against women. The global media’s extraordinary focus on the Saudi government and its institution can largely be attributed to the terrorist attack on the US by mostly Saudi nationals on September 11, 2001 (9/11). This has shown the Saudi people a side of their government, religion, and traditions they have never before had an opportunity to explore, debate, or even question. Moreover, the arrival of social media and the Saudi women’s optimization of this new, safe communication tool has changed their perceptions of themselves, their country, and male domination.
The flow of information (via social media) in gargantuan volumes among Saudi women (and men) has amplified their awareness of the false use of religion and tradition by the Saudi authorities to marginalize them and exonerate the system from meeting its obligations to all citizens’ needs. Furthermore, global human rights groups have intensified their efforts to expose oppression of Saudi women.
Saudi fathers, brothers, and husbands have come under unremitting pressure from their educated female friends and relatives to support their legitimate rights and demands for equality. No one has been excluded from these demands, including the king.
“Slavery is an immoral act”
CDHR’s Commentary: Many major and smaller human rights groups, including this organization, as well as some Saudi citizens and even a few unofficial royals have deplored the maltreatment of the millions of mostly expatriate Asian workers in Saudi Arabia, especially maids. The conditions under which most Asian laborers work and live have been described as “modern slavery” and that is not an exaggeration.
The misfortune of expatriate Asian workers in Saudi Arabia commences in the lands from which they hail. They are recruited by agencies that charge them exorbitant fees and place them in the hands of Saudi laborers’ agencies who assigned them to Saudi employers, known as sponsors. Upon their arrival in Saudi Arabia, their passports are confiscated and handed to their future employers. They literally become hostages. They cannot seek other employment, communicate with their families when they need to or form social groups to support each other and evoke the social, political and religious freedom they enjoyed in their homelands.
In addition, the Asian laborers receive no help from their homelands’ representatives in Saudi Arabia. This is mostly due to their governments’ fear of Saudi economic and religious reprisals. Many Asian states benefit from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab oil rich states’ aid and businesses, including the billions of dollars sent back home by abused laborers.
The abuses and exploitation of poverty stricken Asian laborers in Saudi Arabia bear testimony to what many Saudi citizens, activists, reporters and non-Saudi groups have been saying about the rampant injustices and corruption committed against defenseless workers by the Saudi system, businesspeople and thousands of households.
Saudi Arabia is a member of the World Trade Organization, WTO, and must be held accountable to the WTO’s charter and other Immigrant Workers’ International Declarations. The Saudi people will be served well by holding their autocratic and theocratic institutions accountable and by treating their guest workers with dignity and paying them their meager hard-earned wages. The UN Human Rights and Migrant Labor agencies as well as the International Labor Unions should not be selective and must speak up against the Saudis’ maltreatment of the estimated 10 million expatriate laborers in Saudi Arabia.
Royals’ “Gifts” to Their Subjects
CDHR’s Comment: When people in Norway, England, Sweden or Spain read an article like this: Jazan housing project: A gift from King Abdullah for the displaced many think the Saudi King is paying for projects from his legislatively allotted income. What people in democratic societies where monarchs are only figure heads may not know is that the King of Saudi Arabia and his large family (between 10 and 40 thousand) control the national income, the state’s treasury and the banking system. In fact, the Saudi royals treat the country as if it were their private property.
Until recently, the majority of the Saudi population (especially those 50 years old and above) has been made to believe that their country belongs to the Saudi ruling family after whom the country is named. Historically and culturally, countries in the Arab World that were established by nomadic dynasties (with the help of colonial powers) or taken over by military elites are treated as their private dominion by those who rule. This is evidenced by Arab dictators’ responses to their marginalized populations who are revolting to reclaim ownership of their countries, wealth and dignity.
Assuming the Saudi people cannot see, hear or understand, many non-Saudis and Saudis who benefit from the scheming system praise the king and his family for handouts (bribery), building projects and for providing “free” education and other public services. This is a dangerous hypothesis because most Saudis are cognizant of how their country’s wealth is being syphoned off and the regime is taking notice.
The overwhelming majority of the population, especially the younger generation, is not buying into the old handout system or “take what I give you and be grateful.” This is evidenced by the fact that the second (the first being women’s demands for equality) most frequently discussed issue in the social media and even the government’s controlled news outlets in the country is corruption, embezzlement of public wealth and lack of accountability in the public and private sectors.
The Saudi royals, men and women in and out of government, and their business partners ought to reconsider their erroneous assumptions that the people can be bribed and silenced forever. The Saudi people, like their counterparts in the Arab World and elsewhere, have changed irreversibly. They understand that their wealth is being stolen by a few self-appointed people who are vulnerable now more than ever.
Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel’s Heartwarming Speech
CDHR’s Commentary: During her “Woman Personality of the Year 2012” award acceptance speech, the wife of one of the richest men in the world, Prince Al-Waleed Ibn Talal, Princess (by marriage) Ameerah Al-Taweel gave a moving speech where she correctly praised the hardworking Saudi women who fight for their basic citizenship rights and the mothers who struggle to feed their hungry children: “…those women who strive to earn their rights, to the hardworking teacher who travels far distances each morning, giving all that she has to educate students so her own children are fed at night, to the divorced woman fighting in court to secure a safe home for her children, to those women who crossed all the barriers and are saving people’s lives through their medical research. To all of the women achievers who were not given the attention or appreciation, each and every one of you deserves to be the woman of the year…”
We salute Princess Ameerah for her recognition of and support for all suffering and marginalized Saudi women. Her speech described some of the unbearable and avoidable obstacles Saudi women face every day from cradle to grave. Yet they never let their government’s institutionalized discriminatory policies, crippling religious fatawi and men’s traditional chauvinism stop them from fighting for their natural, divine and human rights. And they are winning.
Encouraging speeches are good for moral support, but without deeds, they are nothing but empty words that help their composers and deliverers more than those the speakers praise. The Princess and her liberal wealthy husband, Prince Al-Waleed, can easily afford to spend $5 billion to establish Co-Op jobs for 30 thousand Saudi women in the neglected Southern region. Modern and non-religious day care centers can be built for the children of working mothers. The centers can be maintained by mothers who can bring their children to play at and benefit from what modern centers can offer to the development of children.
Princess Ameerah and other princesses can prove to their oppressed subjects that they do care for the disenfranchised, instead of praising their ruling family in Western media. Actions speak louder than words, even those as powerful as Princess Ameerah’s speech on March 8, 2012 in Dubai.
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