Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, Washington DC
May 14, 2013
Commentaries and Analysis of Saudi Recent Events
Autocracy Versus Democracy: Arabs and Israelis Compared
CDHR’s Commentary: According to this article and video (in Arabic) the six million Israelis publish, distribute and read more books than the 21 Arab states and their more than 400 million populations combined. These predictable figures are based on recent UN statistics. While the world was transitioning from a rural and tribal existence to an urban and industrial era, the Arabs not only held into their agricultural and nomadic heritage, but established totalitarian institutions that insulated their lands and peoples from the age of enlightenment and technological advancement as correctly elucidated by Professor Bernard Lewis in his book, What went Wrong?
They still do as exemplified by the rulers of the birth place of Islam, Saudi Arabia, whose oligarchs reward students who excel in memorizing the Quran and hadith and label those who call for the introduction of sciences and human rights subjects to their religiously controlled educational system as Westernized degenerates.
It’s not accidental that the 6 million Israelis publish, distribute and read more books than all Arabs, according to the UN report. The Israelis are free people; their officials are their servants nottheir masters and they reap the fruits of their labor. This is the reason Israel is the most democratic, economically vibrant, technologically advanced and most militarily powerful country in the Middle East and in the world.
The lack of writing, publishing, distributing and reading books in the Arab World is attributed to the lack of official interest and support as well as financial incentives for publishing companies. Unlike Israel where anyone has the right to write about any subject without being punished for expressing his/her opinion, in most Arab countries a person can be imprisoned for criticizing a tyrannical ruler.
Given these facts, Arab societies will not only continue to lag behind in publishing and reading books, but will linger behind in intellectual, political, social, technological and economic development. This grim prediction can only lead to frustration, an inferiority complex and disillusionment. This state of affairs creates lethal incentives for people (especially the youth) to resort to violent revenge against those perceived to be the source of their misfortunes, domestically and globally.
Rewards for Memorizing the Quran and None for Sciences
CDHR’s Commentary: During a reception in honor of young Saudi student recipients of Crown Prince Salman’s prize for those who excel in memorizing the Quran (Muslim Holy Scripture) on April 14, 2013, the prince who is destined to inherit the Saudi throne “expressed his elation by what has been achieved due to memorization of the Quran.” Prince Salamn is not the only Saudi royal who rewards religious students, but not those who excel in sciences and non-traditional and religious literature. In fact, there is no royal foundation that encourages and rewards achievement in science and the humanities.
Not only does Prince Salman encourage continuation of austere religious dogma, but he believes that the Saudi brand of Islam, Wahhabism, is the redeeming force of the Muslim faith, an argument for which he received stinging responses from Muslim scholars, historians and liberals. Like King Abdullah, Prince Salman believes that Islam is the solutions for all human ills. He is likely to be the next king of Saudi Arabia, if he outlives the aging and unhealthy current king, Abdullah. If Salman were to ascend to the Saudi throne, he will likely dedicate his time and public wealth on strengthening religious extremists at home and on radicalizing Muslims throughout the world. This would be a colossal mistake because many Saudis, especially youth and women, believe that they are being repressed and marginalized by the system’s use of religion to justify its draconian policies and silence its critics at home and abroad.
Enforcing Fear and Submission through Prayers
CDHR’s Commentary: The Saudi regime’s extraordinary dictatorial paternalism, as exemplified by the system’s violent prayers enforcement, is negatively affecting every aspect of people’s lives. The Saudi/Wahhabi rulers climbed to power by using methods of untold religious violence upon which they based their methods of ruling. Nowhere can one see and feel the system’s use of religion as a violent tool to control all aspects of public lives than in the enforcement of frequent prayers.
Known for its ruthlessness and instilled animosity toward the population, especially women, the government’s religious agents (police) are dispatched to close people’s businesses and herd their owners to mosques to perform prayers five times a day whether people like it or not. Prominent among the many legitimate questions people ask is why do the Saudi religious and political ruling elites continue to force people to pray five times a day when in fact the Quran says, “no coercion in Islam.” Additionally, people ask why the prayer rules and enforcement are not applicable to the ruling family.
The religious police dare not come close to royal lavish palaces and luxurious villas. Why then force the public to drop everything and go to mosques five times a day, a practice the rulers have physically enforced prior to and since the establishment of the state and the imposition of their austere brand of Islam, Wahhabism, on all citizens regardless of their previous religious orientations? The answer is simple. People are herded to mosques forcefully to listen to government’s paid clerics preaching fear of God and submission to the Wali Alamr (the master of destiny), the king and his family.
One would think that the autocratic and theocratic Saudi rulers have learned that this practice has outlived its effectiveness, practicality and meaning. It worked before people became educated, politically savvy, social media addicted, worldly and heavy consumers. Continuing to employ this hypocritical and impractical tool to control the population is boomeranging. Many Saudis, especially youth and women, are beginning to question the use of religion as a tool of social control, intimidation, oppression and discrimination. Continuing on this path will only lead to public discontent not only with the system, but with religion itself. More and more Saudis do not go to mosques; instead they are glued to their social media tools debating their government’s corruption, oppression and lack of political and educational reforms.
Death Squad in Addition to the Sword
CDHR’s Commentary: The Saudi government is contemplating adding death squad to its preferred system of punishment by beheading. Currently, the authorities use their sword-trained executioners to sever convicts’ heads in public squares after Friday mid-day prayers when they can ensure the maximum number of observers. The objective of gathering people to watch the beheadings after Friday’s fear-instilling sermons by government’s paid zealot clerics is to remind the public of the system’s wrath, power and merciless punishment for wrong doings.
The reason the Saudi regime wants to add death squad to its gruesome practice of beheadings is not because shooting people is more humane, but because there is a shortage of sword-wielding executioners according to this article.
Regardless of the method of execution, people condemned to death in Saudi Arabia, have no right of appeal as the case in countries with independent judicial system and rule of law. In Saudi Arabia, only Allah’s law counts, as arbitrarily interpreted by the government’s religious zealots.
Religious Tolerance Must be Reciprocal
CDHR’s Commentary: As this article illustrates, non-Muslims reach out to Muslims and accommodate their religious needs more than Muslims ever do to reciprocate. It’s inconceivable to imagine that a Muslim Imam in any Arab or Muslim country would invite a Christian or Jewish congregation to hold their religious rituals in a mosque like Rev. Isaac Poobalan of St. Johns Church in Aberdeen, Scotland did to his neighbor Muslim community. When The Reverend heard that Muslims in a small neighborhood mosque could not all fit into their religious sanctuary to conduct their prayers, he reached out to the small mosque’s Imam and invited him to conduct his services at St. Johns.
Despite pronouncements by Muslim rulers in public gatherings and at interfaith dialogues, non-Muslims, including citizens of Muslim and Arab countries, are not only denied the right to conduct their religious rituals freely, but are persecuted by their governments, Muslims’ religious establishments and compatriots as in Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Not only that, but Christians may disappear from Muslim countries because of religious ‘intolerance. This is evidenced by the huge exodus Of Iraqi Christians and unbaiting violence against the large Egyptian Coptic community in Egypt. Inexplicably, Christian Europe and the Americas seem to ignore persecutions of Christians in Muslim lands, especially in the most intolerant countries in the Arab World, the Gulf States.
Europeans and the Gulf Dynasties
CDHR’s Commentary: This article indicates that the European Union, EU, is siding with the autocratic Gulf Arab states’ ruling dynasties at a time when the populations of that oil rich region are demanding and some are dying to obtain freedom from these ruling families’ centuries-old control over their lives. The countries of the EU failed to act on their understanding that most of the aspiring and social-media-savvy generation in the Gulf region, especially in Saudi Arabia, suffer from the same symptoms that led the majority of the Arab people to revolt against their despots.
The EU and the US governments’ and businesses’ continued support for the ruling oligarchs of the Gulf States is seen by many people, in and outside of the Gulf, as hypocritical and self-defeating. One would think that the West has learned a lesson from the Arab peoples’ willingness to die for ridding themselves of the claws of tyrannical regimes whose repressive policies and violent practices have not only crushed the hopes and aspirations of their populations, but posed ideological threats to the foundation of Western democracy.
The Arab people’s determination to win their freedom from oppression should convince the West that it’s only a matter of time before the “Arab Spring” engulfs the remaining Arab dictators, overwhelming Western policies aimed at sustaining these absolute regimes. The West would be prudent to nurture the aspirations of the new generation of freedom-seeking Gulf populations.
What Saudi Veils Cannot Conceal
CDHR’s Commentary: As soon as an advertisement calling for there to be “No More Violence” against Saudi women appeared in the Saudi media, it became an instant news event. Newspapers, TV and radio stations picked up the ad from social media and began an extensive discussion as if Saudi women had been emancipated from the chains of institutionalized oppression. Had an ad of this nature appeared in another country, it would not have likely made even a ripple due to laws that give equal protections against violence and abuse to both men and women. Not so in Saudi Arabia, where violence against women is government policy.
It is not accidental that many Saudi men abuse women physically, mentally and sexually and get away with it. Such abuse is not only permissible under the Saudi judicial system, but encouraged by the men who created and implement the country’s religious laws. The system grants men control over all aspects of women’s lives. The most belittling example of this is the ‘Male Guardian System” which gives Saudi men all-encompassing powers over the affairs of their female counterparts. Women cannot travel, register in schools, get a job, deliver babies in a hospital or even receive life-saving medication without a male relative’s permission.
While initiating any discussion regarding the multitude of crippling taboos imposed on most Saudi women is positive, the reality on the ground remains bleak. In a 2012 survey by the World Economic Forum, Global Gender Gap Report, Saudi Arabia ranked 131st out of 135 countries when it comes to opportunities for women.
Another survey conducted by Saudi social science professor Dr. Lateefa Abdul Lateef discovered that approximately half of Saudi women are beaten by their fathers, husbands and brothers. Her study showed that “nearly half those covered by social security and more than a third of the female students at the university are beaten up at home.” The research also indicated that urban males are more abusive of women than those in traditional or rural areas. This is a slap in the face of the ruling elites and their defenders both at home and abroad, who blame tradition and religion for the system’s marginalization of women. In fact, it appears that the system’s severe social and political repression of urbanized men manifests in their acting out against women (and children.)
Tragically, the Saudi government has sanctioned the abuse of women and these practices rarely see criticism by American or other Western officials, nor by the mainstream media. This is unfortunate because Saudi women could serve as the West’s best allies in challenging religious extremism and terrorism in their country. Not only do politicians in the West look the other way while the Saudi rulers prey on women, but they and many of their prominent educational institutions and businesses support and praise Saudi oligarchs for being loyal allies and partners in the “War on Terrorism.” Many Saudi analysts and activists are bewildered by the West’s myopic and hypocritical attitude in this regard, as well as its lack of support for human rights and the pro-democracy movement in Saudi Arabia.
Activists in Saudi Arabia have become disillusioned with Western democracies as a result. Pro-democracy Saudis wonder why the West not only continues to ensure the ruling family’s security, but continues to strengthen its ties with a system that sanctions violence against women, as well as terrorism and religious extremism that targets the foundations of Western democracy.
Additionally, as has been intensely discussed and widely revealed in the media, the Saudi regime exports and finances “terrorism and Sunni extremism worldwide.” For example, according to the US military and other sources, the majority of foreign suicide bombers who have terrorized innocent Iraqis and killed American service men and women in Iraq hailed from Saudi Arabia, as did 15 of the 19 terrorists who attacked the US on September 11, 2001 (9/11.)
The Saudi ruling dynasty does not recognize or permit the secular law, which modernity demands, to protect women and children from a male-dominated system run by the Saudi ruling family. The Saudi regime and its institutions justify their malevolent treatment and marginalization of women by pointing to religious tradition. They use their state-controlled media and embedded domestic female defenders to convince their captive population and the international community, especially the West, that Saudi society and its nomadic traditions are to blame for maltreatment of women. Not only that, but the system’s beneficiaries and apologists condemn courageous advocates of women’s rights.
As long as the Saudi monarchy insists on blaming tradition and religion for its denigration and abuses of women and as long as the West continues to be complicit in its ongoing foreign policy charade, we can expect these inhumane polices to continue. But all of this prompts an important question: why does the West continue to support such a system? Would it not be prudent for the West to connect with its natural allies in Saudi society who share our democratic values?
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