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Home Archived Newsletters Newsletter - August 21, 2009

Newsletter - August 21, 2009

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Saudi News: More Signs of Neglect and Instability

Commentary by Dr. Ali Alyami


Puncturing of Saudi-Wahhabi Alliance

Director’s Comment:

The centuries-old, love-hate Saudi-Wahhabi theocratic alliance has gone through tough, but not transformative episodes since its formation in the mid-eighteenth century. However, with the aging and passing of its traditional pillars, transformation of regional and international relations, globalization, spread of uncontrollable non-sectarian information and introduction of modern values and lifestyles to the population, the alliance is slowly losing its power base: religious legitimacy. Most Saudis, especially youth, and including staunch supporters of Wahhabism, are realizing that religion has become a tool in the hands of the ruling families to justify corruption, control, exploitation and subjugation of a nation.

The ruling Saudi-Wahhabi elites are also realizing that they are being seen by many of their captive population, especially younger generations, women, and religious minorities as power seekers rather than believers in religious virtues and justice. The problem with this Saudi-Wahhabi alliance is that its bosses are stuck in the past and neither wants to venture into the risky unknown of modernity, which would loosen their grip on power or turn them against each other. This is a scenario neither side could afford and survive politically or otherwise. This gridlock is showing some signs of disagreement between the political House of Saud and the religious House of Al-Alshiekh that could lead to the weakening or undoing of the alliance and consequently either societal strife or political reform and power sharing to ensure national unity and stability.

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Disguising the Real Reasons

Director’s Comment:

Recently released investigative reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch about human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia show that the Saudi government is using “counter terrorism” excuses to justify its already known harsh treatment of thousands of prisoners who have not been charged with any crimes. Since there are only closed religious trials and often the accused are not allowed access to lawyers, no one exactly knows why people are incarcerated and whether they are terrorists, democratic reformers, drug dealers or lovers who did not succumb to the Saudi code of imposed social conduct. Since the judges are carefully selected from among the zealot Wahhabi adherents who share power with the ruling family, convictions are assumed to justify government’s actions regardless of whether crimes were committed. The Saudi government is an ally of the West and is hardly criticized by Western democracies that condemn violators of human rights in Africa, Israel and other parts of the world.

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Causes for Drug Abuse and Other Social Crimes

Director’s Comment:

While drug trafficking and abuses are becoming an increasingly global phenomenon, the reasons behind them differ from country to country. Some people use illegal drugs for thrills; others use them to tolerate their oppressive social and political environment, among other things. In Saudi Arabia, drug use and the government’s refusal to deal with this problem is a depressing symbol of the many challenges faced by Saudi society and the government’s failing approach.

After decades of denying that drug use, AIDS, prostitution, youth pregnancy, obesity and abortions exist in its Kingdom, the autocratic Saudi government was forced into admitting these rampant social illnesses cannot be ignored or hidden anymore. What the Saudi autocrats fail to recognize and rectify are the root causes of these fast-growing, but mostly preventable, layers of social dilemmas, especially among young men and women. There are no outlets for people’s worldly needs. Saudi government, in the guise of virtue and purity, denies its citizens outlets for basic human needs like gender intimacy, uncensored public movie houses, night social and entertainment centers and freedom of choice. The total open and legal absence of these amenities forces people into committing crimes and turning to often destructive underground activities. This impractical practice has many negative effects on Saudi mental, physical, social and attitudinal behavior and health.

It’s commendable that the most vocal opponent of political reforms and relaxation of religious totalitarianism, Prince Naif, is interested in public wellbeing, but he should look deeper into the root causes of the deteriorating social norms in his highly disenfranchised society. Some Saudis resort to drugs because his government, especially his notorious ministry of Interior, forbids entertainment facilities, mixing of opposite sex, social or political associations, and political participation. In addition, men and women are denied assemblage and women cannot play sports, including at their segregated schools. Saudis are physically forced to worship, obey the king and his family, and must always be on the watch for their ubiquitous and omnipresent, ferocious religious police, or as some Saudis dub them, the legal terrorist organization known as The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

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Princely Fight: What's Best for the Royal Family

Director’s Comment:

A tame, but rare public disagreement between two sons of a liberal father, Prince Talal, on how best to maintain the uncontested ruling family’s control over the country, its wealth and people. One of the richest men in the world, Prince Al-Waleed, with business connections in many parts of the globe, wanted to introduce movie houses into his family’s kingdom, but the potential money-making adventure ticked off the sensitivities of his well known, internally, religious extremist brother, Prince Khalid. Even though the objective is the same, Khalid is a staunch opponent of any changes to the fourteen and half century old ruling methods. Waleed, however, feels in addition to making money, movies will divert people’s attention from the many problems they face under his family’s rule. On the surface, this brotherly disagreement as to how to maintain power can be seen as a small first step to introducing basic openings into one of the most censored societies on earth. But if one knows the shrewd royal maneuvers, it will be come clear that the end goal is the same: Continue royal hegemony over the country at the expense of the well being of the disenfranchised citizenry.

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Fighting a Losing Battle

Director’s Comment:

Instead of embarking on genuine, transparent, and timely political, social, economic, religious and educational reforms, the Saudi ruling families (Al-Saud and Al-Alshiekh) have hired expensive European firms to build an electronic fence around the country. They did this in the hope of insulating their disenfranchised population against the spread of ideas, information and the unstoppable democratic wind that have broken all barriers and spread through the international community for the last two decades. Continuing their policies of ignoring many destabilizing domestic and regional threats will only result in increased oppression and further fragmentation of the already fragile society. What the theocratic Saudi ruling elites need to do is to relax their iron fist and coercive governance practices and start dealing with their burgeoning youth’s urgent needs such as challenging and rewarding jobs, non-sectarian education, freedom of expression and entertainment, as well as women’s demands for full citizenship, and tolerance for religious minorities. As the cliché goes, you can run, but you cannot hide.

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Dark Times Ahead for Meccans

Director’s Comment:

Mecca is the center of Islam, governed by an influential and wealthy prince who promises a bright future not only for his dark city, but for the socially, intellectually and more politically advanced people of the Hijaz Region. With a small population and more than sufficient national revenues, Saudi Arabia should have the best public services in the Arab world. It does not. Due to an insufficient well-trained work force, rampant corruption throughout the public and private sectors, lack of accountability, abundant nepotism and a total ban on public expression, public services in the Saudi Kingdom are notorious for their failures to meet people’s minimum needs, especially during times of dire need as in the sizzling Saudi summers. Public hospitals, roads, transportation, schools, water and especially electricity are among the least modern and reliable utilities in the wealthy, oil-producing Arab sheikdoms and the Saudi Kingdom. Because of total monopoly over every aspect of people’s lives and livelihoods, the Saudi government, i.e., the ruling families, continues to ignore all aspects of Saudi needs, from these basic necessities to the urgent and destabilizing needs of its restless, growing youth, women’s demands for liberation, religious tolerance and equal rights for religious minorities.

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