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Political Reform

Political Reform

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Given its trenchant influence on 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide and its position in the world’s oil market, Saudi Arabia cannot be disregarded or surrendered to an absolute monarchy that encourages the oppression of women and religious minorities, and fosters domestic extremism and international terrorism. A constitutional, democratic government combined with the rule of law, is the best hope for the long term prosperity and unity of the people of Saudi Arabia. This prospect will give Saudi citizens a say in decisions that impact their daily lives and empower them to join the international community as respected equals. A democratized Saudi Arabia will no longer be an incubator for intolerance and terrorism; instead, the result will be a responsible, accountable and productive society, ruled by laws created by its members, not by leaders who invoke fear and resentment. This outcome is in the best interests of the Saudi people, the United States and all democratic societies.

In short, the historical background and the present turmoil in Saudi Arabia render it imperative that a new constitutional, non-sectarian, democratic system of governance be established to keep the increasingly restless and resentful population together. To this end, with the help of democratic and constitutional experts, the Center for Democracy & Human Rights in Saudi Arabia has devoted itself to writing a blueprint for a transitional constitution for a new democratic political structure in Saudi Arabia. In doing so, CDHR will be guided by the following principles and proposes the implementation of the following steps:

The holding of full and fair, internationally verified municipal elections as a first step towards the complete democratization of the Saudi political system. Regional and national elections are to follow local elections. All citizens of voting age should have the right to vote, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or religious orientation, at all levels of the democratic process (locally, regionally, and nationally). Representation at all levels of government is to be directly proportional to the percentage of the vote obtained in the elections by any candidate or party. To ensure fair political representation of both individuals and regions, the number of seats available for each body of government should be prescribed by the Constitution and directly related to the results of a regularly and independently held National Census. The new political structure is to be designed so that each of the five main regions enjoys equal representation at the national level in a legislative body.

A non-sectarian national Constitution should be voted on and approved in a referendum by all citizens of voting age and thereafter upheld by a politically independent Constitutional Court. The national Constitution should be amendable only by an affirmative vote of an increased majority in the national representative bodies, followed by regional ratification. Military, police, information agencies and militias, both regional and national, should be under civilian authority and employed only for national or regional security and defense priorities and for the protection of citizens’ rights and safety. All positions of public service, whether civilian or military, shall have limited terms of office and restricted mandates, and are to be regulated by the country’s regional laws and national Constitution where the national Constitution shall at all times take precedence over all regional laws.

All levels of Saudi Government should adhere to the highest standards of transparency and accountability. The holy shrines in Makkah (Mecca) and Madinah (Medina) should have their own elected governing council with representatives from all Muslim countries. This councils mandate will be limited to religious affairs and it will have no political influence in the affairs of the Saudi state. CDHR is convinced that, if given a proper chance, the Saudi people will embrace democracy, a free market economy, tolerance, productivity, and respect for human rights. A democratic Saudi Arabia will then quickly develop into an exemplary neighbor, a truly trustworthy ally and a rewarding global partner.

 

Homeland Security Nominee General John Kelly is Accused of Moral Bankruptcy

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Homeland Security Nominee General John Kelly is Accused of Moral Bankruptcy

CDHR Commentary: According to Naureen Shah (a female American Muslim and harsh critic of US policy toward Islamists) “It may be naive to think that Kelly — or anyone else in the Trump administration — would risk his career to stand in the way of anti-human rights proposals.”

I could not disagree more.

To insinuate that American generals (active or retired) are cold-blooded avengers and a bigoted bunch who are waiting in the wings for an opportunity to destroy America’s second-to-none democratic institutions and tolerant traditions is a fear-mongering, attention-seeking and profit-making scare tactic. Many Muslim and non-Muslim groups and individuals in the US are spreading exaggerated fear among Americans of Muslim origin for personal fame and financial gains. Their tactics are based on distortions of America, its diversified society, powerful democratic principles and its deeply-rooted distribution of power and decision-making processes.

The overwhelming majority of Americans, including generals, do not discriminate against people because of their beliefs until      followers of a faith or ideology kill and destroy in the name of their religion (“Allahu Akbar”.) In a democratic society, winning elections is based on promises and commitments to improve people’s lives and uphold the laws of the land. Those who betray public trust for personal gains will not only be unemployed quickly, but disgraced for life.

As a father of a War Veteran, I had the privilege of meeting many patriotic men and women in uniform who “Solemnly Swear” that they will defend America against domestic and foreign enemies. This oath goes for all government officials, appointed or elected. Their commitment to obey the law is enforced by a non-sectarian, non-racial and non-ethnic-based independent judicial system, staffed by men and women who also swear to defend our freedom and who have as much concern about protecting our liberty as any American, regardless of faith, ethnicity or political orientation.

Like any prior President of the United States, President Trump will be accountable to formidable independent-minded members of Congress, an autonomous judicial system, free media and a multitude of civil society overseers. Regardless of their political orientation and preferences, President-elect Trump and his appointees are accountable to all Americans and a brutal media that thrives on sensationalization, exaggeration and character assassination. Most of Trump’s supporters are not “a basket of deplorables;” they are the ones ignored by the system they and their offspring defend. Traditionally, they are among the first to volunteer to join American armed forces and are willing to pay the ultimate price to defend America at home and abroad.

American Muslims, or any other group, can best serve their adopted country by cutting the umbilical cord attaching them to the lands from which they escaped seeking emancipation from the yoke of religious and political totalitarianism, poverty, intolerance and fear. Their priority should be to teach their children that their first and foremost loyalty is to America, its security, prosperity and, above all, its empowering democratic values.

American Muslims and Muslims in the West, in general, need to understand and accept the fact that the current surge Western nationalism is emboldened by publics’ fear of and reactions to Muslim terrorist attacks on their liberty and way of life. Only then can Muslims in the West have a constructive dialogue about their religion, instead of blaming others for reacting to Islamists’ stated objectives: destruction of the individual’s liberty and freedom of choice.

 

General John Kelly is Accused of Moral Bankruptcy

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Homeland Security Nominee General John Kelly is Accused of Moral Bankruptcy

CDHR Commentary: According to Naureen Shah (a female American Muslim and harsh critic of US policy toward Islamists) “It may be naive to think that Kelly — or anyone else in the Trump administration — would risk his career to stand in the way of anti-human rights proposals.”

I could not disagree more.

To insinuate that American generals (active or retired) are cold-blooded avengers and a bigoted bunch who are waiting in the wings for an opportunity to destroy America’s second-to-none democratic institutions and tolerant traditions is a fear-mongering, attention-seeking and profit-making scare tactic. Many Muslim and non-Muslim groups and individuals in the US are spreading exaggerated fear among Americans of Muslim origin for personal fame and financial gains. Their tactics are based on distortions of America, its diversified society, powerful democratic principles and its deeply-rooted distribution of power and decision-making processes.

The overwhelming majority of Americans, including generals, do not discriminate against people because of their beliefs until      followers of a faith or ideology kill and destroy in the name of their religion (“Allahu Akbar”.) In a democratic society, winning elections is based on promises and commitments to improve people’s lives and uphold the laws of the land. Those who betray public trust for personal gains will not only be unemployed quickly, but disgraced for life.

As a father of a War Veteran, I had the privilege of meeting many patriotic men and women in uniform who “Solemnly Swear” that they will defend America against domestic and foreign enemies. This oath goes for all government officials, appointed or elected. Their commitment to obey the law is enforced by a non-sectarian, non-racial and non-ethnic-based independent judicial system, staffed by men and women who also swear to defend our freedom and who have as much concern about protecting our liberty as any American, regardless of faith, ethnicity or political orientation.

Like any prior President of the United States, President Trump will be accountable to formidable independent-minded members of Congress, an autonomous judicial system, free media and a multitude of civil society overseers. Regardless of their political orientation and preferences, President-elect Trump and his appointees are accountable to all Americans and a brutal media that thrives on sensationalization, exaggeration and character assassination. Most of Trump’s supporters are not “a basket of deplorables;” they are the ones ignored by the system they and their offspring defend. Traditionally, they are among the first to volunteer to join American armed forces and are willing to pay the ultimate price to defend America at home and abroad.

American Muslims, or any other group, can best serve their adopted country by cutting the umbilical cord attaching them to the lands from which they escaped seeking emancipation from the yoke of religious and political totalitarianism, poverty, intolerance and fear. Their priority should be to teach their children that their first and foremost loyalty is to America, its security, prosperity and, above all, its empowering democratic values.

American Muslims and Muslims in the West, in general, need to understand and accept the fact that the current surge Western nationalism is emboldened by publics’ fear of and reactions to Muslim terrorist attacks on their liberty and way of life. Only then can Muslims in the West have a constructive dialogue about their religion, instead of blaming others for reacting to Islamists’ stated objectives: destruction of the individual’s liberty and freedom of choice.

 

Fears of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover are overblown

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“Thank you, Facebook”

Fears of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover are overblown

By Ali Alyami

The controlled public rage against corruption, oppression, and marginalization at the hands of tyrannical Arab regimes that has unfolded in recent weeks is unprecedented and probably unstoppable, but it caught most Western observers by surprise. While they accept the Arab revolt for what it is—a rejection of dehumanizing conditions—most Western analysts have dug out their old notes and recycled their customary predictions: The inevitable outcome will be that Islamists will take over and mobilize the Arabs against Western interests.

 

Now that Mubarak has stepped down as President of Egypt, worries persist that Islamists will impose their theocratic totalitarianism on the Egyptian people, despite the fact that power has been transferred to the military high command as a temporary caretaker until the Egyptian people decide what form of government they will adopt.

Apprehension that Islamists will turn public discontent to their advantage is understandable and legitimate, but that outcome should not be taken as a foregone conclusion. From what we know now, the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen have been organized and carried out mostly by nonsectarian citizens who are driven by worldly needs and by the rejection of corrupt systems that enslave them through fear, intimidation, hunger, and contempt for human rights. The vast majority of the protesters in Maydan Al-Tahrir (Liberation Square) were not waving Muslim textbooks or pictures of terrorists and religious fanatics, but flashing signs that read “shukran Facebook”—Thank you, Facebook.

The chance that Islamists will capture the Arab uprisings is slim unless anti-democratic, oil rich Arab dynasties like the Saudi and other Gulf monarchs, or their Iranian rivals, are allowed to pour billions of dollars into the coffers of their respective proxies, as they did in Gaza, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. The West can prevent this from happening, but even if it does happen, whoever seizes power in the countries in revolt will be forced to remember the fate of the ousted rulers they replaced.

The millions of Arabs who took to the streets and risked their lives to bring an end to centuries of oppression are not likely to accept theocratic dictatorships after ridding themselves of tyrannical ruling dynasties. Most of the rebelling generation grew up in the age of transformative modern technologies and knowledge of their human rights. They spend more time debating worldly issues over social media than reading the Koran or going to mosques. Their perceptions of themselves and the world they want to be part of supersede nationalism, tradition, and religious indoctrination. This reality is overlooked in the current avalanche of analysis and predictions.

Instead of concentrating on fear of Islamists, the West ought to focus on the unprecedented shift in attitude among Arabs in addressing their multitude of grievances. For the first time, the Arab people have publicly recognized that their misfortunes are not the fault of outsiders— the West, Israel, colonialism—but the result of the hierarchical and totalitarian Arab methods of governing in which the individual is subservient to the state and to the whims of absolute rulers.

Western analysts are also overlooking one of the most astounding aspects of the present turmoil: It is apparently irrelevant to the well-being of the international community. For example, global trade and travel, and the availability and prices of commodities like oil, are almost unaffected by the Arab uprising. This can be attributed partly to the fact that the Arabs contribute little or nothing to the world’s knowledge-based technological economy.

Some may argue that the world’s relative lack of alarm over destabilizing turmoil in the Arab world is due to the fact that Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen have little impact on the world’s oil production. True, but even if a political uprising befell Saudi Arabia itself, a short-term interruption of the oil supply could easily be made up from other sources. In addition, Arab autocracies need to sell their oil to placate their restless populations and discourage oil consumers from developing alternative sources of energy, a notion oil producers dread.

Furthermore, any major interruption in oil production and shipping would be used as a justification for a Western military response, not only to ensure the flow of oil without which global economic stability cannot be maintained, but also to rid the Middle East of dangerous dictators like the Shia mullahs of Iran and the Wahhabi Sunni extremists. Given these plausible scenarios, the West and the international community need not worry too much about the destabilization of Arab despots whose domestic and international policies pose mortal threats to Western civilization.

Ali Alyami is executive director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, based in Washington, D.C.

 

Former Terrorists: Rehabilitation or Re-indoctrination

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Former Terrorists: Rehabilitation or Re-indoctrination

By Ali Alyami

The highly praised Saudi rehabilitation program for ex-prisoners and captured terrorists can be classified as re-programming, as opposed to deprogramming. Whether they are ex-Guantanamo prisoners or captured in Saudi Arabia, the deviants, as Saudi officials label them, are placed in lush villas and provided with a luxurious lifestyle that the majority of Saudis can only dream of having. After a few days of rest and relaxation, they must complete the government’s intense religious re-training instead of abandoning their violent inclinations and actions. The captured terrorists and religious extremists are instructed to fast certain days of the week, pray frequently and re-memorize the Quran. Not surprisingly, the trainers are the same religious clerics who originally indoctrinated terrorists in schools, mosques and summer camps. Given the nature of the rehabilitative program, some of the terrorists return to their old profession as soon as they leave the villas. Othman Ahmed Al-Ghamdi was a prisoner in Guantanamo for four years and a participant in the rehabilitation program but returned to Al-Qaeda after his release in 2006. Today, he is on a list of the “85 most wanted people by Saudi Arabia.” As seen in Al-Ghamdi’s case, the rehabilitation program does not emphasize the complete avoidance of violence. During their re-education, the ex-terrorists are instructed not to commit crimes against their rulers and countrymen. Instead they are told that it is their duty to defend Islam against its sworn enemies, the infidels. As an ally of the Saudi government, the U.S. ought to investigate the Saudi rehabilitation program and evaluate it for what it is, as opposed to taking Saudi word for it and advice from people, including American witnesses, who lack deep understanding of Saudi religious and cultural backgrounds and methods of operation.
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Al-Qaeda’s Woman Speaks for Many

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Al-Qaeda’s Woman Speaks for Many

By Ali Alyami

Saudi women are forced to disguise themselves in disfiguring black garments. They are not allowed to drive, work, travel, receive equal education or get medicine without male permission. This maltreatment of half of Saudi society because of their gender is pushing Saudi women to get back at those responsible for their misfortunes. Recent surveys conducted by Saudi professionals show that women are resorting to violence at home, against the government’s religious police and joining violent groups like Al-Qaeda.

Contrary to the Saudi government’s assertions and its apologists’ misinformation, Al-Qaeda continues to appeal to many Saudis and other Arabs, including women. This does not mean the majority of Al-Qaeda supporters or admirers are religious, poor or are in favor of an oppressive Islamist state like Saudi Arabia. People are forced into supporting and joining Al-Qaeda out of helplessness and desperation as many see this violent group as their last resort against their autocratic regime and those who support it. This is a reality that Western governments, institutions and businesses have to face, and they must re-evaluate their relations with the Saudi autocratic monarchy whose institutions produce more religious extremists and suicide bombers than any other country in the world.

It is worth remembering that the aim of Osama Bin Laden, the wealthy, highly educated and charismatic founder and financier of Al-Qaeda, from the very beginning was to oust the House of Saud. This is not because of the monarchy’s irreligious and corrupt behavior, an argument Bin Laden and his followers use as a recruiting tool. As an astute strategist and avid student of Muslim ideological violent movements and history, especially the Saudi-Wahhabi military expeditions, Bin Laden uses religion to discredit, denigrate and inflict fear and destruction on his opponents.

Bin Laden’s objectives and strategies are identical to those used by the Saudi-Wahhabi movement that began in 1744 and has continued to the present day. Like the Saudi-Wahhabi conquering alliance, Bin Laden indoctrinates, trains, feeds and arms his followers and empowers them to destroy and kill the enemies of God and Islam. Most of Al-Qaeda’s operatives in the Arabian Peninsula and elsewhere are usually men but the movement appeals to destitute women as well. One of Al-Qaeda’s most formidable indoctrinators, recruiters and fundraisers, Haylah Al-Qassir (nicknamed Mrs. Al-Qaeda), was arrested by the Saudi authorities on February 21, 2010. As the attached article explains, “Haylah Al Qassir is a dangerous woman with a strong personality, and was one of the most active and effective Al Qaeda operatives in Saudi Arabia. She is known to have recruited women and youth to Al Qaeda, as well as been responsible for financing.”

The continuation of the intolerable political, religious, social, educational and economic environment in Saudi Arabia will continue to push Saudi men and women into committing violent acts against each other, their neighbors and the international community. The U.S. and other Western countries can propel the Saudi monarchy to begin sharing power with Saudi citizens through local and national elections. The Saudi people, like all people, want and deserve better treatment from their government.
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Resurgence of the Ottoman Empire?

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Resurgence of the Ottoman Empire?

By Al Alyami

Like other Muslim regimes and groups, the Islamist leaning Turkish President Abdullah Gul and his Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan are using the Palestinian issue as a tool to promote themselves as heroes and fatten their bank accounts. By challenging Israel’s Gaza blockade and defying the U.S. designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization, the Turks have achieved their intended objectives: money and fame among disenfranchised and marginalized Arabs and Muslims.

The Arab media, including the popular London-based Saudi newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, are lionizing Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan as “This phenomenal Ottoman Sultan …who sent his armada to break the Gaza blockade is a man of action not words and sentimental speeches.” In a visit to the Turkish capital, Ankara, on June 10, 2010, the Saudi Finance Minister, Mr. Ibrahim Abdul Aziz Al-Assaf, announced his government’s commitment to invest $400 billion in Turkey over the next four years. This is lucrative compensation for sending a few aid boats carrying goods and a horde of Turkish religious extremists, among others, who are driven by more than their love of Arab cultures and political systems, a sense of justice or protection of human rights.

Turkey has been a functioning democracy for the past seventy years, because its founder, Kamal Ataturk, separated the mosque from public policy and government operation. What he could not do was convince the Turks that Islam is a belief, not a way of life. Since men use Islam to control every aspect of Muslims’ lives and their perceptions towards both themselves and non-Muslims, Turkey remained culturally Muslim. Therefore, most Turks remain faithful to Islam and its teachings, which many Muslims and non-Muslims argue is incompatible with plural democracy governed by non-sectarian rule of law, as in Western societies.

Ataturk was aware of the threat sectarian Turks posed to his movement; consequently, he entrusted the military as a safeguard of the newly founded democracy under the rule of law. This unwieldy arrangement still holds, but has been steadily eroding due to regional and global developments and the Islamist-leaning party, AKP, currently in power.

Having failed to meet the democratic standards necessary to secure membership in the European Union and facing economic hardship, the revisionist Turkish President Gul and Prime Minister Erdogan began to look for strategic and economic allies in the Arab East with an eye on the oil-rich Arab ruling families around the Persian Gulf. They found receptive partners, especially in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis have been trying to convince the Turks to rejoin their Muslim brethren for years, but the relationship between the two historically bitter enemies remained strained until the Saudi King, Abdullah decided to fly to Ankara with a coterie of 400 business executives on August 8, 2006.

Despite King Abdullah’s poor reception when he arrived in Turkey, he and the business executives were able to make impressive progress with Turkish officials. They signed a variety of trade and cultural treaties with Turkish officials. Since then, Saudi-Turkish trade and cultural relations have accelerated momentously. These widening economic, cultural and religious ties the Turks intend to use to re-establish themselves as a regional Muslim power are interpreted to be the driving incentive that led the Turks to send their boats to Gaza. They want to convince the suspicious Gulf oilmen and their victory-starved populations that investments in Turkey will produce lucrative dividends. The Saudis are taking credit for the Turkish flotilla episode; consequently the West’s reaction to the incident is favorable towards Arabs. This is attributed to fear of a backlash, including an increase in terrorism against the West and its interests and security.

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A Prince's Stern Warning

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A Prince's Stern Warning

By Ali Alyami

Prince Turki bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud recently warned the Saudi royal family to flee the country before an internal uprising overthrows the monarchy. While this advice may seem premature, it cannot be ignored. A Saudi uprising is inevitable unless the government undertakes drastic reforms of Saudi institutions to pave the way for measurable and transparent democratic processes. Prince Turki is a member of a defunct group of Saudi princes, the Free Princes, who called for a constitution in the early 1960s that would have reformed the relationship between the monarchy and its repressed subjects (ra-e-yah, or herd).

The princes, considered a threat to their family’s domain and denounced as Communists by the West, had to flee for their lives to Cairo, Egypt. They were joined by political activists like Naser al-Saeed, a former Aramco employee hunted by the Saudi government’s intelligence branch until he was ultimately gunned down in Lebanon some years ago. Some of these princes are still advocating for a constitutional monarchy, which remains the best and safest solution for this important but unstable country. The Saudi royal family should heed Prince Turki’s advice to “leave this country to its people, whose dislike for us is increasing.” Prince Turki is correct in that the majority of Saudi people and the international community do not want to see Saudi Arabia continued to be ruled by aging men and religious extremists whose institutions and fortunes produce and finance suicide bombers and extremist groups around the world.

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Determined to Fail

By Ali Alyami

Despite irrefutable signs of civil strife due to public frustration, the Saudi ruling family continues to insist on pre-modern methods of governance. Like most people in the world, Saudis have become more educated, exposed to other cultures, different and more fulfilling lifestyles, freedom of expression, freedom of worship, political participation, and the rule of law, accountability and transparency. This has led to unprecedented domestic demands for political, social, religious, educational and economic reforms in Saudi Arabia. Demands for change are especially felt among women, religious minorities and youth—the most marginalized and neglected groups in Saudi society. According to the government, young Saudi males are resorting to drugs, among other things. This can be attributed to the lack of fulfilling employment opportunities, stifling social taboos and paucity of free expression.

In response to this growing drug culture, the Saudi government “… plans to set up youth clubs across the Kingdom to give young men the opportunity to spend their free time fruitfully.” The question is how government-created and managed clubs would prevent youth from using drugs? Are the Saudi youth using drugs for thrills (as happens in free societies) or in order for them to cope with their unparalleled oppressive environment? What will these clubs offer to divert Saudi youth’s attention from using drugs or joining Al-Qaeda, where they feel empowered and free to kill? Will there be gender and other social interactions, worldly entertainment, freedom of expression, music halls and religious freedom? If the answers to theses questions are yes, then why have government-run clubs.

Given the Saudi ruling elites’ methods and sense of birthright ownership of the country, its wealth and people, these clubs will be designed to control the restless Saudi youth just as the mosques are designed to control peoples’ minds, bodies and whereabouts at all times. Like the government’s rehabilitative centers for former terrorists and aspiring recruits for Al-Qaeda, the proposed clubs will serve as religious and loyalty indoctrination and reprogramming centers. Memorizing the Quran and Shariah, defend Islam and total submission to the king and his family will be the objective of these clubs. The problem with this project is it will not work, because the Saudi people are ahead of the men and the pre-modern institutions that rule them.
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