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Minority Rights

Minority Rights

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Religious minorities in Saudi Arabia (non-Wahhabi Muslims and non-Muslims) face severe discrimination in employment and education, and are forbidden from openly practicing their religion. In cases involving the calculation of accidental injury or death compensation, a non-Muslim receives only half of the compensation that a male Muslim would receive, and in some cases only one-sixteenth of that amount, depending on intentionality. The testimony of non-Wahhabi Muslims can be disregarded, and non-Muslims are likely to receive harsher criminal sentences than Muslims. All verdicts are decided by the whim of partial Wahhabi judges.

The 2004 statistical report from the Saudi Ministry of Economy and Planning acknowledged that non-Saudis account for 67% of the Kingdom’s labor force. Other estimates set this figure as high as 85 to 90%. This translates to nearly seven million foreigners, or one-third of the population of Saudi Arabia, who live and work in the country without any rights or recognition under the strict Saudi-Wahhabi religious laws and practices. Without these workers, many of whom are non-Muslims, the Saudi economy would collapse. This hiring practice permeates the government and private employment sectors. Saudis are bypassed in favor of cheap labor, mostly from poorer Asian or African countries, who accept any terms without complaint due to their constant fear of arrest or deportation.

Despite Saudi Arabia’s dependence on its labor and expertise, foreign workers in the country are treated very poorly. Upon entry into the country, the passports of non-diplomats are confiscated by their employers or sponsors and the foreigner becomes a virtual hostage of his or her sponsor until departing the country. Foreign workers often face abusive conditions in the workplace, being denied breaks and meals while working unreasonably long hours, and in some cases not receiving pay for months or years at a time.

There are numerous reports of serious verbal and physical abuse, especially of foreign women working as domestic servants in Saudi households. There is no minimum wage, and workers do not have the right to organize or strike. There is no agency that recognizes the grievances of foreign laborers, and they may not access the justice system. Embassies of foreign workers often side with the Saudis for fear of losing Saudi loans, favorable trade deals, and access to cheap oil.

CDHR strongly urges the international community to condemn these abuses and the institutional discrimination against anyone in Saudi Arabia because of belief, ethnicity, race, or gender. The Saudi regime, with its intolerant religious institutions and abusive and dysfunctional economic infrastructure, must be held accountable for its discriminatory policies. The recognition and protection of basic and universal human rights constitutes an indispensable part of the democratization process. A policy of fairness and decency must replace the current government-sanctioned practice of discrimination and abuse in Saudi Arabia.

 
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Staggering Increase in Expats in Saudi Arabia

By Ali Alyami

The number of expatriate laborers, engineers, doctors, nurses, maids and drivers in Saudi Arabia had risen to ten million in 2008. The question that Saudi media, intellectuals and those on the street dare not ask aloud is: why import millions of workers while the female half of Saudi society is denied the right to work? Many of these women are highly educated, intelligent and want to work. Women have been forced into financial dependency on men’s handouts and to accept men’s total control over their lives. Additionally, Saudi statistics document high unemployment among Saudi males, especially youth. These idle and disillusioned young men become prime targets for extremist recruiters.

The Saudi government has been talking about the “Saudization” program of replacing foreign workers with Saudis for the last three decades, yet the number of expatriate workers continues to grow while the employment of native Saudis is proportionately static or declining. This is not accidental nor is there a lack of capable Saudi men and women willing to work. Saudi officials and their apologists argue that Saudis are lazy and will only perform managerial jobs. However, the Saudis’ preference to work in management rather than in other positions is not rooted in laziness or tradition.

Whatever decisions the Saudi royal family makes are designed to ensure its exclusive control over the country, its people and its wealth. The Saudi royal family fears that full employment would create a financially independent, educated middle class that would threaten the House of Saud’s control over every aspect of people’s lives.

In addition, while the overwhelming majority of expatriates in Saudi Arabia are laborers, maids and private family drivers, some sensitive jobs are performed solely by expatriates. Most private royal bodyguards, prison interrogators, pilots and trusted advisors are not Saudis. The royal family does not trust its own people to perform such secret and sensitive tasks, which would give its citizens the power to expose the true nature of the Saudi system.

Most of the expatriates in Saudi Arabia are there to stay. They will be naturalized or remain permanent residents, but not because the Saudis cannot or do not want to work. Their presence serves the status quo.

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Infiltration of Anti-Monarchy Enemies

By Ali Alyami

Yemen for enemies of the Saudi government, such as Al-Qaeda and other regime-change seekers in Saudi Arabia, is like Swat Valley in Pakistan for the Taliban. Yemen has long and hard-to-manage borders with Saudi Arabia and the Yemenis are not too fond of the Saudis. This is due to historical religious and territorial conflict between the two countries and ill feelings over the mistreatment of millions of Yemeni laborers who have worked and still work in Saudi Arabia. These reasons and the lack of an efficient central government in Yemen make the Yemeni-Saudi borders a safe heaven for infiltration by members of Al-Qaeda, Saudi exiles and Yemeni nationals to do harm in Saudi Arabia. This reality may prove more dangerous to Saudi stability than has been acknowledged and discussed thus far.

In addition, a sizable segment of Yemen’s population are Zaidis, derivatives of Shiites, who are oppressed and discriminated against by their Sunni government and compatriots like the Shiites in Saudi Arabia and other Sunni dominated Arab and Muslim states. Many of them reside in the Saadah region, located on the Saudi southern borders. These factors add up to a formidable challenge for the Saudis to defuse and prevent dangerous infiltrators from entering their vast desert kingdom from Yemen.

During a lengthy visit to Yemen in 1996, I heard loud expressions of resentment toward the Saudis and observed a high degree of restlessness among Yemenis all over the country. I was told time and again (by Yemenis from every political, tribal and social stripe) that the Saudis are Yemen’s worst enemies. What I saw and heard propelled me to write an unsolicited report and hand it to a childhood friend in the Saudi power circle and to Fahd Al-Sudairy, the Emir of Najran, a city on the Saudi-Yemeni border.

I told them that many Yemenis are extremely poor, restless, and angry, and that sooner or later they would create trouble for the Saudis. I recommended a large investment in Yemen’s infrastructure, especially in a non-religious educational system. I also emphasized the importance of a humane treatment of Yemenis who work in Saudi Arabia. As usual, the Saudi ruling elites thought they were beyond reach and considered the report exaggerated. According to the attached article, an infiltration from Yemen may prove to be the Saudis’ worst nightmare.

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Different Forms of Human Trafficking

By Ali Alyami

One of the most cruel forms of human trafficking is that which involves children. Children are sold, enslaved and sexually abused in different ways and for many reasons, none of which can be justified, regardless of tradition or religion. In many communities and societies, children are sold because of dire financial needs. However, in some societies, as in Saudi Arabia, human trafficking is justified in the name of God by religious men who claim it is God’s command. Saudi Arabia is considered an international pariah because of the country’s theocratic and autocratic ruling family’s discriminatory and segregationist policies toward women, whether they are citizens or expatriates.

The Saudi religious establishment is entrusted with the interpretation and application of the Muslim holy book (the Quran) and the Shariah (Islamic law) as they see fit. No group in Saudi society is more afflicted by religious policies than women, especially the most helpless and vulnerable, young girls. As the attached article portrays, the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, the Mufti, is reported to have accused the opponent of children marriages of denying ten-year-old girls “justice”: “…it is permissible for 10-year-old girls to marry and those who think they’re too young are doing the girls an injustice.” Some clerics have said that there is nothing in Islam that prevents girls from marrying as early as one year of age.

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Saudi Share of Human Trafficking

By Ali Alyami

CDHR has written extensively about different forms of human trafficking in Saudi Arabia. The most prevalent trafficking is the importation of poor foreign maids, whose passports are confiscated by their future employers as they arrive in Saudi Arabia. This begins a process that has been described, by international human rights groups and some Saudis, as enslavement and abuse by modern standards and labor laws. Paradoxically, human trafficking (slavery) is said to be against the spirit and teaching of Islam. If Islam prohibits human trafficking, the Saudi government-ruling family is breaking its own governing rules. This is because Islam’s holy book, the Quran, is designated by the Saudi government as its constitution and the Shariah (Islamic law) is the law of the land that governs the Saudi courts, which sanction human trafficking.

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The Wrenching Saga of Maids

By Ali Alyami

While the Saudis, like the rest of the perturbed and voiceless Arab people, are intensely occupied with the tragic events in Gaza, Israel, Iraq and other parts of the Arab and Muslim world (events that the Arab regimes helped create and have used for decades to deflect their people’s attention from the multitude of self-inflicted and home-grown problems), defenseless maids (mostly Asians, but also Africans and others) serve in Saudi homes under slavery-like conditions and practices, according to international human rights groups. They have no rights, no defense and are either laboring or on call around the clock for as little as 150 to 200 dollars a month. Their eyes can be gouged (as described in the attached article), and their employers (masters) can beat, starve and sexually abuse them without any legal ramifications. Ironically, such abuses happen in a country (Saudi Arabia) that prides itself on being a beacon of true faith, justice and tolerance.

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Discrimination Against the Ismailis of Najran

By Ali Alyami

Saudi Arabia has become synonymous with terrorism, extremism and religious intolerance, especially against non-Muslims. What is unknown to religious freedom activists, government officials, NGOs, and even many Saudis, is the exclusion and condemnation of a sizable Saudi citizen minority, the Ismaelis. Tucked in the agriculturally and archeologically rich foothills of the Saudi-Yemeni boarder, in Najran, the Ismaelis are considered “infidels” and consequently punished by any means their majority Sunni compatriots deem appropriate for non-“true Muslims.” It is estimated that there are about one million Ismaelis in Saudi Arabia, the majority of which live in Najran.

According to a newly-released and thoroughly-researched report by the highly respected Human Rights Watch group, the Ismaelis are treated in ways that should be reserved for criminals. Najran was annexed by the Saudi-Wahhabi establishment in 1934. Despite their ethnic and religious minority status, the Saudi-Wahhabi men of Najran were and still are the dominant power due to their control of the national wealth, support from the government and their compulsive appetite to use brutal force to make sure loyalty is secured.

CDHR promotes Saudi national unity, security, equality and access to jobs at all levels for all citizens, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religious orientation, lifestyle or origin. To ensure these necessary values, decentralization of power, religious freedom, distribution of the national treasure and the empowerment of women must be implemented in Saudi Arabia. Discriminating against minority Muslims because of religious rituals and orientations will only push a sizable and strong segment of Saudi society to seek support from their counterparts in Iran, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq and other parts of the Muslim world. Additionally, religious intolerance at home and incitement against non-Muslims will bring harm to Saudi Arabia including external intervention no Saudi would like to entertain.

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Defending an Alleged War Criminal

By Ali Alyami

The Arab autocratic regimes held an urgent meeting in Egypt to condemn the International Criminal Court (ICC) for issuing an arrest warrant against President Hassan Bashir of Sudan for his alleged role in the “genocide” (Colin Powel, 09/04/2004, Link) in Darfur, a major region in Sudan. Arab rulers (and people, to a larger extent) have looked the other way as atrocities were committed against other Arabs and Muslims. Saddam Hussein, a former tyrant of Iraq, was pursuing a policy of torture, incarceration, gassing and starving of his people without protest from any Arab regime or people. However, when Saddam Hussein was tried publicly and found guilty, he was hanged for his crimes. Arab regimes and their media condemned his fate. By contrast, Arab regimes and people called on the international community to stop comparable atrocities in Bosnia (former Yugoslavia) and applauded the ICC for issuing an arrest warrant for former President Milosevic of Serbia, for his atrocities against Muslims. Autocratic regimes protest when comparable nations are the perpetrators of heinous crimes, not because of an underlying concern regarding Saddam or Bashir, but because they consider themselves in danger, or, as one of Cairo’s urgent meetings to defend Bashir stated: “The indictment sets a dangerous precedent in dealing with heads of state. It will have dangerous repercussions, not only for Sudan but also for the whole region.”

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Collective Punishment of Religious Minorities

By Ali Alyami

The harsh Saudi-Wahhabi religious-based policies are designed to create fear, divisiveness and unending conflicts among its severely controlled citizens. Women and religious minorities in all parts of Saudi Arabia are perpetual victims of vindictive and erratic government behavior and revenge against those who refuse to convert to their domestically, regionally and globally loathed brand of Islam, Wahhabism. While the state created and imposed the Wahhabi brand of Islam on all citizens and residents of the desolate Kingdom, no group is more victimized by its severe application than the estimated 500 thousand member Ismaeli religious minority in the agriculturally rich region of Najran, on the Saudi – Yemeni border.

Historically, the people of Najran, the Najranis, have acted as a deterrent force against Yemeni incursions in Saudi Arabia. In fact, the Najranis helped the Saudi royal family defeat the Yemenis and add Najran to its domain in 1934. After the annexation of this fertile and relatively peaceful region, the Saudi family started planting its ruthless Wahhabi fanatics among the Najranis by sheer force. They expropriated the indigenous people’s land, forced them to pay taxes, Zakat, to feed and house the new Wahhabi occupiers, and imposed Wahhabi religious courts on them. Tragically, the Wahhabis consider the Najranis to be heretics and apostates. Thus, they must be punished until they convert to Wahhabism or abide by its doctrine in silence. As fierce, proud and defiant tribesmen, the Najranis refused to succumb to the brutal Saudi-Wahhabi religious doctrine. Consequently, the Najranis pay a very high price. They are excluded from their country’s riches, and have no access to good health care, social services, employment, or clean water to drink. Mortality among Najranis is said to be the highest in the Saudi Kingdom.

Najranis have no defenders within or outside of Saudi Arabia. Their region is tucked far away in the foothills of the sprawling Saudi – Yemeni mountains in southern Saudi Arabia. The Saudi reporters hardly go to Najran for fear of government reprisal. In addition, the media is government owned and controlled and most reporters are from the majority Sunni population, some of whom share the Wahhabi resentment toward religious minorities. Even the Saudi governmental human rights organizations do not travel and investigate the mistreatment of their fellow citizens because of their religious bias. The head of the Saudi government’s National Human Rights Association, Mr. Turki al-Sudairy, admits his lack of knowledge of the plight of the people of Najran. Representatives of foreign embassies do not travel to Najran to see for themselves what kind of brutal conditions religious minorities incur because of their beliefs.

Having failed to subdue the Najranis and force them into embracing Wahhabism, the Saudi government is building permanent housing settlements for thousands of Sunni Yemeni immigrants around Najran, to ensure the confinement of the Najranis in a quarantine-like fashion. But there is more to the story: Najran very close to the Yemeni region of Saadah, where a strong and fierce group of Yemeni religious minorities, Zeidi Muslims, reside. This group is religiously and tribally close to the Ismaelis of Najran, as both are offshoots of Shaism-Shiites. The Yemeni Zeidis are also oppressed by the tyrannical Sunni government in Yemen, which is the recipient of Saudi largess. The Zeidi group of Saadah has been inflicting death and destruction upon the government troops and property of the close Saudi ally, Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president of Yemen. The Saudi and Yemeni governments want to keep these groups separate and isolated from one another for fear of future cooperation between the two oppressed minorities on both sides of the mountainous borders. This is part of the untold reason for building new settlements for Yemeni immigrants, which will further oppress and isolate the Najran population, a large segment of Saudi society. This reality belies the assertion by the Saudi government and clergymen that Islam (as practiced in Saudi Arabia) is a religion of peace and is tolerant of differences.

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