No reforms for us, we are Saudis!

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Yusuf Dhia-Allah

Rabi' al-Thani 29, 1435 2014-03-01

Main Stories

by Yusuf Dhia-Allah (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 43, No. 1, Rabi' al-Thani, 1435)

Calling for reforms or exposing corruption in the kingdom could land you on the chopping bloc. So much for Saudi Islam.

Saudi Arabia (proper name, Arabian Peninsula, according to the noble Messenger – r) is a self-proclaimed monarchy. The rulers claim their constitution is based on the Qur’an and the Prophet’s (pbuh) Sunnah. Yet, the Saudi constitution under Chapter 2, titled “Monarchy,” article 5:b says, “…rule passes to the sons of the founding king, ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Faysal Aal Saud, and to their children’s children…”

There is no ayah in the Qur’an or a hadith of the Prophet (pbuh) that permits any such system. The noble Messenger (pbuh) never declared himself king nor did his righteous successors of al-Khilafah al-Rashidah. They all called for accountability and submitted themselves to it.

The Saudi regime has just issued a decree that brands anyone who criticizes the kingdom’s policies as a “terrorist.” It is a serious charge and the person could not only face prosecution but possibly death. Similarly the decree forbids exposure of corruption in the Kingdom and any person calling for reforms will also be treated as a “terrorist” and punished. The decree, published in Umm al-Qura, the official Saudi gazette, came into effect on January 31.

Given the archaic judicial system where there are no set laws and where the accused is seldom allowed a defence lawyer, he/she is left at the whim of the presiding judge. Depending on his mood — there are no female judges in the “kingdom” — the judge could sentence the accused to life imprisonment, 80–100 lashes or even beheading. There is no higher court to appeal to except the King but if his majesty himself has signed the decree promulgating the new law, what chance would an accused have even if he made an appeal for clemency?

Most observers inside and outside the Kingdom have interpreted the new decree as an attempt to stifle criticism of the monarchy that has come under increasing pressure to reform. People are asking for participation in the decision-making process and they want to know how the country’s vast oil revenues are spent. At least 40% of the country’s annual budget is labeled “Other Sectors.” This is essentially money the thieving royals take for themselves. With the annual budget at $300 billion, this comes to a massive theft of $120 billion disbursed among the royals. The money however is not equally disbursed; the more senior ones take a much larger cut depending on their clout.

If this were the only trough in which the thieving royals had their snouts, the people may have tolerated it. They also take commission on every contract given out. Since the Saudi royals are bone lazy — they do not have time from having fun or sending terrorists to kill innocent people, mostly Muslims, elsewhere — they contract out all work to foreigners. There are massive kickbacks involved.

Consider just one example. In the 1980s, the Saudi regime signed a contract with British Aerospace Industries for fighter aircraft worth 20 billion pounds sterling that ultimately grew to twice that amount. The contract was negotiated by Bandar bin Sultan, then serving as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington. He pocketed 2 billion pounds in commission. When the issue of kickbacks was raised in the British parliament, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair cut off debate with the flourish that the contract benefited Britain. End of story.

Bandar, who has just been relieved as head of Saudi intelligence, was in charge of a $6 billion fund the regime has set aside to finance terrorists to overthrow the government of Bashar al-Asad in Syria. How much money has he or will he pocket from this is anyone’s guess. Bandar, however, is not alone. There is hardly a member of the ruling family that is not a certified thief, or a philanderer.

The Saudi military budget now stands at nearly $60 billion annually. That is more than what Britain or France spends on their militaries. Can any Saudi honestly claim that their armed forces are anywhere near the competence level of the British or French? Saudi forces are unable to fight the Houthi tribesmen in Yemen. In December 2009 when they tried to fight them, most Saudi soldiers promptly surrendered. The regime had to offer huge bribes to get its soldiers released.

In recent years there have been increasing calls for reforms even preceding the uprisings characterized as the Islamic Awakening, which have swept the Muslim East (aka the Middle East) since December 2010. Academics, doctors and lawyers are in the forefront of this campaign but they have had to pay a heavy price. There are at least 30,000 political prisoners in Saudi Arabia. In March 2009, a group of academics wanted to register an organization that would monitor the human rights situation in the kingdom. They were encouraged by the pronouncements of King ‘Abdullah who had built a reputation as a reformer. When the Interior Ministry denied them permission to register the new body, they appealed directly to Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin ‘Abd al-‘Aziz.

He invited them to his office. After listening to them, he told them bluntly, “We took power by the sword and will keep it by the sword.” Then he ordered the arrest of the dozen or so academics that had dared approach him. Some of them are still languishing in prison and are held in solitary confinement, being denied visits even by family members.

The new decree is meant to terrorize people into silence. Calling for reforms means the ruling family should allow people the right to have a say in governance. Similarly, since members of the House of Saud are the ones involved in most of the corruption, exposing it would expose them. The regime claims that exposing corruption would bring disrepute to the kingdom! Why not reduce it even if it is not possible to end it completely? Why is there no accountability for members of the ruling family?

Occasionally some member of the ruling family himself raises the issue. For instance, Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, a multi-billionaire businessman, recently sent a letter to the regime’s anti-corruption commission — yes, there is an anti-corruption commission in the Kingdom, established through a decree in 2011, even if it cannot touch members of the ruling family — asking it to stand against financial corruption and expose the names of those involved. Al-Waleed, no paragon of virtue, said that corruption was rampant in the Kingdom.

What was the reason behind al-Waleed’s outbursts, even if they were true? He is something of an outcast in the ruling circle, interested mainly in business and jet-setting. He owns a specially fitted Airbus that cost $485 million. Al-Waleed also owns 20% shares in the pro-Zionist Fox News in the US, which spews anti-Muslim venom as part of its regular programs. He is currently working with Rupert Murdoch, the Australian Zionist, to establish SkyNews Arabic in Saudi Arabia.

In recent weeks, local media outlets have said the multi-billion-dollar project to build Saudi Arabia's first locally produced car, an all-terrain vehicle called “Ghazal 1” does not really exist. If it does not, the question is, who owns the car and where did the money go? The anti-corruption commission cannot go near there. Now, it dare not go near there or its members would end up on the chopping bloc.

Another royal maverick living in exile, Prince Khalid bin Farhan Aal Saud, criticized in August 2013 the suppression of dissident voices and rampant corruption in the kingdom. He pointed, quite rightly, to the stepped-up crackdown on anti-regime protestors in the Kingdom while sending thousands of Saudi and other mercenaries to fight the government of Bashar al-Asad. King ‘Abdullah also called for reforms in Syria but he has now issued a decree banning any such calls in the Kingdom!

The new draconian law also grants sweeping new powers to the security forces to raid homes and track phone calls and the internet. Saudi Arabia has become truly a police state. How long can this state of affairs last before there is a popular explosion with mass unemployment and rampant poverty?

Amnesty International has decried Saudi Arabia over the new law. The group’s Deputy Director for Middle East and North Africa, Said Boumedouha, said in a statement, “This disturbing new law confirms our worst fears — that the Saudi Arabian authorities are seeking legal cover to entrench their ability to crack down on peaceful dissent and silence human rights defenders.”

An absolute monarchy that claims to be ruled by the Qur’an and the Prophet’s (pbuh) Sunnah, the Saudis have a strange understanding of sacred texts. The Qur’an constantly emphasizes social, political and economic justice. In fact, it takes a very strong stand against any form of injustice.

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