by Yusuf Dhia-Allah (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 40, No. 8, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1432)
Even before the full extent of reforms for women in Saudi Arabia announced by King Abullah was known, western media outlets led by the BBC had started drum beating about the “reformer” Saudi king.
Even before the full extent of reforms for women in Saudi Arabia announced by King Abullah was known, western media outlets led by the BBC had started drum beating about the “reformer” Saudi king. The announcement was made on September 25 by the aged — and ailing — Saudi monarch as he opened a new session of the Shura Council whose members are all appointed by him. No democracy there. Abdullah said that women would be given the right to vote and run in future municipal elections and also have the right to be appointed to the Shura Council (emphasis added). Women were barred from municipal elections held in the kingdom on September 29 (after Crescent International went to press).
In making the announcement, Abdullah said: “Because we refuse to marginalize women in society in all roles that comply with Shari‘ah, we have decided, after deliberation with our senior clerics and others… to involve women in the Shura Council as members, starting from next term.” So women must wait for another four years by which time, Abdullah may already be dead and six feet under given his poor health and old age. He is 87 although he has a seven-year old daughter. Camel milk must certainly do wonders! Perhaps, Abdullah’s young daughter can look forward to the day when there might be elections in the country to elect representatives (rather than to autocratically appoint them) when the monarchy itself would have been consigned to the dustbin of history where it rightly belongs. “Women will be able to run as candidates in the municipal election and will even have a right to vote,” declared the truly wise king.
This was enough for the BBC to go into a sycophantic frenzy of praise of the king. Emily Buchanan, BBC correspondent for world affairs, called it an “extraordinary development” for women in Saudi Arabia. On its website, the BBC wrote: “Saudi Arabia is a conservative society which has been inching towards reform under the leadership of King Abdullah, himself a reformist. About 10 years ago the king said women should be central to the Saudi economy. Since then, change has been gradual for fear of a religious backlash.” It went on: “Now, allowing women to stand and vote in municipal elections is a big step towards political reform, even though the municipal councils have very little power.” How and why it is a big step was not explained.
Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy where the word of the king is law. The House of Saud comprises thousands of princes that work in secrecy and consider the kingdom’s wealth, especially from oil, as a family fortune. Their dalliances and indiscretions are legendary. The latest scandal involves Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, a billionaire and nephew of King Abdullah, who is involved in a rape case on a luxury yacht off the Mediterranean island of Ibiza (a part of Spain) three years ago.
The accuser, who has been identified only by her middle name, Soraya, said she was drugged at an Ibiza nightclub and then taken to the yacht and raped there. Traces of semen were collected when the woman went to the police. The case was closed in July 2010 by an Ibiza judge for “lack of evidence”, but that decision was appealed to a Spanish provincial court for the Balearic Islands, which includes Ibiza. The provincial court ordered the Ibiza judge, Carmen Martín Montero, to reopen the case and to summon the prince to appear. A spokeswoman for Prince al-Waleed said documents have been presented to courts that include a full travel agenda, passport visa stamps and witness statements about the prince’s whereabouts, all of which indicate that the prince was not in Ibiza in August 2008, when a
20-year-old model filed a police complaint accusing him of rape.
Given his huge wealth and vast contacts, it is not difficult for the prince to fake documents. One of the woman’s lawyers, Javier Beloqui, said on September 20 that “instead of documents, the prince should simply provide a DNA sample if he wants to close this matter,” so that it could be compared with the semen samples. His spokeswoman has parroted the old line that the accusations against him are “completely and utterly false” but Waleed has so far refused to provide the DNA sample. What is he afraid of if he claims to be innocent?
A major stockholder in mega-multi-national corporations, Prince al-Waleed is the largest individual stakeholder in Citigroup and the second-largest investor in News Corporation that owns the pro-Zionist, racist Fox News, which habitually spouts venom against Islam, Muslims and the noble Messenger (r). Forbes valued his fortune this year at $19.4 billion, making him the 26th richest man in the world and the wealthiest in the Arabian world. Waleed has never felt any pangs of conscience to restrain Fox News from their Islamophobic and sacrilegious rantings against Islam, Muslims and the noble Messenger (r).
Prince al-Waleed, however, is not alone in such behaviour. The Saudi royals are notorious for immoral acts. When he was ambassador in Washington DC, Prince Bandar bin Sultan used to organize wild parties at his vast estate house on the Potomac to which American celebrities were invited. Men, including Bandar, and women running naked — yes stark naked — was a common feature during these parties. The former king Fahd was also given to such indiscretions. In the early 1970s, he lost $6 million in one night in a gambling casino in Monte Carlo. Such stories abound.
It is, however, the pressure from the Islamic Awakening currently sweeping the Muslim East that has forced the Saudi monarch to become a “reformer”. When he returned from back surgery in the US last February, Abdullah announced a $37 billion package to help Saudis find jobs and acquire houses. This was seen as a blatant attempt to bribe the people so that they would not revolt against the oppressive monarchical regime. In March there were sporadic uprisings, both in the eastern provinces as well as in Riyadh but the security forces quickly clamped down and suppressed them. They have since gone underground. According to reports received by Crescent International, there is growing resentment among the people about the state of governance; they are not satisfied with cosmetic changes. They demand real change, like in other Arab countries. Last May more than 60 intellectuals called for a boycott of the September 20 polls saying, “Municipal councils lack the authority to effectively carry out their role.” Even this toothless body is not fully trusted by the ruling family; the king will appoint half its members. Some democracy, some change.
It is Saudi duplicity in supporting some movements in the Muslim East while opposing others that has exposed the House of Saud to fierce criticism. Saudi Arabia has supported uprisings in Libya and Syria but vehemently opposed those in Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan and Yemen. It has even sent troops to Bahrain to crush the people’s aspirations. The real reason was and remains that Bahrain’s majority comprises Shi‘is and the Saudis are loathed to see them get their rights.
Yemen poses an even greater dilemma. It controls access to the Red Sea and is a prized piece of real estate through which Middle Eastern oil will flow to the west if Iran were to block the Strait of Hormuz in the event of a US-Israeli attack. Thus, Saudi Arabia acts as a US-Zionist agent in the region but it feels vulnerable since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak from power in Egypt. Saudi Arabia is not capable of carrying the military burden alone. At the end of 2009, Houthi tribesmen of north Yemen mauled Saudi forces when they attacked the Yemenis at the behest of the US. The Saudi interior minister had to beg the Houthis to release his troops in return for un-announced sum of money.
If the Saudi troops are incapable of fighting Yemeni tribesmen, how will they face battle-hardened troops from other countries? Besides, the growing mass assertion of people for rights in the Muslim East has also emboldened the Saudi masses. They are no longer willing to put up with bribes and platitudes.
There is, however, one factor that has enabled the Saudi ruling family to cling to power: the presence of the Haramain — the two holy cities of Makkah and Madinah — in the Arabian Peninsula. The House of Saud has cleverly exploited the respect and honor accorded to these two holy places by Muslims worldwide. The king has taken on the title of “Custodian of the Two Holy Places.” Many Muslims innocently believe that the Saudi ruling family must be pious because it administers the Haramain. Little do they realize that they are in clear violation of Allah’s (SWT) commands as stated in the noble Qur’an and that the day the Haramain are liberated from the clutches of the House of Saud will also be the day of liberation for the entire Ummah.
It is to this aspect that the people of the Arabian Peninsula and indeed the larger Muslim Ummah must pay attention. Cosmetic reforms will not solve the deep-rooted problems of illegitimacy and subservience of the House of Saud to the West.