Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, CDHR, Washington DC
March 11, 2016
Inclusive Caliphate, Defeating ISIS, Women and Back Door Municipal Elections
CDHR’s Analysis and Commentaries
Is a Saudi-Led Caliphate in the Making?
CDHR Analysis: While the major international powers are futilely trying to stop ISIS’s ideological and territorial gains, a more inclusive Muslim Caliphate seems to be in the making. Realizing its inability to survive without external powers’ protection, Saudi Arabia, on the one hand, is courting the West to protect it and, on the other hand, is relentlessly pursuing unification of autocratic and theocratic Sunni Muslim regimes to form a united military force (coalition) headquartered in Saudi Arabia.
Based on what Saudi Defense Minister Prince Mohammed said (in Arabic) when he announced the formation of this 34-country coalition on Dec. 15, 2015, the Saudis’ long term objective may go beyond the overt pronouncements made by the Saudis that this force is intended to fight “terrorists” (as they define them.) Known as masters of duplicitous schemes, the Saudi rulers are taking advantage of justified Western complaints that Sunni Muslims are not doing enough to fight ISIS. When asked whether the newly formed Muslim force will be used only to fight ISIS, Prince Mohammed replied that it would be used against any threat.
Considering the unprecedented threats the coalition regimes are facing domestically and regionally, one can assume, based on historical precedents, that these regimes’ first and foremost priority is to protect themselves from their unfulfilled and bottled-up populations. Given their obsession with their fragile grip on power, the Coalition participants are likely to use the newly formed military force to ensure their continued rule since many of them are too weak to prevail on their own. However, this military force may also be the first step in forming an inclusive Sunni Muslim Caliphate (resembling the Ottoman Empire) to defend the “Muslim Nation” in a potential clash between Muslims and non-Muslims.
Due to their religious and financial prominence and disproportionate influence, the Saudi/Wahhabi regime that rules Saudi Arabia, apparently in alliance with Turkey (in whose economy the Saudis have been investing hundreds of billions of dollars in recent years), are together the only powers that can rally support for this Sunni Muslim unification project.
The Saudi/Wahhabi allies’ concept of unifying Muslims (Ummah) under their dogma has been more than a pipe dream. From its inception in the mid-18th century in the poverty stricken Nejd region of central Arabia, the Saudi/Wahhabi alliance has not only been determined to mercilessly unify (Tawhid or “divine unification”) the scattered Arabian tribes to form a theocratic Caliphate under its rule. But the Saudi rulers have yearned to expand their acquisitions to other Muslim communities and beyond, as former Saudi King Abdullah pronounced in November 2011. His ultra-doctrinaire brother Prince Salman (now King) is even more emphatic about advancing the Saudi dogma, declaring in 2010 that Wahhabism is the true face of Islam.
The 21st century Saudi Kings’ declarations are consistent with the original 18th century Saudi/ Wahhabi “cathartic movement,” which aimed not only to purify the desert dwellers, but all Muslims whom they considered blasphemers because, in the Wahhabis’ eyes, they had strayed away from Salafism (Islam as practiced during the era of its founding and lifetime of its Prophet, 570-632 AD). This long-held goal of purifying and unifying Muslims in a Caliphate-like state (“Muslim Nation”) remains uppermost in the minds of the Saudi rulers.
Given this self-promoting agenda, the Saudis’ wide-ranging and relentless efforts to unite approximately 1.4 billion Sunni Muslims, ostensibly to fight terrorism, should raise a basic question among Muslims and non-Muslims alike: is the Saudi ruling dynasty’s real objective the defeat of particular Muslim terror movements like ISIS or the creation of a broader Caliphate Empire?
The Saudi royal family now recognizes that it has been outmaneuvered by ISIS’s proclamation of a Muslim Caliphate and feels imminently threatened as a result. ISIS has a large following among Saudis because the ISIS leadership embraces the same fundamentalist Wahhabi ideology that is the basis of legitimacy for the Saudi royal family. In order to survive, the Saudi ruling family has had to neutralize or defeat any potential ideological Sunni competitor. For example, the founder of the Saudi state, King Abdul Aziz staged a bloody purge of the powerful Wahhabi Ikhwan in 1929. Recently, the Saudi royal family contrived and paid for a military takeover in Egypt in order not only to remove from power the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood (a powerful pan Arab Sunni party that threatened Saudi Sunni leadership), but to see that organization designated as a terrorist group.
Although the Saudis’ practice of unifying Muslims by the sword alone was largely abandoned after the establishment in 1932 of their Sunni Salafi state (as characterized by former Crown Prince Naif), the concept of Muslim unity continues to dominate the Saudi regime’s domestic and external policies.
Having failed to unify Muslims by force as they envisioned during nearly two centuries of bloody wars in the Arabian Peninsula (1744-1932), the Saudis are now using financial, political and ideological means to achieve their goal. It’s documented that the Saudi regime has spent more than $100 billion over the last two decades to spread its dogma throughout the world. As hosts (Custodians) of the 1.5 billion Muslims’ (including non-Sunni Muslims) holy shrines in Mecca and Medina, the Saudi/Wahhabi ruling dynasties maintain tremendous influence over Muslims worldwide. They infiltrate Muslim communities in many different ways. They build schools and mosques, train imams (clerics), contribute to questionable charities and pour billions of dollars into the purses of politicians in many Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Egypt, Sudan, Morocco and Turkey, just to name a few.
Now the beneficiary and threatened regimes of these countries are responding to the Saudi call for Muslim unity and joining the military coalition announced by Saudi Defense Minister Prince Mohammed on December 15, 2015. 20 of the “Muslim Coalition” countries are participating in massive unprecedented joint military exercises in Saudi Arabia, the likes of which the region has never experienced.
There are reasons why other Muslim regimes are cooperating with Saudi Arabia. Despite extensive meetings and disingenuous pronouncements of cooperation with the West by Arab and Muslim regimes to defeat Muslim terror movements, these oligarchies see themselves as the next targets of the ongoing international bombardments of groups like ISIS, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. In addition, the West’s centuries old commitments to defend Arab and Muslim rulers have been irreparably damaged due to the alarming rise in Muslim terror attacks on Western interests and populations, and due to unprecedented threats to Western democratic values.
During a stormy Arab summit in Damascus in 2008, the former Libyan despot, Moammar Al-Qaddafi, warned his Arab summiteer audience “that Saddam Hussein's fate awaits all Arab leaders,” a theme he repeated at another Arab summit in Doha, Qatar 2009. Although Arab regimes shared Al-Qaddafi’s apprehension, they kept their fears private until they agreed on a strategy that they erroneously think might save them.
Having finally concluded that they cannot expect unconditional Western protection (mostly from each other and from their suppressed populations), Muslim and Arab regimes feel compelled to depend upon each other despite their current and historical animosities and mistrust.
Given these unparalleled developments in the relationship between the West and the Arab and Muslim regimes, the formation, buildup and overwhelming military exercises of the “Muslim Coalition” are not designed merely to fight terrorism, stabilize the Middle East and to defend against threats from the region, but to warn international powers (specifically Western governments and businesses) against undermining the dictatorial status quo, especially in Arab states as stated recently by Saudi Crown Prince and Interior Minister Prince Mohammed Bin Naif. He deliberately declared that the “Arab nations need a unified front to counter their enemies who are bent on undermining their security, stealing their wealth and impoverishing their peoples.”
The significance and objectives of this Coalition and its military maneuvers should not be underestimated by either the surrounding countries (Iraq, Syria, Israel and Iran) or by Western powers. The “West” may end up paying the price for a coalition whose formation Western governments encouraged, albeit for different reasons.
If one is familiar with the long-standing, but unfulfilled Saudi/Wahhabi aspiration of uniting Sunni Muslims under its ideology, one can readily see that forming this Muslim Coalition is a major step toward founding an inclusive Muslim Caliphate to unify Saudi style theocratic and autocratic rule in the region. However, sustaining a formidable Muslim Caliphate militarily will be difficult if not impossible unless the West continues to sell the Coalition the best military hardware that money can buy and to help Arab and Muslim regimes build dozens of nuclear reactors, ostensibly for peaceful use.
The question is what if Western regimes and their arms’ inventors and sellers decide not to sell sophisticated arms that can and/or will be used against them? Judging by the current massacres of defenseless populations by their iron-fisted ruling regimes and by ISIS, one can safely assume that the desperate autocracies and theocracies of which the Arab and Muslim Coalition consists will use ISIS’s tactics domestically and globally to achieve their primary objective: continuing to rule at any cost.
Can ISIS Be Defeated By Guns And Bombs?
CDHR’s Commentary: Hoping that ISIS can be defeated by guns and bombs is a delusion. ISIS manifests a combination of a drive for complete male control over female sexuality and authoritarian Mosque-State control over all aspects of subject societies. In the long run, the defeat of ISIS will come from worldwide demonstration of the advantages -- social, economic and political--of ordered free societies open to the intellectual and economic contributions of all its citizens, of whatever gender or religious creed.
But the opportunities for this worldwide demonstration are blocked, in many Middle Eastern societies, by authoritarian, dictatorial regimes. These regimes pretend abhorrence of ISIS, but harbor within them similar impulses and objectives. Indeed, Saudi Arabia is considered the birthplace and home of the ISIS ideology, and much of the support of ISIS is believed to come from Saudi Arabia. Beyond this, ISIS serves as an effective weapon in the hands of regional competitors. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and others are arming and financing the groups that constitute ISIS.
Contrary to the confident pronouncements by Western presidents, prime ministers and generals that ISIS can be defeated on the battlefield, the West needs to look to making the costs of ISIS more substantial than its benefits to Arab and Muslim regimes. And Western powers, specifically, need to make much clearer that they do not support the repressive and archaic regimes that have spawned ISIS and other lethal ideologues. Otherwise, ISIS will continue to expand, as this article implies.
There is another set of issues in play. Western polities are understandably concerned about intrusions by versions of Islamic belief and practice that threaten democratic values. The responses to these threats have demonstrated tendencies that can potentially erode democratic values and turn segments of democratic societies against each other.
Thus the international community, especially the ‘West’, has to choose between difficult options. One is to resist Arab and Muslim regimes’ ambitions to use the Middle East as a springboard to dominate the world order. Another is to try to help liberalize the regimes which combine authoritarian and archaic government. A third option would be to continue the current limited and ineffective military strikes and risk a permanent internal “state of emergency” as currently employed in France.
Guns and bombs alone will not defeat ISIS. They must be combined with an understanding of its ideology, confidence in democratic cultures, and the use of intellectual, economic, and political advantages across the entire scope of global engagement. Support for repressive rule is not the best tactic, but rather one of the worst.
Electing Saudi Women Re-enforces Gender Segregation And Inequality
CDHR Commentary: In a fearless open letter to the geriatric Saudi Minister of Municipal and Rural Affairs, Prince Mite'b bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, Samar Fatany, a prominent Saudi advocate of tolerance and peaceful reform, courageously elucidated that the extremist wing of the ruling Saudi elites is not only blocking any potential progress (even cosmetic steps like municipal elections), but is endangering the country’s unity and inciting non-Muslims to blame Islam for intolerance, terrorism and cruelty, as exemplified by ISIS’s butchery.
Despite allowing carefully screened Saudi women to run for office and despite the domestic election’s psychological euphoria, echoed by pro Saudi foreign media, Saudis did not expect any measurable change on the ground, given the past brief history (2005 and 2011) of elections in which only men were allowed to run for office. Those men elected had no authority to impact the status quo since elections were primarily designed to silence domestic and foreign critics of the absolute Saudi rule.
As this courageous and visionary Saudi woman implied, electing women to powerless local councils was not intended to empower women, but to expand the destructive gender segregation and inequality to cover parts of Saudi Arabia known for their historical culture of tolerance and liberalism before being taken over by the Saudi/Wahhabi allies in the 1920s.
Samar Fatany began her blunt letter by stating: “Mr. Minister you have disappointed the city of Jeddah…perceived to be the most open city in Saudi Arabia…by imposing rigid rules to marginalize the women elected to the Municipal Council by demanding that they use separate entrances and isolated quarters. How can you allow the extremists to dictate their intolerant attitude over a progressive society like Jeddah? The culture of the people of Jeddah holds women in high regard and treats them with great respect.”
By allowing some Saudi women to run for office in a meaningless charade of political process, the Saudi rulers are misjudging a large segment of their increasingly educated, aspiring and well-informed population, especially women. Unlike their grandmothers, millions of Saudi women are college graduates, world travelers, social media addicts and unwilling to continue using the back doors.
Denying Saudi Women The Right To Work Then Blaming Them For Being Indolent
CDHR’s Commentary: In what seem to be well-rehearsed answers to questions asked by a reporter of The British Economist, Saudi deputy Crown Prince, Defense Minister and economic development overseer, Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (the king’s son), gave a positive, albeit misleading, account of the Saudi kingdom’s political, legal, economic, religious and social affairs. Among the many exaggerated and unsubstantiated answers the novice prince is quoted to have said is that Saudi Arabia has a legislative parliament. The Saudi people would be the first to contradict the Prince’s depiction of the rosy affairs of a regime known domestically and globally for its draconian political and religious policies and practices.
Another of the prince’s inflated claims is his accusation that Saudi women lack the interest to work. When asked about the reason for the staggering percentage of unemployed Saudi women (estimated at 82%), the apprentice minister was quoted as saying, (it’s the) ‘Culture of women in Saudi Arabia; the woman herself. She’s not used to working. She needs more time to accustom herself to the idea of work. A large percentage of Saudi women are used to the fact of staying at home. They’re not used to being working women.’
Prince Mohammed and his mentors, specifically his father King Salman, could not be more wrong about Saudi women’s lack of interest in and ability to work. Prior to the widespread imposition and stern enforcement of the misogynistic Saudi/Wahhabi policies, Saudi women (who are among the most resilient people in the world) were tilling and harvesting fields, building mud and straw houses, weaving and making clothing, fetching wood and water and herding their families’ flocks. The Saudi and Wahhabi dynasties have used their religious and political dogma to ensure that women remain totally controlled by men physically and financially for political and economic reasons, not because of religious and traditional customs, as they cagily assert.
In reality, it’s the system that should be held liable if most Saudi women are reluctant not only to seek employment, but to leave their homes for fear of attacks and humiliation by the ferocious governmental religious police who are obsessed with women’s sexuality and a daunting fear of their self-reliance. The argument that women do not want to work offers the same unfounded excuses Saudi officials have used for decades, despite the fact that denying women the right to work is a state policy.
On the one hand, every conceivable man-made hurdle is institutionalized to deny the overwhelming majority of Saudi women the right to work. On the other hand, unemployed women are blamed for lacking the motivation to work, an excuse that Prince Mohammed and his family have used to render the female half of Saudi society dependent on and controlled by the other half, Saudi men.
In reality, women are not only prevented from earning a self-supporting living, but excluded from educational program that encourages work ethics and economic opportunities as this account demonstrates. By excluding women from the work force, the Saudi regime re-enforces social divisions, another aspect of its “divide and conquer” philosophy upon which the Saudi/Wahhabi state is founded.
The Saudi Rulers Ought To Emulate The British Experience
CDHR’s Commentary: In a recent article in The Financial Times, Nick Butler wrote a pragmatic piece suggesting that the Saudis reconsider their current oil policy. Butler advocates a pull back on oil production, making room in the oil market for slightly higher and more stable prices for other OPEC members like Iraq, Venezuela and Iran. In doing so, the Saudis would show some respect for economic forces and for other oil producers whose income, like the Saudis’, relies heavily on oil revenues. Like many observers of Saudi policies, influence and behavior, Butler understands that the Saudis’ global influence has been in a steady decline due to economic, political and strategic forces over which the Saudis have no control.
Butler speaks from a rich heritage. From their little northern island, the British ruled a global empire for centuries. While doing so, they transitioned from an agricultural era to an industrial epoch. And they transitioned from an authoritarian monarchy to a robust democracy with ceremonial monarchs. The British could not have accomplished these feats without canny navigation of oceans, air, and the winds of trade, as well as the requirements for capable and reliable forms of governance responsive to the needs of their people.
The rulers of Saudi Arabia have not managed any such accomplishments. Domestically, they seem to be resistant to any meaningful political reforms, without which their fragile kingdom will continue to experience severe internal turmoil, which will inevitably result in domestic disorder.
In international affairs the current Saudi rulers are acting boldly, but not visibly wisely, as exemplified by their military adventurism.
While the newest ruling generation of the Saudi Dynasty demonstrates ambition, they do not as yet exhibit much insight into the requirements for navigating international waters, or the need to enfranchise their population, many of whom are aspiring for better governance and a secure economic future.
Unlike the British, the Saudi monarchs seem to be defying all odds at a time when their survival depends upon domestic and international transformative compromise.
Abuses Of Poverty Stricken Migrant Workers In Saudi Arabia And Other Gulf States
CDHR’s Commentary: Despite being signatories to international declarations on migrant workers’ rights (especially the WTO), the oil rich Gulf Arab States (GCC) are among the worst abusers of migrant workers. 70% of the work force in these countries consists mostly of poverty stricken migrant workers who are severely abused by their employers and neglected by the international community, including labor unions and their home countries.
Due to their desperate need to make a meager living, these migrant workers tolerate unspeakable cruelty such as sexual and physical abuse of maids, 24 hour on call work schedules (drivers and maids), withholding of wages for months, and unhealthy living conditions for laborers. Most of these workers are virtually imprisoned because their employers confiscate their documents upon arrival. Additionally, the migrant workers in the Gulf States have no legal, social or religious rights, especially the non-Muslims, due to the autocratic, hierarchical nature of these societies and to the absence of non-sectarian rule of law.
One would think (for pragmatic reasons if nothing else) that the indigenous populations and their rulers would be grateful to these hard working men and women, who keep the economies of the Gulf States afloat, since most locals like to stay up late, arise late and put in 3 to 4 hours a day at work.
Hypocritically, the Gulf States (GCC) are allies of democratic Western societies, media and labor unions (such as the AFL-CIO), who turn a blind eye to unspeakable violations of human rights in these countries.
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