Commentary by Dr. Ali Alyami
Infiltration of Anti-Monarchy Enemies
Director’s Comment: 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. Read Original Article
Saudi Prince’s advice to Hamas
Director’s Comment: “He (Prince Turki Al-Faisal) also had some advice for Hamas: Follow the examples of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., who used civil disobedience to achieve their objectives. “You are choosing the wrong weapons,” he said. “How can you challenge the Israeli might with a few rockets and suicide bombs? Challenge them on humanitarian grounds, make them out to be the bullies that they are. That’s how you win.””
The former head of Saudi intelligence (for more than two decades) and Ambassador to the United Kingdom and the United States, Turki Al-Faisal, is advising Hamas and the rest of the Palestinians to fend for themselves. After 70 years of promising a decisive victory over the “Zionist entity” and the delivery of Palestine to the Palestinian Arabs, the Arab autocratic and theocratic regimes are admitting publicly what they and many Arabs and non-Arabs have known for decades: Israel is too powerful to be defeated militarily, technologically, economically, educationally or socially.
Instead of a military victory, as elucidated by the blunt Saudi talker, Prince Turki, the Arab ruling elites are advising the Palestinians to accept what the Israelis are willing to concede humanitarianly. The big challenge for the Arab autocrats and their controlled media now is how they are going to convince their captive and voiceless masses to let go of the false hopes they have been fed for decades: a victory that was never meant to be, but was designed to blame Arab failures at home on external enemies. The Arab people should heed the Prince’s advice and practice what he has advised the Palestinians to do. Read Original Article
Domestic Unrest Threatens Saudi Fragile Unity
Director’s Comment: Unlike any other people, the citizens of Saudi Arabia have no national identity. They identify with their tribes, regions, and cities, but nationally, they are all coerced into identifying with the family that named the country after itself, the House of Saud. The people are identified as “Saudis” as opposed to Americans, Indians, French, Jordanians, Swiss, Lebanese or Sri Lankans. It depends on where one comes from, but identifying with regions, tribes and villages can carry some stigma. This, however, is nothing like religious distinctions, especially between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
Religious designation in Saudi Arabia carries disproportionate stigma; consequently it has been the most divisive, challenging and destabilizing component in Saudi society since the inception of the Saudi-Wahhabi state in the early 1930s. Even though most Saudis are not adherent to the austere Hambali-based Wahhabi brand of Saudi Sunni Islam, they are forced into accepting Wahhabism because it is the state’s imposed official religion. The Sunni Wahhabis consider their brand of Islam pure and those who question its supremacy are considered enemies of God and true Islam.
It is estimated that 15 to 20 percent of the Saudi population is adherent to the Shiite brand of Islam. The majority of the Saudi Shiites lives in the oil rich eastern region of Saudi Arabia on the Arab side of the Arab-Persian Gulf. Because of religious animosity between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in general, but more so between the Wahhabi brand of Islam and the Shiites, the Saudi Shiites have been severely discriminated against, especially in employment, education and infrastructural development, even though most Saudi revenues are generated by the sale of petroleum produced in the Shiite region. Not only are the Shiites excluded from economic development, they are denied the right to practice their religious rituals publicly. The religious oppression and economic disparity have been points of contention between the Saudi-Wahhabi government and the Shiite minority.
The Shiite marginalization in Saudi Arabia began to change after the 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution. The population of Iran consists primarily of Shiites, who not only share religious commonality with Shiites everywhere, but resent the manner in which Sunni Muslim regimes and societies treat their Shiite minorities. This was a turning point for the Saudi Shiites. They began to defy the Saudi religious oppression and demand their share of the national wealth, but the Saudi regime did very little to accommodate their rights. The same activities were happening in the smaller Arab Gulf states with sizable Shiite populations. All Shiite populations in the Gulf States were growing in number and in strength, the latter due to the formidable Iranian power in the region.
The ascendance of Iran as a major power in the Gulf region and the Middle East at large, the rise of Hezbollah to power domination in Lebanon and the shift of power from the minority ruling Sunnis to the majority Shiites after the liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein changed the political and military landscape in the Middle East in favor of the Shiites. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and some members in his family started to realize this, but not to the point of rectifying the massive economic damage done to their Shiite minorities in different parts of the country. They slightly reduced religious restrictions on Eastern Province Shiites, but ignored the economic development that has been denied to the Shiites because of their religious beliefs.
There have been recent reports of skirmishes in Medina between a small number of Shiites and Sunni religious police over Shiite rituals. This resulted in a number of injured Shiites, which seems to have provoked a Shiite religious cleric in the oil rich region to demand religious freedom and economic equality for Shiites, or secession from the country. The Saudi forces are reported to be arresting people and restricting their movements in Shiite areas in the oil rich province. Saudi analysts feel this could lead to more violence which could bring in external players to help their oppressed brethrens. Read Original Article
Send a Text Message and She is Gone
Director’s Comment: Blackberries, mobile phones and the internet are probably more utilized as means of communication in Saudi Arabia than anywhere else in the world. This is due to severe censorship, razor-sharp gender segregation and the lack of all forms of free expression. Now some Saudi men discovered they could get rid of their wives by sending a nonchalant text message. A Saudi husband who is in Iraq to partake in what he describes as a “jihad” (another term for a suicide bomber) sent text messages to inform his wife and two of his friends that he had divorced her. This most inhumane conduct was approved by a Saudi Shari’ah court, representing Islamic law.
Saudi women do not have the same privileges as men to divorce their spouses, even if their husbands are known abusers. In order for Saudi women to get divorced, they have to go to a religious court, staffed by religious men who believe that God created women in order to lure men to commit unforgivable sins. Many courageous Saudi women and some enlightened men are beginning to question and challenge the Saudi judicial system and the use of their religion to justify egregious practices by Saudi courts. They deserve our admiration, but more importantly our support. Read Original Article
Divorced, Beaten, Sick, Abandoned and Nowhere to go
Director’s Comment: While Saudi Arabia is not the only country where cases of abuses of women occur, Saudi women have no legal or economic protection to defend themselves against abuses. They are not allowed to work, travel or even deliver babies without the approval of a male relative (guardian). The unnatural and counterproductive maltreatment of Saudi and expatriate women in Saudi Arabia is taking a huge economic, political, social, religious and educational toll on Saudi society. The misfortune of women in Saudi Arabia affects Muslim and all women worldwide. Saudi Arabia plays a major religious and economic role in people’s lives and is considered an ally of the West. The Saudi government (ruling family) has to be held accountable to comply with international declarations on human rights and the World Trade Organization’s rules. The international community, especially the Western Saudi allies and beneficiaries, has obligations to nudge the Saudis to implement a non-sectarian rule of law to p rotect people, citizens and guests, from abuses by government agencies, such as the Saudi judicial system, and religious extremist heavy handedness. Read Original Article
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