Sunday, August 14, 2005

The King is Dead...Long Live the King...

Anyone hoping for or expecting fundamental change in Saudi Arabia with the death of King Fahd and the succession of Prince Abdullah to the throne is about to be sorely disappointed. It is a well known fact that Crown Prince Abdullah had been de facto ruler for at least the last 10 years as the ailing King Fahd ceded more and more of his duties to him.

In those ten years, wealth distribution has not changed – the rich have gotten richer and the poor have stayed poor. Women have not gained an iota of freedom, and Imams preaching strict Wahabi Islam (and hate-mongering against anyone not of the Wahabi sect) have not been stifled so long as they preach loyalty to the monarchy. In fact, one could say that the Saudis are in a sort of stasis that goes through occasional fits and starts. One of those fits was the pseudo-elections last year (where coincidentally women were not granted the right to vote or run for office) whereby only specially approved people could run in the elections.

Saudi Arabia is not only the birth place of Islamic Fundamentalism, it is the home of Mecca and Medina (two of Islam’s holiest sites). In order for the two holy sites to be preserved for future generations (and remain pure), fundamental changes need to take place in Saudi internal policy beginning with the emancipation of Women. Women need to be given their rightful places in society as equals. Not a single entry in the Holy Quran denies a woman her rights. Not a single entry denies a woman her basic freedoms. The laws that are confining Saudi women are manmade not God-made. No where does God say that a woman should not drive; no where does God ever say we should be made to endure mind-numbing abuse at the hands of men who like to think they are superior to women.

Next, wealth distribution must change. Currently, almost all of the oil wealth that flows into Saudi Arabia goes directly into the hands of the royal family. What that means is, roughly 5000 people control all of the money in the country leaving the other 20,500,000 living anywhere between lower middle class and abject poverty. Those 20, 500,000 people do not always have the money to send their children to private schools so they send them to the state-run facilities. In those facilities, the curriculum is rounded but focuses on the extremist Wahabism pervading our faith at this time. Karl Marx once said “…religion is the opium of the masses….” and in this case, it is true. The Saudi monarchy uses Wahabism (a sect that preaches absolute loyalty to the ruler no matter how corrupt) to keep it’s people in line but what they did not count on was that these schools would become subversive and create a whole generation of terrorists. If wealth is redistributed and opportunities are created, then people can send their children to the private schools which have a curriculum that includes religion but does not focus on it. Wealth redistribution will also aid in making sure that more and more young Saudis are trained to compete in a global economy.

It has been 10 years since Abdullah took over where Fahd left off. Saudi Arabia is just as stagnant now as it was then. If Abdullah wants to be remembered as a good and just King, he will start with the reforms needed to free the women in his country and move on to wealth redistribution.

The King is dead… Long live the King…


Blogger Tom Carter said...

Amal, I think you're right. A few things have been done in the early days of King Abdullah's reign, but I think they were largely cosmetic, designed for western consumption. I spent a few months in Saudi Arabia during the period leading up to the first Gulf war, and in addition to seeing it first hand, I've read a lot about the history and politics of the Kingdom. The influence of Wahhabism is here to stay, and I think anyone who believes otherwise is more hopeful than realistic.

7:08 AM  
Blogger Abu Sinan said...

Nothing will change. They have offered three day weekends, pay rises, you name it. All to cover the fact that no reforms are on the way. Trust me, I have delt with Saudi burocrats for years. Nothing will change until the al-Saud family is gone from power.

7:17 PM  

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