Saudi Arabia – Moderate Voice or Draconian Monarchy?

By Clare Lopez:

Saudi Arabia’s hardline ultra-conservative religious council, the Majlis al-Ifta’ al-A’ala working in conjunction with Kamal Subhi, a former professor at the King Fahd University, have just released a ‘scientific study’ that has come to some rather outlandish conclusions. 

In response to the growing pressure from women’s groups in Saudi Arabia to lift the ban on women driving, the report has warned that doing so would “provoke a surge in prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce.” Within ten years of the ban being lifted, the report’s authors claim, there would be “no more virgins” in the Islamic kingdom. And it pointed out “moral decline” could already be seen in other Muslim countries where women are allowed to drive.

Just a few weeks earlier, the Kingdom’s Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice has proposed a law to stop women from revealing their “tempting” eyes to the public. Should this law be passed, it would in effect, force Saudi women to more or less cover their entire bodies from head to toe – including their eyes. 

The Saudi Kingdom clearly is passing through a stressful period: not because the Crown Prince died earlier this year and his likely successors are all tottering through their twilight years; not because the Kingdom’s arch rival, Iran, is driving for a deployable nuclear weapon; nor even because revolutionary forces are sweeping the region. No, to all indications in the international media, the real problem is all the Mutawain (Saudi morals police) jockeying for extra duty to select exactly which female eyes henceforth will have to be covered in public.   

This is the absurdity of Saudi Arabia today. Even as its aging royal rulers (King Abdullah is 88 years old) observe fellow Arab regimes going down around them like ten pins, the Kingdom’s leadership knows it lacks the most basic resources of a modern state to meet the inevitable demands of its youthful population. It’s not that this brutal police state lacks the repressive security forces or material resources to deal with a popular protest movement. It’s that neither these, nor all the vast oil wealth in the Peninsula, can stop the sands of time which are rapidly counting down the hours on a regime decked in the gaudy glitz of modern excess but trapped in a savage mindset from the 7th century. 

A new book  “Saudi Arabia and the Global Islamic Terrorist Network: America and the West’s Fatal Embrace,” presents a disturbing look at the realities of the Saudi Kingdom, whose rigid Wahhabist Islamic code locks it into a bigoted, jihadist, misogynist world view grounded in anti-Western animus and Jew-hatred. Without the Saudis’ key role in the global oil-based economy and calculated largesse to policymakers, think tanks, and universities to help smooth the way, it surely would be an uphill slog otherwise for their armies of well-heeled lobbyists. As it is, for decades the Saudis have counted on petro-dollars and Western cupidity to ensure official submissiveness in the face of blatant financial support to Muslim terrorist groups, mega-mosques and Islamic Centers, and the shariah-promoting literature and textbooks that stoke jihad in all of them. 

Before the well-organized onslaught of the so-called “Arab Spring” in 2011, the Saudi Kingdom may well have believed its most critical challenges came from its Shi’ite Persian nemesis across the Gulf and Iran’s Sunni al-Qa’eda allies on the Peninsula (AQAP). In the space of months, however, it was no longer a question of escaping the turmoil but of damage control. Having dispatched three more-or-less secular dictatorships in 2011, the al-Qa’eda and Muslim Brotherhood forces on the march across North Africa have made no secret of their intent to take aim at “corrupt” monarchs next year. A young, restless population with inadequate opportunities for meaningful work, next to zero approved social outlets, and plenty of access to the latest technology toys with which to view how the rest of the 21st century world lives, leaves an unprepared Saudi leadership facing the inevitable clamor for expanded political and social rights.     

Only the lack of an organized opposition characterized by the total absence of political parties or trade unions and real fear among the Saudi urban middle class that revolt against the House of Saud could set loose chaos that would split apart the country’s regional, religious, and sectarian fault lines have kept the place together this long. But it is Western, especially American, willingness to turn a blind eye to Saudi terror funding, support for the Da’wa stealth jihad campaign led by the Muslim Brotherhood, and backing for the spread of Shariah Compliant Finance that enables the charade of Saudi “partnership” to stand. 

A few crumbs like King Abdullah’s September 2011 decree that Saudi women will be allowed to serve in parliament in 2012 and vote and stand as candidates in 2015 municipal elections are hardly enough to satisfy the pent-up energy of the 50% of the Saudi population whose every move in life remains chained to primitive, misogynistic and often violent notions of gender roles. Even as Saudi society deprives itself of intellectual and professional contributions from half its population, its aging, hypocritical rulers indulge in polygamous and hedonistic lifestyles. According to a WikiLeaks cable from 2008, the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh reported that King Abdullah “remains a heavy smoker, regularly receives hormone injections and ‘uses Viagra excessively.’” 

Change is coming to the Saudi desert kingdom whether the Saudis are ready or not. All things considered, trends already in motion do not look good over the long-term for the House of Saud, no matter how many hundreds of billions the King hands out. Foreign policy outreach to establish a network of economic and political ties with potential global partners such as China, Japan, and Russia is not a bad idea either, just inadequate to deal with what is essentially an internal problem: how to unleash the potential of all Saudis to compete in the modern world and loose the shackles that have hobbled them since the dawn of Islam. 

Saudi youth, both male and female, have some choices to make, choices their diminishingly lucid elders probably cannot make, about what kind of society they want to live in. U.S. and Western leaderships have some shackles of their own to cast off, beginning with energy dependence and willful blindness about the Saudi commitment to shariah Islam, jihad, and the subjugation of Dar al-Harb (the non-Muslim world) to Dar al-Islam (the Muslim world) Absent is the realization that equality, individual liberty, minority protection, pluralism, rule of man-made law, and tolerance are the building blocks of civil society that undergird a true democracy, and that these things are not necessarily genetically coded in human beings but must be defended and nourished, neither the House of Saud nor American exceptionalism can expect to weather intact the storms ahead.

 

Clare M. Lopez, a senior fellow at the Clarion Fund, is a strategic policy and intelligence expert with a focus on Middle East, national defense, and counterterrorism issues.