This afternoon I am going to the Rayburn House Office Building, to a meeting on: The State of Reform: Human Rights, Democratic Development, and Individual Freedoms in
Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf States
, as the guest of Dr. Ali Alyami, Director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia.
A few weeks ago Dr. Alyami granted me an interview - which I am posting here because there isn't a lot of interest elsewhere. Later I will be posting about meeting his Egyptian colleague Tarek Heggy, also an advocate for liberty in the Middle East and the activities of the Center, which you can check on here: http://www.cdhr.info/
Saudi Arabia is the elephant in the room in the War on Terror. The Kingdom, while nominally an ally and friend of the United States, it is the major supplier of funds and volunteers for global jihad against the West and the United States.
The unhealthy relationship between US political elites and the Saudi royal family is a scandal waiting to break – that never does. The execrable Michael Moore made the relationship between the Saudi royals and the Bush family a major focus of his propaganda-piece Fahrenheit 9/11 but interestingly, though it seems that this would be one of President Bush’s major vulnerabilities, Democrats failed to pick up on it as an election issue. The most likely reason is that the corruption of our political processes by Saudi money is a bipartisan issue which neither side wants to talk about.
I spoke with Dr. Ali Alyami, and consulted their website and position paper Strategies for Encouraging Democratic Reform in Saudi Arabia: The Path and Obstacles to democratization and Respect for Human Rights. Although a non-sectarian himself, Dr. Alyami is a member of the Ismaili minority in Saudi Arabia, a former employee of Saudi Aramco, starting around age 10 at 75 cents per day. He has lived in the United States for 40 years and holds a Ph.D. in Government and Diplomacy from Claremont Graduate University. He is married with two children, his son is an officer in the US Army and has served one tour of duty in Iraq.
What are the goals of the Center?
Dr. Alyami explained that the broad goals for Saudi Arabia lie in: political reform, privatization and economic reform, women’s rights and religious freedom.
For specifics, the Center advocates a non-sectarian constitution that would guarantee the rights of all Saudis, including women and religious minorities. They would expand and empower the Majlis al-Shura or consultative council, which at present functions as a purely advisory body to the King, and make it elective. The constitution would establish a rule of law with an independent judiciary, trained in a national law school in the principles of justice as it is understood in free societies and disband the Mutawwa’a, the religious police/judiciary.
The Center advocates privatization of state industries and public utilities, to end citizens’ dependence on the royal family for food, education and medical care.
I asked, is it a fair statement to say that Saudi Arabia is the center of global jihad?
“Yes, definitely” he said. “And America is paying for its relationship with Saudi autocratic royal family with the blood of its young men.”
So why does nobody want to talk about it, is it because of oil?
“Not just oil. In the State Department for instance, if you are a friend to Saudi princes, you could have consulting contracts after you retire, worth a lot of money.”
So why is the Saudi royal family promoting jihad?
Dr. Alyami said that the only agenda item the Saudi royals has is to stay in power, pure and simple. To that end they want to make Arabs and Muslims in general hated throughout the world. They hope that hatred will push them together and prevent their assimilation into modern, secular, tolerant society.
And, according to Alyami, they want to destroy Israel, not because of its Jewishness, but because its a democracy in the center of a region ruled by tyrannical regimes who see democracy as a deadly threat to their control. They fear democracy than they do terrorism or even threats of nuclear war.
The Saudi royals share power with the Wahhabi family (from the clan of the founder of the Wahhabi sect), the religious fanatics who supply the preachers for the Madrassas that the Kingdom supports around the world preaching jihad.
So why do religious fanatics tolerate the notoriously decadent and hedonistic royals?
“They hate each others guts – but they need each other,” Alyami explained. “Their alliance goes back to 1744 when the House of Saud began their quest to conquer Arabia in alliance with the Wahabis. The agreement was that the royal family would control all politics and the Wahhabis all social and religious aspects of society.
“If you ask why women cannot drive in Saudi Arabia,” Alyami said, “they will tell you, “It is our religion.” But in reality its politics and now it’s becoming a big business for younger princes. If women are allowed to drive that would eliminate importations of millions of expatriate drivers who normaly pay good money to middle men, princes, to get visas to work as drivers for Saudi families. The same for alcohol, the princes make money importing all the good liquor in Saudi. If it becomes legal, they would loose monopoly over the illegal trade.
There has been talks of replacing the nine or so millions of foreign workers with Saudis (dubbed Saudiazation). How come that has not worked?
“The ruling elites don’t want the Saudiization of the workforce. If the Saudi people become strong, organized and independent workers they will want a share of the power and bargaining tools like labor unions, codified labor laws, good health care system and other benefits. Now the hard work is done by people from poor countries who are treated with utter contempt in Saudi Arabia, a modern form of slavery.”
I mentioned that my university once had a very large number of students from Saudi Arabia, and that a generation ago they seemed a far more easygoing and tolerant lot. Today Saudis studying in the US seem to be far more anti-American, fanatical, intolerant and anti-Semitic. Older expatriate workers I met in Saudi Arabia confirm that that seems to be the trend in the Kingdom itself.
“Oh yes, it is definitely worse. When I was young in my home in the southern region, women never covered up, some of them even after they got married. People, men and women, used to play, dance, work together and mingle freely and openly,”Alyami said.
So what is to be done, especially about the new waves of religious extremists?
“ The root causes of extremism must be eradicated, The place to start is Saudi Arabia. It’s the home to religious intolerance and lots of oil and money. The problem is not with the Middle East, it’s with the West.”
Dr. Alyami strongly agrees with many people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Irshad Manji and many others, who say that the West is in denial and must wake up to the terrible danger they face from Islamic dangerous ideologues.
"In reality the West is still empowering tyrannical regimes whose intuitions advocate killing of the infidels, Christians and Jews.”
Dr. Alyami spoke movingly of a father’s fear and pride when after 9/11 his son told him that he was joining a military school to serve in the US the Army, and subsequently did a tour in Iraq. “If you leave Iraq without implanting democracy – then it’s finished” he said. “Tyrant regimes and killers win.”