They are the first to say that meaningful change remains a distant prospect because the institutions opposing such change are so powerful. And because there is no real forum to even discuss change, the process of creating open, freer societies is more the sum of individuals chipping away at the traditional order, rather than any organized movement or national discussion.
The three barely know each other, and their lack of contact is emblematic of Saudi Arabia, which ranks among the most closed Arab countries.
Here and elsewhere, Arab reformers tend to be isolated dissidents, sometimes labeled heretics, much like those persecuted under Soviet totalitarianism.
Even those who pursue the mildest forms of protest are slapped with long prison sentences. The right to assemble does not exist, political parties are banned along with nongovernment organizations, and the ruling princes constantly tell editors what they can print. Local television is almost all clerics, all the time.
What country is the biggest source of Al Qaeda terrorists? Saudi Arabia. Which Middle Eastern country is most set in its ways? Saudi Arabia.
Reformists get thrown in jail.
The Sauds were prepared to allow limited discussion in the press, but have come down hard on those who continue to press publicly for reform. A gathering of about 100 reformists from across the country at a hotel near Riyadh airport in February 2004 provoked their wrath.
Three activists - two academics, Matrouk al-Faleh and Abdullah al-Hamid, and the poet Ali al-Domeini - were arrested after circulating a petition supporting a constitutional monarchy. Their lawyer, Abdulrahman al-Lahem, was also jailed last fall.
In May, the three were given heavy jail terms: Mr. Domeini, nine years; Mr. Hamid, seven years and Mr. Faleh, six years. Mr. Lahem has not been charged.
Unless the House of Saud is overthown expect glacially slow changes in Saudi Arabia. Even if the princes get the boot the replacement government might be even more Islamic.
The consequences of elevating extremist thought to the point where it cannot be questioned are grave, Mr. Maleky believes. "If Wahhabism doesn't revise itself," he says, "it will produce more terrorists."
We can't count on Saudi Arabia to change in ways that make its citizens less eager to kill us. we need to defend ourselves from terrorism and to reduce the influence of the Wahhabi brand of Islam in the United States. The United States should stop granting visas to Wahhabi clerics and should look for ways to cut off the flow of money from Saudi Arabia to fund Wahhabi schools and mosques in the United States. The US government should make immigration by Muslims to the United States much harder. The US government should also accelerate energy rearch with the intent of obsolescing oil.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2005 June 09 11:45 PM Reconstruction and Reformation|