2005 June 09 Thursday
Saudi Arabia Showing Few Signs Of Change

Political reform is moving along at a snail's pace in Saudia Arabia.

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

PacRim Jim said at June 10, 2005 2:42 AM:

Each immigrant Muslim from SA must bring a tanker full of oil as his/her entry fee.

Ian Lewis said at June 10, 2005 7:54 AM:

Jim, they will just use that fuel for explosives.

Kurt said at June 10, 2005 10:33 AM:

Why is this an article considered a surprise? Does anyone seriously expect Saudi Arabia to "reform"?

Dave Schuler said at June 10, 2005 2:14 PM:
Does anyone seriously expect Saudi Arabia to "reform"?
Apparently, yes. Much of the EU and the entire left half of the blogosphere seems to believe that the proper combination of incentives will bring reform to the KSA. Right now, for example, there's an inter-blog debate going on between Marc Schulman of American Future and Eric Martin of Total Information Awareness with Marc taking the position that the use of force was justified to bring reform to the Middle East and Eric Martin taking the opposite position (although both believe that democratizing the Middle East would be a good thing and that the U. S. has a role to play).
Randall Parker said at June 10, 2005 5:59 PM:


Haven't you heard? The US invasion of Iraq is supposed to kick off a wave of democratizations in the Middle East. I'm eagerly looking for signs of budding Arabic Thomas Jeffersons and Thomas Paines. Maybe I just don't read the right publications because I seem to be missing them somehow.

Saudi Arabia is the place that a change in political and religious culture in a more Western or secular or moderate direction would be of benefit to the United States. Saudi Arabia is the acid test of the Bush Doctrine for Middle Eastern democratization (though Iraq is the second acid test).

Marvin said at June 11, 2005 7:15 AM:

Saudi Arabi is the heart of Islam. It is one of the most repressive societies in the entire world, particularly for women, but also for men. Citizens are coddled, served by foreign workers and technocrats, and held in an iron vise grip of religious and state control. A few wealthy favorites prosper and send money overseas to salafist groups and madrasa mind control schools. KSA is also the owner of the world's largest known oil reserves. The modern world cannot do without KSA's oil. That will be true for twenty more years. Allah gave the Saudis oil to keep the western world humble. No, to humiliate the western world into abject hypocrisy.

Randall Parker said at June 11, 2005 7:19 AM:


If the $300 billion (and counting) spent on the Iraq invasion had instead been spent on energy research, energy conservation, and nuclear reactor construction the price of oil would be lower and the future trend line for oil prices would be downward. We could eliminate our need for oil a lot sooner if we were trying to do so.

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