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November 30, 2015 / 18 Kislev, 5776
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Mordechai Kedar: What’s Next for Saudi Arabia?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia
Photo Credit: Omar Rashidi/Flash90

The public demand for internal changes increased during the past year following the events of the “Arab Spring”, when the people of Saudi Arabia saw, by live broadcast, how the Tunisian, Egyptian, Yemenite and Syrian throngs streamed into the streets with the demand to overthrow the head of the pyramid of power and to bring about economic, social and political justice.

These demands are driven by the economic situation in Saudi Arabia, which differs greatly from the image of the rich kingdom: unemployment, mainly among the young and educated is high, which has severe ramifications on their ability to establish a family. As a result of this, many of the young remain unmarried or try to emigrate, and others commit suicide. Saudi Arabia is one of the last states in the world that lacks a constitution with provisions for the division of powers among the branches of government, an elected parliament, freedom of the press, the right to public demonstration, freedom to form political and professional organizations, and a woman’s’ right to act in the public domain without gender-specific limitations.

The modern media, chiefly the social networks, enable the youth of the kingdom to express themselves, and their demands arise and increase, and take the form of petitions demanding that the monarchy conduct political reforms, bring about social justice, free prisoners of conscience and do away with the governmental, economic and religious monopolies that are all bound up with one another. Recently a few demonstrations and strikes have been organized – despite the ban on their existence – in universities and in front of the offices of the government and labor offices, against corruption, tyranny and unemployment. In one case, despite its explicit prohibition, a huge demonstration was organized against administrative imprisonment without trial.

The media, both local and, unfortunately, global, remain silent and blind to these events and their implications. It seems that the world prefers Saudi Arabia to remain always beyond the mountains of darkness, far from global culture, so that its stability will be ensured and the oil will continue to flow to the opulent West, which is addicted to Saudi oil and its products.

The Status of Women and the Morality Police

There are two cultural issues that are simultaneously burdening Saudi society: the issue of the status of woman and her freedoms, and the role played by the “agency for commanding the good and forbidding the evil”, which is the notorious Morality Police, whose main activities are primarily associated with women, gender and modesty. The matter recently rose to the headlines after a video clip was recorded on a cellular telephone, in which a Saudi woman is confronted with a group of people from the Morality Police, who accuse her of a terrible crime: that she dared to go out to shop in the mall, with fingernails – goodness gracious! – painted. She defends herself by repeating again and again that she was born free, and that she can paint her fingernails; they left her alone after they realized that they were being recorded.

The question of women driving is disturbing, because many of the women of Saudi Arabia who have lived abroad have a driver’s license, and the prohibition of driving a car places them effectively under house arrest or makes them dependent on a paid driver or a male member of the family. The issue of the Morality Police is complicated because they harass anyone whose views do not agree with those of the regime, by accusing him of heresy. By investigating what Saudis write on social networking sites, the police present “proof” against the “heretics”, who are then put on trial for what they wrote. Even worse is that the Morality Police enlist the aid of informers from among the public, so that many people in Saudi Arabia feel that they are not free to say what they feel even in the privacy of their own homes.

The reliance of the regime on the Morality Police is the “tax” which the Saudi family pays to the religious establishment, principally the religious scholars of the families of bin Baz and ibn Alat’min, and this alliance of religion and state is anathema to most of the population.

About the Author: Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.

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