Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Anarchy Looms in Yemen

There has been a deep ideological and political differences between former Yemen dictator Saleh and Houthi. Hence, both indeed sidelined each other during the last three years. e.g., Houthi refused to dismantle "revolutionary committee” and Saleh (GPC) sought to dominate the political scene.

Saleh and Houti alliance was merely a marriage of convenience and it was a matter of time for it to break up.  Saleh fought the Houthi rebels for six-year (2004-2010) which has transformed the rebel into effective militants that know nothing but war. And when it was convenient Saleh made an alliance with them in the face of the Saudi-led Coalition. But the savvy former president miscalculated the fact that a reckless/populist rebel group with no clear political agenda can make the flammable cocktail and will eventually fire on his face. Saleh death is the result of survival driven erratic policies, now he joins the fate of his predecessors of the Yemen Arab Republic presidents (Former North Yemen) who were either ousted in coup d'état or assassinated.

Anarchy looms in Yemen and today we witness the destruction of what left of the "Saleh-authoritarian" state in Yemen and the rise of a theocratic non-state actor (Houthi),- who strive to rule by creed and sword!

1. Abdullah al-Sallal (1962 – 1967): Ousted by a coup after five years.
2. Abdulrahman Al-Iryani (1967 - 1974): Deposed after six years.
3. Ibrahim Al-Hamdi (1974 -1975) Assassinated after three years.
4. Ahmed Ghashmi (1978-1978): Assassinated in less than a year.
5. Ali Abdullah Saleh (1978 -2017): killed ”liquidated” after 39 years in power. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Western Journalists: Questions to be Asked when interviewing Saudi de facto King (MBS)

Dear "the Next" Thomas L. Friedman,

These are some of the questions which you should ask and challenge the Saudi Crown Prince and de facto King, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) to answer when interviewing him over shared lamb dishes.

Here you go!

1. In January 2015, your father, King Salman enthroned and less than three months, you were appointed the minister of defence and your first major decision was to wage a war on the poorest neighbouring state, Yemen. Did you expect to win the war by applying Nazi “blitzkrieg” method?

2. Did you use the war as a way to promote yourself to power by making the unknown young MBS who lacks merits and experience, a visible face and noticeable?

3. Your father Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is the King, but you seem running the country. Who is in charge of the country today?

4. Your father was the former governor of Riyadh and he witnessed the first historical Saudi women demonstration by cars in 1990, demanding to lift the ban on women's driving. Your father oversaw the punishment against those women ( they were arrested, imprisoned, and had their passports confiscated. Some lost their jobs, others were expelled from schools, and all of them faced defamation and smear campaigns) Was lifting the ban on women driving this year, a pragmatic decision due to fall in oil prices or is it a belief in gender equality?

5. You said in your first given interview " Saudi women are not used to working. She needs more time to accustom herself to the idea of work. A large percentage of Saudi women are used to the fact of staying at home. They’re not used to being working women. It just takes time",- Some consider this statement a patronising but I am wondering how come Saudi women accustomed and managed to change their perception of work and are ready to drive in less than three years of your rule?

6. Some say that you subverted the tradition of the internal political consensus that kept the house of Saud intact, despite myriad contradiction factors in the politics of governance, by concentrating power in your hand and the hand of your brothers?

7. Your economic vision 2030, include an increasing role of the private sector up to 70 percent. What measures you intend to apply for protecting the middle class and poor Saudi families from the grave impact of privatisation on their lives so that they do not have to suffer under the mercy of a fluctuating private market?

8. You are often waxing lyrical about the young Saudi generation. Nevertheless, The economic plan 2030 was drafted by the global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company. Why didn't you consult or involve young people and Saudi intellectuals in crafting the vision?

9. Part of your plan is the commitment to some form of tax payment, including - among others - a value-added tax of 5%. Do not you think that imposing taxation without representation is a form of tyranny?

10. Why are you not willing to rewrite the social contract that governs the Saudi state relation to its subjects so that it becomes compatible with the major economic changes?

11. Every Saudi intellectual who has questioned or refused to approve your branded vision has either been imprisoned or forced into exile, like the case of Essam al-Zamel, Saudi-Arabia’s well-known economist and entrepreneur who criticised privatising the only natural resource in the Kingdom (listing around 5% of the shares of state-owned oil company Aramco). You sending contradictory messages, you strive to reform yet you imprison critics and reformists?

12. In the era of mass privatisation, it is highly likely that rates of poverty will increase in the Kingdom, perpetuating inequality and injustice. This is precisely what has occurred in the United Kingdom, and the United States. Why don't you permit the establishment of independent civil society NGOs and unions that monitor corruption, and protect employees’ rights and marginalised groups?

13. In September, the state lifted the ban on women’ driving but at the same time it called Saudi feminists and women rights activists and demanded their silence on critiquing the government for not ending male guardianship system that hinders women’s free mobility and independency. One such silenced voice is women’s rights activist Aziza Al Yousef, who is a leading figure in the campaign to end male guardianship over women.

-      Why the state is feeling threatened by the voice of feminists, is it because it challenges the norm and the political patriarchal system?

14. You claim fighting corruption, but do not you think a separation of powers would ensure corruption-free society?

15. Why your father is not one of the royal elite who was detained since his name was mentioned in Panama Papers in an offshore tax haven scandal?

16. Why aren't you holding a public, open and transparent investigation of the accused kleptocrats?

17. Your family, Salman’s family run Tharawat Holding, a private firm specialising in investments in businesses, technology, food, sports, development and real estate. How could ensure that your family’s company won't be favoured to win state contracts in the time of privatisation? 
18. Under the signature of your father King Salman,  around 364 royal decrees were issued, mainly on the dismissal and replacement of different state posts, as well restricting and creating new state entities linked directly to the King such as National security apparatus, and the Public Prosecutor entity. You have grabbed all major political, economic, security, and royal court portfolios; You are the minister of defence, chairman of Aramco's Supreme Council, first deputy prime minister the president of the council of economic and development affairs, chief of the Royal Court, founder of the Islamic Military alliance to fight terrorism, the general supervisor of the Camel club and the Falcons Club, and head of anti-corruption commission.
- How do you manage all these positions at the same time?  Moreover, how do you maintain your integrity and that of your family and not fall prey to corruption? Are you going to monitor yourself and the family business?

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Prophet's Mawlid: Have you cut its heart open to find out about blasphemy!

Today is the birthday of the Prophet Muhammed and I observe the #Mawlid by reciting the imagined conversations between the Saudi writer and poet Hamza Al Kashgari and the prophet Mohammed.

Conversation 1: "On Your birthday, I will say that I love the revolutionary in you, who has always inspired me. But I do not like the halo. I do not pray to you"

Conversation 2: "On Your birthday, I see you wherever I look. I have loved certain aspects of you, hated others, and have not understood many"

Hamza's tweets (conversation) in Arabic

I recite these words from dawn to dusk because my prophet would have never allowed the deportation and ultimately the arrest and the imprisonment of Hamza without a fair trial for almost two- year. I will recite these word of wisdom from dawn to dusk because my prophet would have embraced Hamza as a critical thinker and a friend and not more than that!

My prophet would have never incited hatred against another brother. My prophet would have never called upon shedding Hamza’s blood. On the contrary, he would have cried out in the face of extremists who rallied to kill and blasted them “Have you cut [Hamza’s] heart open to find out [about blasphemy]" 

Conversation 3: "On Your birthday, I will not kneel down before you and I will not kiss your hand. Instead, I will shake it as equals do, and I will smile at you while you smile at me. I will speak to you as a friend and not more than that"

Monday, November 13, 2017

Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS): The Young Face of Neoliberal Totalitarianism

The Saudi Kingdom of “Bread and Circuses"

Saudi Arabia announced ‘Vision 2030’, a policy aimed at reducing dependency on oil and implementing economic reforms. The tax-free Kingdom privatised and on the path to privatising key state-owned utilities, including the world’s biggest energy company, Aramco. The Absolute Monarchy has formed an anti-corruption committee and issued a royal decree to detain dozens of the powerful royal elite, former and current Ministers, civil servants, and business tycoons. Together, they have been charged with nepotism and corruption. The Gulf country – at last – lifted the ban prohibiting women to drive.
These varied and unprecedented news stories have been emerging from Saudi Arabia since Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) de facto ascension to the Saudi throne via the rule of his ageing father. Such changes have been widely received by different analysts and some media outlets as signalling progress and reform. But is reform what we are actually witnessing in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia? The short answer: no. The blueprints proposed for economic and societal change do not reflect a genuine willingness for reforms but are instead symptomatic of dynastic intrigue - the result of internal power struggles within the sprawling Al Saud dynasty. In this essay, I stipulate that MBS is not reformist – as it outwardly and ostensibly appears – but instead, he is the face of the neo-totalitarian state.
Throughout my discussion, I strive to dismantle the following myths and claims of ‘blueprint reforms’ in the Kingdom, by examining Economic Reforms (Vision 2030), the question of women, and the latest anti-corruption committee.
In April 2016, MBS surprised the ruling elite and Saudi intellectual community by announcing Saudi vision 2030. The economic plan was drafted by the global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company. the consulting firm is known as the most secretive, and most high-priced firm. Its consultancy has been subject to criticism. The plan has been met with dissatisfaction among some of the ruling elite and Saudi intellectuals, who express “soft” discontent for not being consulted or involved in crafting the vision.
VISION 2030 is a package of economic and social policies aimed at curtailing “oil addiction” and boosting the private sector. MBS’s publicised vision contains ostensibly transformative steps, such as increasing the percentage of women in the workforce from 12% to 30% by 2030, the privatisation of a portion of the public sector, including listing around 5% of the shares of state-owned oil company Aramco.
Given the inevitable decline of the oil industry, and the impact this will have on Saudi Arabia’s welfare spending, diversifying the Kingdom’s economy appears to be a wise course of action. At first sight, the plans seem progressive, bold, and seductive. However, the economic blueprints are festooned with issues. The Saudi state has moved towards privatising public services, like hospitals and schools, and has reduced the salaries of state officers and civil servants, with exception of the salaries of princes.
These changes have sent shockwaves among the middle class, who have been dependent for generations on state largesse. Saudi Arabia’s middle class will soon struggle to survive under the mercy of a fluctuating, private market.
Part of MBS's plan is the commitment to some form of tax payment, including - among others - a value-added tax of 5%. These radical plans are indeed dismantling the state "rentier" distribution of wealth to Saudi subjects to maintain loyalty for the house of Saud. In spite of imposing taxation, the regime is unwilling to rewrite the political and social structures that govern the state relation to subjects so that it becomes compatible with the major economic changes. Moreover, the plan does not promote incremental change to allow families adapt to the transformation of economic policy. Furthermore, these dramatic changes take place in an authoritarian state that lacks an independent civil authority which could monitor and protect the impact of neoliberal economics on the fragile segments of the society.
The Saudi state has repeatedly refused to openly recognise the existence of poverty. Recognising poverty implies the recognition of income inequality and the unfair distribution of wealth, hence the political stance held by the state. The government has barely addressed the realities of poverty in its ‘Vision’, and will not disclose actual data on poverty rates. Nevertheless, the estimated figure of those living below the poverty line stands between two and four million native Saudis. In the era of mass privatisation in Saudi Arabia, - of increasing the role of the private sector up to 70 percent, - it is highly likely that rates of poverty will increase, perpetuating inequality and injustice. This is precisely what has occurred in the United Kingdom, and the United States. The neo-liberal market is driven by consumer demand – not by social or ethical principles – which means that business tycoons will invest in the ‘centre’, leaving the periphery to perish.
Every Saudi intellectual who has questioned or refused to approve MBS’s branded vision has either been imprisoned or forced into exile, like the case of Essam al-Zamel, Saudi-Arabia’s well-known economist and entrepreneur who criticised privatising the only natural resource in the Kingdom. In sum, the vision of MBS is not a plan for reform, but rather a plan for political survival.
This plan is likely to usher in a new oligarchy loyal only to profit and the de-facto King. Vision 2030 cannot be considered a holistic and a genuine blueprint for reform because it is impossible to achieve drastic economic reforms without political reforms. It is dangerous to implement privatisation in lieu of a new democratic social contract between state and citizen, civil society NGOs and unions that monitor corruption, and protect employees’ rights and marginalised groups. This blueprint serves the interest of the powerful inner circle of MBS, not the people.
Saudi women ran as candidates and voted for the first time during the municipal elections in 2015. This summer, a royal decree was issued allowing women access to state services without the consent of a male guardian. The decree does not do away with the system altogether, as women are still acquired to obtain the consent of male relatives and even the permission of their teenage son – if necessary – to study, travel, work and request official papers. Recently, women have been given the legal right to obtain driving licences.
These recent milestones to prompt women's rights are, by and large, a move of pragmatism. The Saudi state treasury has encountered significant economic pressure since 2014, which is exacerbated by having half of the population inactive, and where unemployment rates among women are very high. Therefore, removing former obstacles such as the ban on women driving is an attempt to boost the productivity of the economy by encouraging women’s participation in the work-force. While it may be paraded as ‘gender equality’, the reasons behind this are far more pragmatic.
The rights of girls to access education was not initially granted by the Saudi monarch, but was championed by some elite members from the region of Hijaz and the wife of the third former Saudi King Faisal Bin Abdulaziz, Queen Effat Al-Thunayan Al-Saud. Half-Turkish, half Saudi royal, Queen Al-Saud was born and raised in Istanbul and spoke minimal Arabic. King Faisal backed his wife’s initiative in spite of the widespread social rejection of the 1940s.
Despite the state’s issuing of royal decrees to improve the situation for women – although limited – it continues to claim that society is not ready for such sweeping changes. By contrast, I would suggest that this proves that it is the state, and not society as a whole, that is ‘not ready’, and that the state is only interested in empowering women for the sake of satisfying and achieving its own political masculine goals. “The rejection of society” rhetoric reflects the misogynist regime mindset, unwilling to emancipate women from political, social, economic and cultural shackles.
Prior to Al Saud conquering the Arabian Peninsula, the area was beset by clan infighting, divisions and instability. The founder of the house of Saud, King Abdul Aziz came back from exile in Kuwait, fought, conquered and united different regions by overseeing the marrying of a daughter of every tribal chief in Saudi Arabia. Under Islamic jurisprudence, polygamy is permitted. Thus, Muslim men are allowed to marry up to four women. When I asked my Saudi teacher in secondary school in Jeddah, “How come the founder was allowed to marry innumerable wives and make around 45 sons?”. “I do not talk politics”, she shrugged in reply. Abdul Aziz’s case of intermarriage demonstrates that the Saudi state uses women as a tool to control large swathes of land for the purpose of consolidating power.
In my opinion, this established a masculine and patriarchal regime. 85 years have passed since Saudi Arabia was founded, and yet, the management of women’s issues continues to be through a political patriarchy cloak. Women should be granted rights by patriarchal royal decrees. Women who challenge the norms and the power of royalty are likely to be severely punished by the political patriarch. This was the case of 47 Saudi women – academics, doctors, business women, civil servants and students – who took to the street of Riyadh in 1990 and drove their families’ cars in the first protest against the ban on women driving cars. Later, those courageous women were arrested, imprisoned, and had their passports confiscated. Some lost their jobs, others were expelled from schools, and all of them faced defamation and smear campaigns. The prince who oversaw their punishment was Salman Bin Abdulaziz, the former governor of Riyadh and the current King of Saudi Arabia since 2015.
Saudi women-elite that are elected to municipal councils and appointed members in the Saudi Consultative Assembly is operating in toothless positions and have no power to influence or improve women’s rights. The Saudi elite, such as Saudi Arabia's representative to the UN and the first female spokesperson for the Saudi Embassy in Washington DC, are examples of figures coaxed into government to enable the state to defuse potential feminists and social unrest, like the 1990 car demonstration.
The decision to allow women to drive, yet maintaining guardianship, is fraught with difficulty. One the one hand, women are allowed to drive, but on the other, they remain legal minors. In practice, they might not be allowed to drive anyway; given the patriarchal guardian has the legal right to ban her. If the regime is genuine on improving the lot of women’s rights, it would not have called Saudi feminists and demanded their silence on critiquing the government for not ending a system that hinders women’s free mobility and independency. One such silenced voice is women’s right activist Aziza Al Yousef, who is a leading figure in the campaign to end male guardianship over women
MBS last year asserted that Saudi women need more time to acclimate to the idea of work and full participation in the society. Such a patronising discourse confirms that MBS is no different from his octogenarian father nor grandfather; as he is using women’s rights to serve his political branding image as the young modernist prince. Hence consolidate his power by pragmatic moves. Saudi royal decrees to empower women are cosmetic, and mainly strive to appease Western allies. It is worth mentioning, that MBS model is not new, different dictators across the Middle East and North Africa embarked on policy and legislation which liberated women.
For these reasons, royal decrees on women should not be perceived as a step towards gender equality and democratising, because the Saudi government is a masculine state that operates in a political patriarchal system.
Saudi Arabia ranks 62 in the Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International (2016). Corruption is rife within an autocratic state with no pluralism and independent civil society. Furthermore, the state has been aware of kleptocrats and elite abuse of power. The state's recognition of this is reflected through a state bank account called IBRAA ALTHIMMAH, or Disclaimer before God, for the purpose of clearing the guilty conscience of the corrupt elite before death. Thieves are welcomed to repay – anonymously – the stolen sum into the "disclaimer" bank account, thereby granting immunity from prosecution. Moreover, the thief need not pay the entire amount, and it is considered irrelevant if profits or interest has been made from the stolen money. The bank account has received more than 300m Saudi Riyal (SAR), since its establishment. which is around 79,970,300 (USD).
The newly established MBS-initiated anti-corruption committee, which was followed by arresting a number of a powerful elite with charges of corruption on the 4th of November, has little to do with the genuine cleansing of nepotism but is more an attempt to cement MBS’s power and his future position as the next king.

If the regime is sincere in ending corruption in the Kingdom and believes that no one is above the law, it would have made a separation of powers to ensure a corruption-free society. It would have investigated the Panama Papers claim that the current King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, implicated in an offshore tax heaven scandal. Moreover, it would have initiated a public and transparent investigation of the accused kleptocrats.

Bin Salman’s family run Tharawat Holding, a private firm specialising in investments in business, technology, food, sports, development and real estate. MBS, the most powerful person in the Kingdom, and is heading the anti-corruption committee. This begs the question: how can MBS maintain his own integrity and that of his family and not fall prey to corruption? Is MBS going to monitor himself and the family business?

The Crown Prince is renewing President George Bush’s infamous vow, "You're either with us or against us". He has incarcerated political dissidents, royalist opponents, reformists, economic/social critics, religious clerics and even neutral voices that do not want to meddle and express opinions about internal and regional fronts fought by MBS (Yemen’s war, Qatar-Saud crisis, Lebanon, the Syrian-war, the regional cold-war with Iran, and rapprochement with Israel).

The de facto Saudi King has created many internal and regional foes so his arch of survival – among others – relies on the creation of a new oligarchy who gives blind allegiance to him. MBS’ is carefully building a loyal inner circle, and the oligarchs of yesterday are being replaced with those of today. Jamal Khashoggi, for example, a well-known veteran Saudi journalist, who was close to the old guard, has been silenced and driven into exile by the Saudi regime.

To describe the 4th of November as neither coup d’état nor a palace coup is erroneous: this monarch did not experience a classic coup, and Saudi Arabia does not have a unified loyal national military to overthrow the palace. Moreover, the Saudi army lacks the strength to achieve such an outcome, reinforced by the hesitation of the Kingdom to dispatch the army in the morass of the Yemeni civil war lest this unveil its weakness, and the visual failure of the army could lead to a collapse of morale amongst Saud soldiers.
Furthermore, the Royal Family never empowered the military guard and the army, as they consistently feared military/tribal reprisals against them. Therefore, different sections of the Al Saud family have their own private military or security forces to protect them. In sum, the incident does not contain the pillars of a classic coup and should be described as a purge of foes, while also blocking possible assassination attempts against MBS.
MBS was 29-year-old when he came to power in 2015. Bin Salman Jr subverted the tradition of the internal political consensus that kept the house of Saud intact, despite myriad contradiction factors in the politics of governance. The consensus of distributing influence and power among the sons and the grandsons of the founder was greatly undermined by MBS by concentrating power in his and his brothers’ hands; Prince Faisal bin Salman is active figure and has shares in Saudi Arabia’s biggest media group, Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG). Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud is the Minister of state for energy affairs. Prince Khaled bin Salman appointed Saudi ambassador to Washington DC, and he is supported by Salman Al-Ansari, the president of the Saudi newly sat Lobby group in the US (SAPRAC), aimed at influencing US policies and its relations to Saudi Arabia.
In this way, MBS secures natural resources, exerts significant power over the media, and close brother and aide are ensuring the support of the American administration. Since his ascent to power, MBS replaced the cynical policy of “bread and circuses" to keep the masses happy by "Neo-Liberalism and Camel/ Entertainment". He has been waxing lyrical about the young Saudi generations for the aim of branding himself as the young and bold face of Saudi Arabia. This indeed has granted him a degree of popular support among social and economically dissatisfied youth. MBS lacks merits and experience, and he discarded senior royals and jump over the line of succession. He first removed the uncle Muqrin Bin Abdulaziz, the former Crown Prince, in less than three months, has deposed his cousin Mohammed Bin Nayef from the same post and put him under house arrest. This has secured MBS’ position as the next in the line of succession. For the last three years, the de facto King MBS, has, under the signature of the father King Salman issued around 364 decree, mainly on the dismissal and replacement of different state posts, as well restricting and creating new state entities linked directly to the King such as National security apparatus, and the Public Prosecutor entity. MBS has grabbed all major political, economic, security, and royal court portfolios; he is the minister of defence, chairman of Aramco's Supreme Council, first deputy prime minister the president of the council of economic and development affairs, chief of the Royal Court, founder of the Islamic Military alliance to fight terrorism, the general supervisor of the Camel club and the Falcons Club, and head of anti-corruption commission.
In this manner, prominent royal figures are stripped of their power, in an attempt to prevent plots against MBS’ totalitarian-ruling. Furthermore, MBS has planted his men in powerful posts such as appointing Maj Gen Ahmed al-Asiri as the Deputy Head of General Intelligence. The wealthy Khaled Al Falih Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources of Saudi, is the brains behind listing some shares of the state oil company, Aramco on the market. It is worth mentioning that appointing powerful senior state posts to non-royal Saudis like Asiri reflects the deep distrust of MBS to royal cousins.
Every enthroned King in Saudi Arabia stumbles over the question of legitimacy and the survival of the authoritarian state. Therefore, the distribution of oil revenues, Islam, and the holy cities has been a source of legitimacy locally and globally in the Muslim world. Popular branding and stronger internal alliances with “mainly business and media oligarch” and lately, security guarantee provided by its powerful American ally are central pieces for survival.
This is not the first rivalry within the house of Saud: a power struggle ensued between King Saud and Crown Prince Faisal and lasted from 1958 – 1964. It was possible for Faisal to remove King Saud due to an internal royal consensus as well as the backup of the religious establishment elite and most important the support of Washington.
Today, MBS has secured the support of Trump, in return for – among others - selling shares of Aramco national oil company on New York Stock Exchange. Nevertheless, MBS lucks internal consensus and has shut the doors on the face of the religious establishment and incarcerated dissidents. In such circumstances, the unilateral actions of the young Crown Prince will likely spark more conflict and regional conflagration.
Lastly, the 4th of November incident is a reminder of the fact that “the greatest threat to the House of Saud is the House of Saud itself”.

Hana Al-Khamri, Analyst and columnist with a background in Peace and Conflict Studies. @hanaalkhamri

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Vote Your Conscience: vote for the resolution 36 to probe war crimes in Yemen

In 2016, Saud Arabia blocked an attempt in the UN Human Rights Council to send a UN commission to probe war crimes in Yemen. The oil-rich Kingdom used its political-economic leverage, intensively lobbied and eventually replaced an independent commission by a partial Yemeni one.

Again, In 2017, Saudis are intimidating/threatening with economic-diplomatic sanctions if the NEW resolution (#HRC36), proposed by Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Luxembourg and Netherlands,- to send an inquiry over war crimes in Yemen - to be voted by member states.

Alas, instead of socialising Saudi Arabia with international human rights norms, they are forcing the international community to bow for their terms and avoid accountability.

Let's support Canada/Netherlands initiative to an independent and comprehensive probe into war crimes committed by all conflict parties in Yemen.

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE call/write a letter to your government, your foreign affairs department, your country representative to United Nations Security Council and ask them to vote for #YemenInquiryNow

Human rights should be more important than petrodollars.

Spread the Action!

Support the following human rights watchdogs NGOs, who are advocating/campaigning for an independent investigation into the ongoing war in Yemen:
- Mwatana Organization for Human Rights
- Amnesty International
- Human Rights Watch
- Amnesty International Nederland
- Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

My interview on Saudi Arabia's Decision To End Ban On Women Driving

As a former journalist in the Kingdom, I commented on the decision to lift the ban on women driving in #SaudiArabia @svt - Public Broadcasting Service in Sweden (In English). 

MY INTERVIEW STARTS AT MINUTE 24:30: See here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FgHAiMHGO8&t=204s

Saudi Arabia: Lifting the driving ban is a pragmatic decision rather than a belief in gender equality

When Hana Al-Khamri worked as a journalist in Saudi Arabia, she had to request from her male relatives to drive her around. The fact that women are allowed to drive a car is an important step forward, but she reckons that the decision is based on economic reasons rather than a belief in gender equality.

Working as a female journalist in Saudi Arabia is a challenge against social norms in a country governed by ultraconservative views. - But in order to get around, Hana Al-Khamri had to pay for a driver or ask a male relative to drive her.

"There were so many obstacles to free mobility. I was dependent on males permission to move around and sometimes it was humiliating to constantly ask someone to drive me, "says Al-Khamri, Middle East analysts raised in Saudi Arabia but currently living in Sweden.

She described the decision of allowing women to drive a car from June, as an outcome of a diligent campaign effort from activists. Many have been imprisoned in their quest to defy the ban.

But Al-Khamri believes that the decision is primarily pragmatic, from a regime that has been severely affected by the fall of oil prices.

- The main motive is economy rather than a belief in gender equality. The fall in oil revenues has prompted the state to realise that women need to come out to the workforce to mitigate the burden. And the ban on women driving has been a hurdle against participating in the labour market.

About one-third of the Saudi women's salary goes to private chauffeurs.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women can not drive a car. The issue of driving has been symbolic - because the greatest problem is the male guardianship system, which means that women have to get permission from male relatives in order to get different things done, such as working, studying at the university or applying for a passport.

It is unclear whether women have to request for male guardian permission in order to apply for driving licenses in 2018.

"The decision is historical and important, but Saudi women are still legally minors. And this is the main reason that shackles women's progress in Saudi Arabia, "says Al-Khamri.

Source: National New Agency in Sweden - TT

Snart kan saudiska kvinnor köra till jobbet

Idag blev jag intervjuad av TT om mitt liv i Saudiariben och konsekvernerna av att inte tillåtas köra bil. Att kvinnor får rätt att köra bil är ett viktigt steg framåt, men beslutet handlar mer om ekonomi än jämställdhet.

När journalisten Hana Al-Khamri jobbade i Saudiarabien var hon tvungen att be sina manliga släktingar om skjuts. Att kvinnor får rätt att köra bil är ett viktigt steg framåt, men hon tror att beslutet handlar mer om ekonomi än jämställdhet.

Att arbeta som kvinnlig journalist i Saudiarabien är i sig att utmana de normer som styr i det ärkekonservativa kungadömet. Men för att ta sig runt i landet behövde Hana Al-Khamri betala en chaufför eller be en manlig släkting att köra henne.

- Det fanns så många hinder för mig att röra mig fritt. Jag var beroende av män för att kunna resa runt och det kunde vara förödmjukande att hela tiden behöva be dem att köra mig, säger Al-Khamri, Mellanösternanalytiker som är uppvuxen i Saudiarabien men numera bosatt Sverige.

Beslutet att kvinnor får rätt att köra bil från och med juni beskriver hon som skörden av ett flitigt kampanjarbete från aktivister. Många har fängslats i sin strävan att utmana förbudet – som det konservativa prästerskapet har rättfärdigat med att det hindrar promiskuitet.

Men Al-Khamri tror att beslutet främst är pragmatiskt, från en regim som drabbats hårt av det sjunkande oljepriset.

- Det är snarare motiverat av ekonomi än en tro på jämlikhet mellan könen. De minskande oljeintäkterna har fått staten att inse att kvinnor behöver arbeta för att mildra bördan. Körförbudet har varit ett hinder för det.

Omkring en tredjedel av de saudiska yrkeskvinnornas lön går till transporter.

- Om du jobbar i handeln, där lönerna inte är så höga, går halva lönen till att bara ta sig till jobbet, sade en kvinnlig anställd som TT träffade på Ericsson i Riyad förra året.

Saudiarabien är det enda land i världen där kvinnor inte får köra bil. Frågan har varit symbolisk – men det stora problemet är fortfarande förmyndarsystemet som innebär att kvinnor behöver tillstånd från en manlig familjemedlem för att genomföra olika aktiviteter, såsom att lönearbeta, studera vid universitet eller ansöka om pass.

Det är oklart om kvinnor kommer att behöva fråga sin förmyndare om tillstånd för att ansöka om körkort.

- Beslutet är historiskt och viktigt, men saudiska kvinnor är fortfarande omyndiga enligt lagen. Det är den största orsaken till att kvinnor i Saudiarabien hålls tillbaka, säger Al-Khamri.

Source: TT

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Yearning to Drive: Saudi Women Struggle for the Right to Drive Car Dates back to 1990

I had the immense honour to meet the courageous Saudi feminist and fellow sister, Manal Alsharif منال الشريف, in Dubai where I got the opportunity to make an interview with her about life in the kingdom and the struggle for gender equality, including the fight against women driving ban. 

Alsharif defied the system and sat behind the wheel in a country where women are minors and cannot obtain an education without the approval of male guardian.

Now she released her powerful book Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman's Awakening, about her life and the struggle for women's rights in "The Kingdom of Men". 

The interview Published at Daily Swedish SvD (In Swedish) 
The Interview below (In EnglishPublished at Zenith, an independent German magazine which focuses on the Arab and Islamic world.

With Manal Alsharif 

An atmosphere of tension, anticipation and anger hung over the Saudi capital of Riyadh amidst the Gulf War. Kuwaiti mothers fleeing the war entered Saudi territory, children in one hand and the other hand on the steering wheel. Half a million US troops landed on the Arabian Peninsula to protect the Kingdom from the repercussions of the war. American female soldiers in charge of military tanks passed through the streets of Riyadh, in full view of all its citizens.

When I entered the main compound of Aramco and watched women, for the first time in my life, driving bicycles and vehicles in the streets, I asked my driver: ‘Are we outside Saudi Arabia or what?’ These scenes were enough to provoke the imagination of the female intellectual elite of the Najd region, the birthplace of Wahhabism, an ultra-conservative interpretation of Sunni Islam. “Why are these women allowed to drive in our country, while we are banned?” This question, posed during a cultural meeting, spurred a group of women in the city to take a stand, deciding that they would drive cars themselves, cars otherwise driven by chauffeurs or male relatives.

November 6, 1990, was the historic date when 47 Saudi women organised the country’s first car demonstration in protest of the ban against Saudi women driving. The historic campaign ended with the arrest of the participants and a subsequent campaign of public defamation, slander and social ostracism. The women faced a number of punishments; some lost their jobs, others were expelled from school. All passports were confiscated.

Manal al-Sharif is one of those who challenged Saudi Arabia's prohibition on driving by women.

Manal al-Sharif is one of those who challenged Saudi Arabia's prohibition on driving by women. Photograph: Wikimedia
The Saudi authorities proved successful in cutting down the plant of the first Saudi women’s rights movement, but some of the roots remained alive. Twenty years after the November 6 demonstration, Saudi feminist and author Manal al-Sharif returned to water the seeds of that forgotten plant and renew the claim for the same right – this time during the heyday of the Arab Spring revolutions.

Al-Sharif urged women to join her Women2Drive campaign on June 17, 2011, using social media to advocate and reach her peers. She herself defied the ban by driving her brother’s car in Al-Khobar. She was stopped by traffic policemen and later imprisoned for nine days for violating the ban.

“I was interrogated about who was supporting me in my campaign, and if in fact the campaign was being organised and dictated by foreign entities,” she says with a sarcastic smile.

Six years after the terrible experience in prison, Manal Al-Sharif is an award-winning and well-known Saudi women’s rights activist. She has documented the events of 2011, which she calls the Saudi Women’s Spring, in her memoir Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening, published this year by Simon & Schuster. The book contains the story of the inception of the Saudi women’s protests in the Kingdom of Men, which is what she calls her home country.

You want a statement here is one: "Saudi Arabia will never be the same again. The rain begins with a single drop"  ❤️

Manal grew up as the second daughter of a working-class family in the holy city of Mecca. Her mother worked as a seamstress, while her father was a taxi driver. As an adolescent, Manal found refuge in her pen. She began questioning her reality: Why can my brother ride a bike, while I am forbidden from doing so? Why is my brother allowed to swim, while I am not? Why should I wear a black dress every time I leave the house?

“As a woman in Saudi Arabia, you have to co-exist with a long list of taboos,” Al-Sharif says as we sit in the lobby of a hotel next to her Dubai apartment.

But why live in Dubai? I ask her. “Because of my eldest son, Abdullah!” 

When Manal married for the second time, she lost custody of Abdullah. According to Saudi law, the father is granted custody of the child in the event of divorce, unless he voluntarily gives up custody to the mother of the child.

“Abdullah’s father forbids my son from visiting me abroad. For this reason I chose to live in a neighbouring country, so that I am able to visit my son.”

More than two years have passed since the birth of Daniel (Manal’s son with her Brazilian husband), but her two children have never met: as a Brazilian national Daniel has no right to enter Saudi Arabia, and 12-year-old Abdullah is not allowed to travel to see his mother.

“Imagine, Saudi Arabia is only an hour away from Dubai, but my children have never met each other.”

Manal feels torn by the reality of her children. She sighs and insists that she did not wish to leave the kingdom; she believes change must be made from within. But Saudi law left her with no choice but to leave. For these painful reasons, Dubai has become her safe harbour and her place of exile. [Manal has since moved to Australia.]

Manal begins talking about life as a woman in Saudi Arabia by recalling her studies at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah (about 45 minutes from Mecca). She describes her time there as disappointing, since the specialties open to female students were limited to a select number of scientific disciplines. She hoped to study nuclear physics, but this was not available to female students in public universities; neither were degrees in TV journalism or architecture.

During her first year in university, Al-Sharif discovered the Department of Computer Science by chance and reluctantly chose to enlist. She is now grateful that she entered the world of computers, as it paved the way for freedom. “The Internet became the safe space where I could raise questions of an existential or social nature, hiding behind pseudonyms.”

One time, Manal typed the question: “Why does the Lord forbid us from listening to music, when nature is in itself a symphony of creation?” It sparked a fierce debate on local Saudi Internet forums between those who accused her of lacking in faith and those who applauded her courage to challenge religious discourse. “I have often been accused of heresy, just because I dare to question social and religious rules shackling Muslim women.”

Manal feels grateful for having found the Internet at an early age, since the network gave her the opportunity to dive into diverse and tolerant views. She says it may even have saved her from becoming a terrorist.

She clarifies: “I have always loved to read, but the only books available to me when I was young were mainly free books distributed by religious extremists. These books were full of fanatical ideas such as prohibiting music.”

In addition, like all other students at public schools, she went through 12 years of mandatory religious subjects such as Monotheism, Jurisprudence and Quran Studies. Manal explains that the combination of the free books and indoctrination at school turned her into a religious fanatic, to the extent that she destroyed the music tapes of her two siblings, tore down all her drawings and burned fashion magazines that contained pictures of unveiled women.

“I was exposed to massive religious indoctrination that obliged me as a Muslim to fight against evil.” Music, painting and the female body, according to Saudi religious discourse, were dangerous sins that could sway people from the right path and lead them to damnation. When Manal burned, ripped and smashed – without the knowledge of her family – she thought she was protecting herself and her family from invoking the wrath and punishment of the Lord. “I was the victim of a rigid educational system that wanted to kill all my creativity and leave me full of fear.”

After graduating from university in 2002, Manal got the chance to work as an information security engineer at Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company, in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. Manal was shocked when she visited the Aramco residential complex, which is separate and isolated from Saudi society and its strict laws.

“When I entered the main compound of Aramco and watched women, for the first time in my life, driving bicycles and vehicles in the streets, I asked my driver: ‘Are we outside Saudi Arabia or what?’" she laughs.

This was not the only contradiction Manal witnessed. During her arrest in 2011, she was forced to sign a pledge not to drive a car in Saudi Arabia as a condition of her release, yet she could continue to drive without repercussions while inside the walls and premises of the Aramco residential compound, where residents enjoy rights not available to the rest of the country.

In spite of all the difficulties and hardship Manal experienced following her divorce from the father of her eldest son, love bloomed between her and a Brazilian colleague. When the crises connected to her divorce seemed to have passed, they decided to marry. However, officials at the Saudi Ministry of Interior did their best to spoil her joy, refusing to give her the special permission needed to marry foreigners.

This made their relationship illegal under Saudi law, and in the end the couple was forced to leave the country and settle in neighbouring Dubai. However, Manal emphasises that the decision to leave was not only because of the marriage: “I found it very difficult to stay in Saudi Arabia because of the amount of social ostracism I was subjected to.”

Sometimes she was accused of betraying her country, and other times she was accused of being funded by European embassies. It went so far that her son Abdullah was beaten in school by children who discovered that he was the son of a ‘bad’ woman who would surely go to hell for having encouraged other women to drive cars.

“Saudi society is based on a culture of the herd. If a member of the herd tries to claim its basic rights, it will be immediately exposed to a campaign of public shaming, turning it into a social outcast.” The fear of social rejection deprives many people of the courage to ask questions and push for change, she says.

Hours before our conversation, Manal participated in the annual meeting of a campaign aimed at ending the male guardian system in Saudi Arabia. This system forces women in the country to be entirely dependent upon male relatives – husband, brother or even teenage son – and to seek their consent to enrol in education, travel abroad or get a passport.

A group of Saudi women gathered in Dubai to plan the campaign this year. Manal is filled with joy at meeting Saudi women from different parts of the Kingdom to discuss the best ways to claim their rights as citizens. She points to the ‘I Am My Own Guardian’ plastic bracelet on her wrist, produced by the women’s rights activists as part of their campaign, and takes a picture for Twitter, where she has thousands of followers.

The weather in Dubai is very hot – 38 degrees Celsius. Manal is wearing a short summer dress that reveals her legs and arms. I ask if I can take a picture of her. She immediately refuses. “If the picture were to spread on the Internet, religious clerics would use it to alienate other members of Saudi society from me.”

Her answer explains why she wears a hijab on the cover of her book. “I want to be able to reach all parts of society, so it is important for me to appear publicly in a manner that is acceptable to all members of society, especially those that disagree with me, so I do not lose the opportunity to address them.”

Manal’s biggest challenge right now is to find a job. “I have applied to 47 job openings, and not one of them has been willing to hire me.” She says she faces a campaign aimed at making her life hell, but she insists on continuing the struggle. She refuses to live in a society with a system of discrimination similar to that which once existed in the United States.

“If you compare the situation of Saudi women today with the situation of African-Americans 50-60 years ago, you will find a great number of similarities.” 



Idag publicerar SvD Kultur min intervju med den saudiska feministen Manal Alsharif منال الشريف som trotsade systemet och satte sig bakom ratten i landet där kvinnor är omyndiga och inte får utbilda sig utan en manlig förmyndares godkännande. Nu är hon aktuell med en bok om sin kamp för kvinnors rättigheter i "Männens monarki". 


أتيح لي الشرف العظيم للقاء الأخت الشجاعة والنسوية السعودية، منال الشريف، في دبي حيث سنحت لي الفرصة لإجراء مقابلة معها حول الحياة في المملكة ورحلة النضال في سبيل المساواة بين الجنسين.

نشرت الصحيفة اليومية السويدية (اس في دي) المقابلة معها اليوم بمناسبة إطلاق كتابها الجديد، القيادة نحو الحرية.