Monday, October 22, 2018

This is why Jamal Khashoggi was Murdered by the Saudi Regime

It's high time to end Saudi impunity

Jamal Khashoggi, a well-known and much respected Saudi war correspondent and columnist, disappeared on October 2 following a visit to the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul. At the time of his disappearance, he was a well-established critic of the current Saudi leadership and an op-ed contributor to the US newspaper, Washington Post.
Throughout his decades-long career in the media, Khashoggi worked for several Saudi Arabian and pan-Arab newspapers and until 2010 served as the editor-in-chief of one of the most controversial newspapers of his country, Al-Watan.
During his time at Al-Watan, Khashoggi managed to set a benchmark for quality journalism in Saudi Arabia. Under his leadership, the national daily dared to call for reform in the educational system and women's issues and also demanded the government to curb the powers of the religious police.
Khashoggi paid a heavy price for following an independent editorial policy at Al-Watan. He was fired from his role at the newspaper, not once but twice, both times for upsetting the regime and causing controversy. In 2003, he was asked to leave the newspaper only two months after being assigned editor-in-chief, allegedly for pursuing an editorial policy independent of the regime. Khashoggi was reinstated as the editor-in-chief of Al-Watan in 2007, but was fired again in 2010, for "pushing the boundaries of debate within Saudi society" according to his personal website.
To this day, many Saudi journalists, including myself, remember Khashoggi's tenure as the editor-in-chief of Al-Watan with envy and admiration.
Between 2005-2009, I was working for the Saudi newspaper Al-Madina as a reporter in the city of Jeddah. Like all the other national dailies, it was owned by the members of the royal family and an inner cycle of loyalists. It was under the strict control of the Ministry of Media, which in many ways resemble the infamous Ministry of Truth in George Orwell's 1984. 
In this environment, I started following the work of Khashoggi at Al-Watan closely.
As a young, female journalist, I viewed Al-Watan under Khashoggi's leadership as a perfect example of what a good Saudi newspaper should have been. The newspaper was shedding light on the religious police's abuse of power as well as the epidemic of domestic violence in the country, among other issues.
While Al-Watan was the emerging, brave voice of liberalism in the kingdom, my newspaper, Al-Madina, was a platform for ultra-conservatives who were happy to follow the regime's narratives on every subject. Khashoggi's bravery made it impossible for me to ignore the shortcomings of my place of employment, and I started to feel more and more resentful about the censorship my work was subjected to at Al-Madina. 
Eventually, I could no longer bow to the oppressive policies of Al-Madina's leadership and the Orwellian Ministry of Media, so I decided to publish my censored articles in other Arabic platforms, based outside the kingdom. But I knew that this idealistic stance was undoubtedly going to endanger my life and freedom in Saudi Arabia, so I decided to leave the country.
The very same fear eventually drove Khashoggi out of the country too. Last year, he chose to leave the kingdom to preserve his intellectual integrity and freedom of expression.
Even though I had been following Khashoggi's work for years, I only met him in person earlier this year, in the Norwegian capital, Oslo. In his eyes, I saw a sense of despair about the future of his homeland. He expressed his fears about the possible consequences of Saudi Crown Prince and de-facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman's (MBS) use of "divide and rule" and "You are either with us or against us" strategies to manufacture social cohesion. He told me how some members of the establishment, who have contributed to the formation of the country, are now being excluded from reform efforts and are constantly humiliated by the crown prince and his close aides. He painted a grim picture of what he thinks awaits Saudi Arabia in the near future, but also insisted that he will continue to write no matter what, even if it is only to contribute to the historical record.

A major threat to the regime

MBS perceived Jamal Khashoggi as a serious threat to his authority for several reasons. First of all, Khashoggi was not a Western analyst or commentator, so the regime could not dismiss his criticisms as a foreigner's smear attempts. Moreover, he was not only a Saudi citizen but also - unlike many Saudi opposition figures who were forced into exile decades ago and have since been detached from the Saudi society - was a prominent member of the Saudi society and establishment until very recently. He had worked in local newspapers for years, was once a trusted adviser to the monarchy and was even settled in the kingdom until last year. As a result, in the eyes of many Saudi citizens, Khashoggi was one of them - someone who loves and wants the best for his country. His image as an establishment insider who is trying to change things for the better gave him an unprecedented credibility and influence among native Saudis. Furthermore, his close links to the members of the old establishment, who are discontent with the direction MBS is taking the country, has long been a cause for concern for the crown prince, who appears to be very cautious about a possible coup d'etat attempt.
Another reason why Khashoggi became a primary target for the Saudi regime was that he voiced his critique of the regime in the US. Washington has always been an important ally for Saudi Arabia, but ever since MBS became the country's de-facto leader, relations with the US became even more important for the regime. The crown prince has invested heavily in constructing a reformist image for himself in the US, in an attempt to overcome the crisis of legitimacy he has been suffering at home. He paid for positive ads to be published or broadcast in the US media, invited prominent American journalists to his palace to woo them, put his support behind Saudi lobbying organisations in the US and appointed his younger brother Prince Khaled bin Salman as the Saudi Ambassador to the US. All these efforts had a single aim: to convince the masses back home that he is a legitimate leader that has the backing of a major global power. Through his lobbying efforts in the US, MBS was trying to legitimise his jumping ahead in the line of succession, his attempts to concentrate power in his and his brothers' hands and his efforts to force the entire Saudi establishment to embrace his reform blueprint without any discussion or debate.
However, all these efforts were seriously challenged by the voice of a single influential Saudi citizen, who had already earned his credentials as a patriot and reformist in the eyes of the Saudi public: Jamal Khashoggi.
When Khashoggi called for reform through pages of Al-Watan, he was forced to resign. When he criticised the exclusion of the diverse views of Saudi citizens in MBS' 2017 blueprint for reform, he was ordered to remain silent and forced into exile.
Despite all threats, he continued to write, question and criticise. 
Now he has disappeared, and if we are to believe the Turkish authorities, has been permanently silenced.
The tragic fate of Khashoggi is frightening for everyone who dares to criticise the Saudi regime. By disappearing Khashoggi, this fascist regime has announced that from now on it will deal with critical voices in anyway it deems fit, ignoring all international conventions on human rights, diplomacy and civility. The regime believes that it can behave in this way, because the international community failed to hold it to account for its previous crimes. 
The Saudi regime has long been using its economic and political leverage to terrorise democratic states, track down and harass activists inside the kingdom and abroad, and commit war crimes in Yemen. It has also been incarcerating political dissidents, royalist opponents, reformists, economic/social critics, religious scholars and leaders, human and women's rights activists. The kingdom did not face any serious repercussions for any of these crimes. In the face of these atrocities, the world chose to stay silent and as a result, the regime felt emboldened enough to disappear a well-known and respected journalist like Jamal Khashoggi in its consulate, in foreign sovereignty. 
Khashoggi's disappearance has to be a turning point. The regime needs to be named and shamed, and it should finally be excluded from international platforms - especially from human rights entities such as the UN Human Rights Council and the Women's Rights Committee on Women's Empowerment and Gender Equality - where it can do much damage.
By disappearing a prominent journalist and one of the strongest critical voices in Saudi Arabia, the kingdom, under the leadership of MBS, once again proved that it is a threat to international values and order. The world can no longer afford to stay silent.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

الملك العاري و"الرؤية" المحتالة... في السعودية

منذ ثلاثة أعوام نبت ملكاً شاب في الجزيرة العربية، وهذا الشاب يعيث اليوم في الأرض نزاعات ويجز رأس الكلمة الحرة، ويرجم حرية التعبير ويزج المعارضين في السجون. يرتدي أدواراً مختلفة ومتنوعة في آن، فهو السياسي والعسكري، والعقل الأمني والاقتصادي وحتى الترفيهي والخيري، لقد استحوذ على كل الشارات الرسمية، ومرر بعضها إلى إخوته وأحاط بنفسه بأوليغارشية جديدة تمنح الولاء المطلق للحاكم المطلق.

في أحد المساءات تهامس أفراد الرعية في المقاهي الشعبية، أي أن هذا الملك الشاب استنفد أموال الشعب في حرب كارثية ووحشية، وأشعل نزاع مع دولة مجاورة، وبأن الشاب لايعتني بشعبه الذي يعاني من ارتفاع الأسعار، وفواتير الإيجارات، والكهرباء والماء. وأن على المواطن أن يدفع مقابل الخدمات، وأن سياسات التقشف التي تفرضها الدولة، قطعت نصف رواتب الموظفين، وأن المهاجرين من العمال، تحولوا لكبش فداء لدفع ضريبة أخطاء النظام، وفرض عليهم دفع أموال طائلة لتبرير بقائهم في أرض الحرمين الشريفين.

فرضت الضرائب ظلماً وبهتاناً في حين يبذرهذا الشاب أموال الشعب في شراء قصور فارهة ويخت، ولوحات فنية بمليارات الدولارات.

 يأتي صوت أحد الرعية هامساً: إن هذا الصغير يفتقر إلى الخبرة في الحكم وإن قراراته الأحادية والمتهورة سوف تؤدي للهلاك، لكن لاخيار لنا إلا التصفيق، الهجرة، أو السجن وقطع الرؤوس. 

وذات يوم هبطت شركة محتالة إلى المملكة، هذه الشركة تحيك وتمنح الإستشارات للدول والمماليك. هذه الشركة تجوب العالم وتبيع الوهم وتدعي أن الحكماء والأذكياء فقط يستطيعون فهم خططهم واستشارتهم العظيمة.. لقد سمع الملك الشاب عن تلك الشركة وطلب من حاشيته دعوة اصحابها واستضافتهم. وحصل اللقاء.  على الفور، أغدق عليهم بالأموال، ووعدت الشركة النظام الشمولي الناشيء بتصميم رؤية استثنائية عظيمة “سوف يحسدك الجميع عليها “، الشركة تؤكد أن الحكماء والأكفاء فقط سيتمكنون من رؤية نتائج الخطط التي سيضعونها، وإن أولئك الذين لا يستطيعون تلمس الرؤية هم أغبياء.

  فكّر الملك الشاب مليئاً ورأى أنا هذا الشرط كفيل بأن يكشف له عن حقيقة مستشاريه ومدى كفائتهم في عملهم من عدمه. لقد أغدق ذلك الملك الكثير من الأموال على الشركة وأمر جميع رجاله أن لايتم إزعاجها حتى تنتهي من صياغة الرؤية…. بعث الصغير وزيره لتفقد الرؤية، كان الوزير خائفاً من أن يفشل في تلمس الرؤية.. عرض المستشارون التغييرات العظيمة التي طرأت على اقتصاد الدولة التي تعاني من تداعيات هبوط أسعار النفط حتى قبل تطبيق توصيات الرؤية. لم يفهم ولم يرى المستشار أي تغييرات ملموسة لكنه أدعى أنها رؤية جميلة وأنيقة، عاد الوزير إلى سيده وأدعى أن الرؤية ممتازة وتحوي على نقوش نيولبرالية عظيمة وساحرة وبدأ العالم يصفق والإعلام يصور، وبدأت الصحف تكتب أنهم لم يلقوا إقتصاداً مزخرفاً بهذه الروعة وبهذا الجمال، وبأن الملك الشاب الجديد مصلح عظيم وثوري ويريد أن يوقف إدمان الشعب على النفط.

 وبينما أنشغل الملك في أداء الحوارات العالمية، عرض المحتالان الرؤية الجديدة على الشاب المفدى، فبدأ فوراً بإرتدائها وإلتقاط الصور بجانبها وانتشرت أخبار الرؤية في المدينة وتتطلع الشعب للقائها والتعرف على الرؤيةرُتبت مسيرة ضخمة في المدينة لإستعراض الرؤية، وعلقت صور سموه وبدأت الرعية تهتف خوفاً لا إعجاباً، وما أن وصل الشاب إلى قلب المدينة جاء صوت من أصوت الجموع صارخاً، لكن “الرؤية عارية”، وجاء صوت ثان “لماذا لم نساهم في كتابة الرؤية؟” وبعد تمعن لاحظت الرعية أن الرؤية تحتوي على كلمات براقة لكنها تفتقر لحلول حقيقية ودائمة، وأن الفقراء يزدادون فقراً والأغنياء يزدادون ثراء… وأن لا رقابة ومحاسبة على الإمبراطور الذي باع الشعب في سبيل التصفيق. وأن الطبقة المتوسطة تركت لرحمة السوق المتقلب والإحتكار، وأن لا وجود لمجتمع مدني مستقل يحمي الأفراد، وأن النظام يقوم بتحول اقتصادي بدون تمثيل سياسي وفتح قنوات التعددية والمشاركة الديمقراطية.  

أنضم كاتب اقتصادي إلى الصوت الشجاع وانتقد الرؤية وأشار إلى أخطائها وعدم وضوحها، وحذر من بيع الموارد الطبيعية للبلاد، فأعتقله الملك الشاب، انتقدت جموع أخرى الحكم الشمولي، والنزاعات مع الدول الجوار، فاعتقلوا، ومنهم من أُجبر على الرحيل إلى المنفى. 

وعندما فشلت الرؤية في تحقيق تغيير جذري وأكتشف الملك الشاب أن استشاريه الخاصيين كذبوا عليه حول مفعول الرؤية السحرية، وأن أبناء عمومتة يتربصون به شراً أعتقلهم جميعاً وزج بهم في السجن الفندقي وعذبهم في مساحات باذخة.. وأجبر الجميع أن يدفعوا ثمن حريتهم حتى يخففوا العبأ الإقتصادي على الأمبراطور وينقذوا شرعيته وأن يمنحوه الولاء المطلق. 

وليمتص الملك الشاب غضب الشعب، قام باستدعاء السيرك للترفيه عبر السينما، والمصارعة الحرة والحفلات الغنائية. وقام بتوزيع بعض فتات الخبز وأعاد بعض المكافآت والمزايا المالية لموظفي الدولة من مدنيين وعسكريين، كما وقاد حملات قمع وإسكات للأصوات المنتقدة له، وبدأت الأقلام في الإعلام الجديد تختبئ خوفاً من سيفه وبدأ الناشطون يغرقون في الصمت والسجون تتكدس بالمعارضين بينما يصفق العالم للمستبد الشاب الذي منح المرأة حق القيادة، وفي ذات الوقت اغتصب حقها في الاحتجاج والكلام، منح المرأة قلادة ومناصب وسجن والدته في القصر الكبير حتى لا تتمرد عليه. 

العالم مشغول بيبانات الملك الشاب الأنيق وصولاته وجولاته لكن لا عزاء للكلمة الحرة التي تتدثر بالخوف، الكلمة الحرة التي ترجم، تقذف وتُجلد بسياط المستبد، لا عزاء للنسوية التي يكمم صوتها بعباءة الأب السياسي، لا عزاء للإصلاحيين والحقوقيين المُجبرين على الصمت ويزج بهم في زنزانة الملك..  العاري!

هناء الخمري... 
المقالة نشرت أولاً في موقع القلم الدولي 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

MBS reserves the right to be the sole interpreter of women’s and society’s needs

As Saudi women take the wheel, activists say fight for gender equality continues

By — Ilayda Kocak
In Saudi Arabia, as a women’s driving ban is lifted Sunday, human rights advocates are criticizing the country’s remaining restrictions on women.
The move to end the ban on female drivers is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 initiative, which aims to modernize and diversify the Saudi economy beyond oil. But advocates say these efforts are occurring alongside a crackdown on activists and as inequality between men and women persists in the country.
The end of the driving ban follows the arrests of 17 people in recent weeks. The Saudi public prosecutor’s office said eight of them, five women and three men, have been temporarily released. But human rights groups warn that several of those arrested remain in jail and that police targeted them for support of gender parity in one of the most conservative countries in the world.
Here’s a closer look at what brought about this change and what advocates still hope to achieve past Sunday’s driving ban lift.

How did we get here, and what has changed?
Women in Saudi Arabia have campaigned to lift the driving ban for decades.
In 1990, Saudi women protested the ban by driving their cars around the the capital city of Riyadh until they were stopped by the police. Many of them were arrested, suspended from jobs or shunned by society. Before the ban’s lift, Saudi Arabia was the only country left in the world that prevented women from driving.
In a defiant move, some activists posted videos of themselves behind the wheel on YouTube.

But the longstanding policy changed when Saudi Arabia announced in September that it would allow women to drive. It was a move that appeared to align with the crown prince’s efforts to modernize the country in order to attract foreign direct investment and to wean the country off the oil economy. It was also a practical move in a country where women account for 22 percent of the workforce. By 2030, MBS wants that number to increase to 30 percent.
To reach that goal, women have to be able to drive themselves to work, said Hana Al-Khamri, a former journalist, analyst and writer on Saudi affairs. “Allowing women to drive a car is a move of pragmatism,” Al-Khamri said.
“Rights are only granted when it serves the interest, the agenda and the survival of the totalitarian political system,” she told the NewsHour.
Saudi authorities say they have put in place all the framework for women in the kingdom to start driving on Sunday. Among the changes, driving schools have been set up across five cities in the country and would be taught by Saudi women who obtained their licenses abroad.
The changes have been celebrated by many both within Saudi Arabia and throughout the world.
Last month, a Saudi woman test-drove a car during the country’s first women-only car exhibition, which featured a team of saleswomen for its new customer base.
Vogue Arabia’s June 2018 edition, the first to solely focus on Saudi Arabia and the gains women have made there, featured Princess Hayfa bint Abdullah Al Saud on the cover in the driver’s seat of a red convertible.
“In our country, there are some conservatives who fear change,” the princess told Vogue. “For many, it’s all they have known. Personally, I support these changes with great enthusiasm.
Driving isn’t the only achievement for Saudi women this year.”
Last month, the country criminalized sexual harassment in the kingdom. Now, sexual harassment is punishable by up to two years in prison and fines which could reach up to $26,600.
Despite the ban, a government-led crackdown on women has continued
But even as women are seeing progress toward more equality in some areas, Saudi Arabian authorities and government-aligned media are cracking down in other ways.
In May, the government launched a public smear campaign against six detained women’s rights activists, labeling them as traitors.
The United Nations Human Rights Office has requested Saudi Arabia provide information about where arrested women’s rights activists are being held and ensure their right to due process.
Kareem Chehayeb, a Saudi Arabia researcher with Amnesty International, told the NewsHour that the government is spearheading a “chilling media campaign” and said the government targeted activists “as traitors or foreign agents.”
The activists “are a model for others and the demand for the rights will continue,” activist Yahya Assiri said. But, he adds, “for that, the authorities trying to stop any other campaign, want people to thank MBS and not the activists and want to abuse the reputation of the heroes.”
Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia said it has “temporarily” released eight activists that were charged with posing a threat to state security for their “contact with foreign entities with the aim of undermining the country’s stability and social fabric” and nine other women’s rights activists remained in detention “after sufficient evidence was made available and for their confessions of charges attributed to them.”
Rights groups have identified many of the detainees as women who support the right to drive and an end to the conservative kingdom’s male guardianship system.
Reconciling new freedoms with recent arrests
Now, human rights groups are struggling to reconcile the recent crackdown with the government’s stated goals of social reforms.
In a recent press conference, UN human rights spokeswoman Liz Throssell called the arrests “perplexing.”
“MBS reserves the right to be the sole interpreter of women’s and society’s needs and anyone who question the regime or demand more rights will be put behind bars,” Al-Khamri said. “MBS is not reformist – as it outwardly and ostensibly appears – but he is the face of the neo-totalitarian state.”
“The regime will continue to harass, silence, and imprison voice which challenges the norms and the power structure or attempt to mobilize the society for a sustainable change,” she added.
MBS’s reforms do “not justify the crackdown on human rights activists, on freedom of speech, freedom of expression rather association and assembly,” Chehayeb of Amnesty International said. “What you’re witnessing now is a greater stifling more than ever before of these freedoms.”
What’s next?
Today, women are out on the streets driving around the kingdom, but the activists who campaigned for lifting the ban are still behind bars. Saudi media organizations have accused the arrested activists of plotting to “violate national unity.”
Many aspects of everyday life are still off-limits for women. They still need a male guardian’s permission to travel overseas, divorce or marry, get a job, open a bank account and socialize freely in public places with the opposite sex.
As the driving ban is lifted, activists say they will celebrate, but will not stop fighting to gain other rights for women.
“We are still waiting for the real reform,” Assiri said.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Speaking to AFP News Agency on women driving in #SaudiArabia

Saudi Arabia gears up to end women driving ban

Saudi Arabia will allow women to drive from Sunday, ending the world's only ban on female motorists, a historic reform marred by what rights groups call an expanding crackdown on activists.
Overturning the decades-long ban, a glaring symbol of repression against women, is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's much-trumpeted reform drive to modernise the conservative petrostate.

Potentially thousands of female drivers are set to take the wheel on Sunday, a long-awaited rite of passage for women in the kingdom that many say could usher in a new era of social mobility.
"It is a very important step and essential for women's free mobility," Hana al-Khamri, author of the forthcoming book "Female Journalists in Gender Apartheid Saudi Arabia", told AFP.
"Women in Saudi Arabia live under patriarchal structures. Allowing them to sit behind the wheel will help challenge social and gender norms that hinder mobility, autonomy and independence."
For many women the move should prove transformative, freeing them from their dependence on private chauffeurs or male relatives and resulting in big family savings.
"It's a relief," Najah al-Otaibi, a senior analyst at pro-Saudi think-tank Arabia Foundation, told AFP.
"Saudi women feel a sense of justice. They have long been denied a basic human right which has kept them confined and dependent on men, making it impossible to exercise a normal life."
- Coffee and ice cream -
The kingdom earlier this month began issuing its first driving licences to women in decades, with some swapping their foreign permits for Saudi ones after undergoing a practical test.
Some three million women in Saudi Arabia could receive licences and actively begin driving by 2020, according to consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
A handful of female driving schools have cropped up in cities like Riyadh and Jeddah, training women to drive cars and also Harley Davidson motorbikes -- scenes that were unimaginable even a year ago.
Many Saudi women have ebulliently declared plans on social media to drive their mothers for coffee or ice cream as soon as the ban ends on Sunday, a mundane experience elsewhere in the world but a dazzling novelty in the desert kingdom.
For decades, hardliners cited austere Islamic interpretations to justify the driving ban, with some asserting that women lack the intelligence to drive and that lifting the prohibition would promote promiscuity.

The decision to lift the ban was catalysed in large measure by what experts characterise as economic pain in the kingdom owing to a protracted oil slump.
The move is expected to boost women's employment, and according to a Bloomberg estimate, add $90 billion to economic output by 2030.
Many women fear they are still easy prey for conservatives in a nation where male "guardians" -- their fathers, husbands or other relatives -- can exercise arbitrary authority to make decisions on their behalf.
The government has preemptively addressed concerns of abuse by outlawing sexual harassment, with a prison term of up to five years and a maximum penalty of 300,000 riyals ($80,000).
- 'Not a criminal or traitor' -
Prince Mohammed, appointed heir to the most powerful throne in the Middle East a year ago this month, has also lifted a ban on cinemas and mixed-gender concerts, following his public vow to return the kingdom to moderate Islam.
But much of the initial optimism over his reforms appears to have been dented by a sweeping crackdown on women activists who long opposed the driving ban.
Authorities have said that nine of 17 arrested people remain in prison, accused of undermining the kingdom's security and aiding enemies of the state.
The detainees include three generations of activists, among them 28-year-old Loujain al-Hathloul, also held in 2014 for more than 70 days for attempting to drive from neighbouring United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia, and Aziza al-Yousef, a retired professor at Riyadh's King Saud University.
State-backed newspapers have published front-page pictures of some of the activists, the word "traitor" stamped across them in red.
Human Rights Watch this week said the kingdom has arrested two more women activists -- Nouf Abdelaziz and Mayaa al-Zahrani, in what it denounced as an "unrelenting crackdown".
"I am not a provoker, not a vandaliser, not a terrorist, a criminal or a traitor," Abdelaziz said in a letter before her arrest, which was cited by HRW.
"I have never been (anything) but a good citizen who loves her country and wishes for it nothing but the best."
Both women are being held incommunicado, HRW said.
Saudi authorities did not respond to requests for comment.
Even some of the prince's ardent supporters have labelled the crackdown a "mistake".
It has been seen as a calculated move both to placate clerics incensed by his modernisation drive and also to send a clear signal to activists that he alone is the arbiter of change.
But many Saudi women nevertheless credit decades of fearless activism for the end of the driving ban.
"These activists should be credited for this historical change, not jailed," Khamri, who is currently based in Sweden, said.
"It is sad that these women who have been fighting for the right to drive won't be there to witness this historic moment."

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Därför får kvinnorna i Saudiarabien köra bil

Har den saudiske kungen blivit feminist, eller hur ska man förklara de reformer som gett Saudiarabiens kvinnor vissa friheter? Bortom slagorden fortsätter emellertid förtrycket av kvinnor, vilket tyder på att reformerna framför allt är motiverade av ekonomiska kalkyler och internt maktspel. 

Häromveckan tog Saudiarabien plats i FN:s kvinnokommission, trots den stora kontrovers som omgärdade beslutet förra året. Den senaste tiden har också nyheter om reformer i Saudiarabien uppmärksammats i medier över hela världen, särskilt de förändringar som rör kvinnors ställning i landet. Ett av de beslut som hyllats är avskaffandet av förbudet för kvinnor att köra bil.
Hur kommer det sig att den saudiska kungen, Salman bin Abdul Aziz, plötsligt accepterar att kvinnor får köra bil och monterar ned flera andra hinder för kvinnors aktiva deltagande? Det var just kung Salman som för 28 år sedan, då som borgmästare i Riyadh, gav order om hårda straff mot de kvinnor som genomfört den allra första demonstrationen för kvinnors rätt att köra bil i Saudiarabien. Regimen fortsätter dessutom att tysta, fängsla och tvinga kvinnorättsaktivister, varav många har kämpat för de reformer som nu genomförs, att gå i exil.
Det är med andra ord inte särskilt troligt att kung Salman eller hans kronprins Mohammed bin Salman plötsligt har blivit feminister, så vilka motiv ligger bakom den senaste tidens snabba förändringar? För att finna svaret är det viktigt att titta närmare på det saudiska kungahusets förhållande till de som debatterar kvinnors rättigheter i landet, framför allt de kvinnliga debattörerna.
Saudiarabien är en absolut monarki. Kungen är statschef, regeringschef, högste befälhavare i armén och ledare för nationalförsamlingen (Majlis Al-Shura). Kungen utser ministrarna i regeringen och medlemmarna i nationalförsamlingen. Genom ett system av belöningar till dem som visar lojalitet mot regimen och dess ideologi, liksom hårda straff mot dem som vågar trotsa kungahuset eller rådande samhällsnormer, försöker regimen kontrollera samhället.

Kvinnor i Saudiarabien är juridiskt omyndiga. De måste få tillåtelse av sina manliga förmyndare för att gifta sig, arbeta eller resa utomlands.
De som debatterar mot kvinnors rättigheter utgör en heterogen grupp som interagerar med den saudiska regimen på olika sätt. Vissa är direkt sponsrade av kungahuset och arbetar inom systemet. De tillhör samhällets elit och har privilegierade positioner inom utbildningsväsendet, statskontrollerade institutioner och medier där de sprider regimens åsikter. De ger sitt helhjärtade stöd till regimens ideologi och bidrar på ett effektivt sätt till att tysta aktivister som kritiserar makten. Ett argument som de ofta framför är att samhället inte är redo för förändringar.
Det finns även kvinnliga debattörer som stöder staten och kampanjar mot att kvinnor ska få utökade rättigheter. Dessa tillhör ofta medelklassen och drivs av en fosterländsk nationalism i kombination med religiösa motiv. Ett exempel på initiativ som dessa chauvinistiska debattörer tagit är kampanjen ”Min manliga förmyndare vet vad som är bäst för mig”.
Saudiarabien domineras av wahhabismen, en ultraortodox tolkning av islam som uppmuntrar till en mycket traditionell och konservativ roll för kvinnor i samhället. Många debattörer baserar sin retorik på den wahhabitiska doktrinen vilken de ser som den absoluta sanningen när det gäller vilken moral som bör råda i samhället. De djupt religiösa debattörerna har högljutt protesterat mot att kvinnor ska få rätt att köra bil och kritiserar ofta FN:s konvention som syftar till att avskaffa all slags diskriminering av kvinnor, eftersom de anser att jämställdhet splittrar familjen. De kritiserar aldrig kungahuset och har
Hdärför stöd från mäktiga personer inom regimen. I stället riktar de sin ilska mot vad de kallar ”liberala grisar” som vill befria de saudiska kvinnorna.
Dessa debattörer får direkt eller indirekt stöd av det saudiska kungahuset eftersom de tjänar regimens agenda: fullständig kontroll över vilka rättigheter kvinnor ska garanteras. Det starka stödet till de debattörer som är mot utökade rättigheter för kvinnor visar att det saudiska kungahuset inte eftersträvar jämställdhet.
Trots att det inte finns någon folklig representation på politisk nivå, och inte heller något självständigt civilsamhälle, förekommer det emellertid även röster som vill stärka kvinnors rättigheter. De har bland annat samlat in och lämnat över namnunderskrifter till kungen med krav på att kvinnor ska tillåtas köra bil. En annan kampanj syftade till att avskaffa det manliga förmyndarskapssystemet. Initiativtagarna har utsatts för smutskastningskampanjer, förlorat sina jobb och dömts till hårda fängelsestraff. Resultatet är att många som vågat utmana det patriarkala systemet tystats.
Liksom i alla diktaturer och totalitära system finns det revolutionära saudier som vill skapa radikal förändring – en övergång från absolut monarki till ett mer demokratiskt styrelseskick. Att yttra sådana åsikter är förenat med livsfara och regimen straffar den som vågar trotsa kungahuset med mycket hårda straff. De har antingen dödats, fängslats eller tvingats i exil och fått sina pass indragna.
Den saudiska kungen och hans kronprins är alltså inte några jämställdhetsförespråkare. Regimen vägrar att belöna eller erkänna kvinnorättsaktivister som kämpat för grundläggande rättigheter under decennier. Det som hände Aziza Al-yousef – en av de ledande kvinnorättsaktivisterna i Saudiarabien – när kungahuset i september förra året offentliggjorde att kvinnor ska tillåtas att köra bil utgör ett målande exempel på detta. Al-yousef, som kämpat för kvinnors rätt att köra bil sedan 90-talet, blev uppringd av det kungliga rådet (Al-Diwan Al-Malaki) strax innan nyheten offentliggjordes och förbjöds att kommentera frågan. Al-yousef tvingades att tyst se på när kungen och hans kronprins under parollen ”Kung Salman står upp för kvinnorna” proklamerade att körförbudet för kvinnor upphör. Det hade varit förenat med stora risker för Al-yousef om hon trotsat regimen och kommenterat den reform hon så länge kämpat för.
Att den saudiska regimen känner sig hotad av röster som vill mobilisera samhället för att stärka kvinnors ställning
Tär tydligt. Kungahusets förhållningssätt till de som debatterar kvinnornas ställning i landet kan sammanfattas med den italienske diktatorn Benito Mussolinis slagord ”Allt inom staten, ingenting utanför staten, ingenting mot staten”. Regimen låter inte kvinnorättsaktivister som arbetar för långtgående förändringar verka fritt. Kungahuset vill säkerställa att kvinnofrågor förblir under dess kontroll. Rättigheter beviljas av den patriarkala kungen när han så önskar, inte när det krävs av några aktivister.
Med detta som bakgrund är det uppenbart att det som nu pågår i Saudiarabien inte handlar om genuina reformer i syfte att stärka kvinnors rättigheter. Förändringarna som nu genomförs har andra motiv.
Kung Salman kom till makten 2015 som den sjunde monarken sedan kungahuset etablerades 1932. Hans trontillträde har präglats av ekonomiska utmaningar till följd av fallande oljepriser, vilket allvarligt har påverkat monarkins möjlighet att i vanlig ordning köpa sig legitimitet. I åratal har kungahuset distribuerat skattefri social välfärd till invånarna och i gengäld krävt lojalitet och blind lydnad.
Genom att ta bort några hinder för kvinnors aktiva deltagande, som körförbudet, vill kungahuset få ut fler saudiska kvinnor på arbetsmarknaden. Idag arbetar bara 12 procent av kvinnorna. Syftet är att minska de ekonomiska utmaningarna i landet och skydda kungahusets legitimitet som vilar på skattefri välfärd för folket.
Därtill har dramatiska förändringar ägt rum inom det saudiska kungahuset de senaste åren. Den yngste sonen till den nuvarande kungen, 32-årige Mohammed bin Salman, har hoppat över successionsordningen och utnämnt sig själv till kronprins vilket skapat en djupgående strid om makten inom kungafamiljen. Enligt amerikansk underrättelsetjänst har kronprinsen satt sin egen mor under husarrest då han fruktar att hon ska motsätta sig maktövertagandet. Maktkampen har gjort kvinnornas situation till en bricka i ett politiskt spel som Mohammed bin Salman använder både för att vinna de ungas sympati i Saudiarabien samt för att bygga nära relationer med världsledare och garantera deras stöd. På detta sätt stärker han sin ställning och befäster sin makt.
Till skillnad från manliga aktivister i Saudiarabien kämpar landets kvinnliga aktivister både mot ett totalitärt politiskt system och mot ett patriarkalt samhälle som håller dem tillbaka. Den saudiska regimen varken erkänner eller involverar kvinnorättsaktivister när landet nu genomför reformer för att förbättra kvinnors ställning. I stället reserverar sig kungahuset rätten att vara den enda uttolkaren av kvinnors och samhällets behov. Landet har gång på gång missbrukat sitt internationella och ekonomiska inflytande för att pressa FN och världens länder till att acceptera kvinnors underordnade ställning i Saudiarabien. Det är därför osannolikt att ett medlemskap i FN:s kvinnokommission kommer att medverka till ökad jämställdhet i landet.
Med det sagt är det positivt för de saudiska kvinnornas ställning att de nu får utökade, om än fortfarande mycket begränsade, rättigheter. Men det är viktigt att förstå att förändringarna kom till stånd efter ekonomiska nedgångar och internt maktspel – samt framför allt att de tjänar den totalitära regimens intressen. Den stora utmaningen för kvinnorättsaktivister i Saudiarabien är nu att säkra de här positiva förändringarna och försöka driva fram ytterligare reformer.
Till sommaren kommer saudiska kvinnor äntligen kunna sätta sig bakom ratten utan rädsla för repressalier. Men körkort till trots – de förblir omyndiga. Det råder alltjämt könsapartheid i Saudiarabien och så länge det manliga förmyndarskapet inte avskaffas är och förblir kvinnor andra klassens medborgare.
Hana Al-Khamri
Mellanösternanalytiker med fokus på Jemen och Saudi­arabien, uppvuxen och tidigare verksam som journalist i Saudiarabien, sedan 2011 ­bosatt i Sverige

Sunday, June 17, 2018


I remember calling the Saudi human rights lawyer Waleed Abulkhair from a European capital city to ask him if he thought my life would be in danger if I returned to Saudi Arabia after publishing articles criticizing its human rights and political situation.
“The Saudi government can only shackle their own people, but can do nothing to a foreigner,” Waleed told me in a phone conversation, suggesting that, if I held a western nationality, it might protect me from harassment by Saudi authorities. He continued, “Many European opinion writers criticized the Kingdom, but none have been punished. This regime can only take its strength out on us.”
His words still resonate in my head.
Today, that same man languishes in a dark prison after being indicted by a variety of charges, including discrediting the Kingdom.

Image result for waleed abulkhair
Waleed refused to take opportunities to escape Saudi Arabia despite all the harassment he had experience by police and security forces, so as not to be accused of being supported by the west. He did not want people to think that his political and human rights awareness was inspired by the west or coming only from abroad, which the regime claims has nothing in common with the local culture. Waleed decided to stay in the kingdom, as he believed the struggle for human rights and reforms were worth it. He was trying to bear everything in order to show that his endeavors to establish a better country stemmed from conscience as a citizen.
But the dictatorial regime has no other power than to shut the mouths of its people and cut off the heads of its opponents.
After the Arab Spring revolutions, nothing terrifies the Saudi regime more than 140 characters on Twitter by a political reformist or anyone who dreams of a brighter future. The fear those first tweets caused was sufficient justification for the regime to introduce a new law against terrorism, which is now used against anyone calling for a constitutional monarchy or other reform. This law was used by the security court in Riyadh to sentence Waleed to fifteen years in prison.
Saudi authorities’ are able to control the dissemination of information to an extreme degree. During the Gulf War of 1991, the Saudi population did not know about the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait until three days after the war broke out. The royal family and the ministry of information banned all local media from mentioning anything about it There was a war next door and no one knew about it!
I talked to senior journalists who witnessed those days. They talked about fears spreading among media professionals working at the national television and local newspapers, to the extent that the voice of the weather forecaster was trembling whenever he talked about the climates of Kuwait and Iraq.
The Saudi rentier state has—since its founding at the beginning of the last century—sought to create a parish rather than a citizenry. The welfare system has been created without demanding people pay taxes; it has covers all expenses through oil revenues. By following such a system, the regime can ensure grateful “subjects” to the royal family rather than “citizens” claiming voting rights.
The royal family forgot that the new millennium will provide new tools and methods to their people that they won’t be able to ban—tools and methods that anyone living in the Kingdom will be able to use to express their opinions, fears, demands, and dreams. Unrestricted tools which one can use without going through gatekeepers appointed and deposed by the Saudi Ministry of Information who enforce censorship on each pronounced or written word.
The royal family forgot that global consciousness, despite the Kingdom’s oppressive control, can create citizens who are conscious enough to stand for their rights. Citizens who no longer hesitate to demand equal rights, the right to freedom of expression, and the preservation of universal human rights values. Citizens like Waleed Abulkhair.
The regime is currently living in a state of historical confusion and doesn’t know how to control the expansion of social media networks and their growing popularity among youth. The regime has lost control of these tools and of all the stories that now transcend borders and inspire those living in the Kingdom. Interaction through the new media has inspired Saudis to make change and to establish a new social contract between the ruler and the ruled.
The regime sees the acquisition of free words like the possession of drugs or the holding of a terrorist ideology. They are blocking websites and issuing laws to restrict the internet and to imprison human rights activists, ostensibly to protect the intellectual and cultural security of the citizen, while in fact just protecting the regime…

This text was first published at The Dissident Blog #14 for Swedish PEN in 2014