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MER 228 Table of Contents

Seeking a "Social Contract for Saudi Arabia

Toby Jones

(Toby Jones is a doctoral candidate in history at Stanford University.)

Bird market in mostly Shi’i town of al-Qatif. (Moulouk Y. Ba-Isa/AP Photo)

For most of its history, the royal family of Saudi Arabia has maintained public order by exercising absolute, at times brutal, control over the people of the country. The House of Saud has tolerated neither resistance nor the questioning of its authority. But in the mayhem of 2003, with war to the north, terrorist car bombings in the capital of Riyadh and running gun battles in Mecca and Medina, something strange is happening in the oil monarchy. In the spring and summer, several bold groups of Saudi Arabian citizens pressed the royal family to rescue the country from the forces crippling it and open up to political reform. This time, Saudi rulers appear to be listening to, and even encouraging, dialogue. Has the age of reform dawned at long last in Saudi Arabia?

There are reasons for optimism. Crown Prince Abdallah's highly publicized embrace of the various reform groups suggests that, if nothing else, talking about reform has become a legitimate element of public life. Editorial pages of Saudi Arabian newspapers openly call for greater freedoms and debate possible ways to ameliorate long-standing problems. The new reformers, by aligning themselves with the regime, have shrewdly maneuvered the royal family into a stance from which they cannot easily back down. With the requisite endurance, the reformers may ultimately accomplish their task, but for now, the reasons for skepticism are abundant and powerful. There are significant questions about the strength of the social base supporting the cause of the moderates. Reactionary forces are on the rise, and power struggles among the royal family continue to stymie forward motion.

Looming Disaster

Fireman takes a nap near site of Riyadh car bombing, May 13, 2003. (Bilal Qabalan/AFP)

It is well-known that the economic, social and political systems in the kingdom demand urgent overhaul. Saudi Arabian author Turki al-Hamad recently remarked that "ten, 20 years ago, we had the luxury of time. We could choose the kind of reform pace we wanted.... Now, we either reform or collapse."[1] Since the bottom fell out of the oil boom in the mid-1980s, the strength of the Saudi economy has flagged considerably. Subsequent shocks to the economy, especially the heavy cost of subsidizing the 1991 Gulf war, wreaked havoc on an unstable system almost wholly dependent on the whims of the international oil market. Rapidly compounding social pressures promise additional dangers if not remedied soon. Although accurate data is rare, it is clear that government expenditures outstrip revenues, continuing a trend toward greater indebtedness begun in the early 1990s. Most disturbingly, over 40 percent of the budget continues to be allocated to defense rather than human development or other more pressing matters.

In 1981, US and Saudi Arabian per capita income levels were equivalent at roughly $18,000 per year. In the 20 years since, while the US level has grown to $36,000, the average Saudi Arabian household income plummeted, now hovering around $7,500. Social services, including quality health care and reasonably priced housing, have declined and the Saudi Arabian infrastructure is in a steady state of decay. The county's population continues to grow at an alarming pace annually, according to the US Embassy, with the fertility rate at seven children per female. Predictions suggest that Riyadh alone, today a city of around 5 million, will reach the 11 million mark by 2020. The overwhelming majority (figures range between 60-70 percent) of the Saudi Arabian population, which totals around 20 million, is under 25 and unemployed.[2] Considering the country's almost total reliance on foreign labor, jobs will likely continue to remain in rare supply. With the state no longer able to subsidize the nation's welfare, the future looks bleak.

Augmenting anxieties generated by economic futility and the specter of total social disarray is the authoritarian regime itself, long at the vanguard of the world's oppressive governments. Religious minorities are marginalized. The Shi'a, who live mostly in the oil-rich eastern province of al-Hasa and make up between 10-20 percent of the population, have been ruthlessly oppressed. The monarchy's record on women's rights and most other measures of human rights is worse than abysmal, as documented by Human Rights Watch, the State Department and others. Foreign laborers toil in virtual slavery, subordinate to vague labor laws that allow their unlimited exploitation. Arrest without formal charge is frequent, the torture of criminal and political prisoners is common, and due process is mythical. Forced confessions fill the police records, while capital and corporal punishments are handed out with frightening regularity. The top-heavy regime is corrupt and cruel, and maintains domestic order through fear and the threat of violence.[3]

Demands for reform of the dysfunctional Saudi system are not without precedent. In fact, the limited success of the contemporary reform movement owes much to an earlier generation of political pioneers. An Islamist social movement, organized throughout the 1980s as a result of the expansion of religious institutions and the return of the mujahideen from Afghanistan, erupted in anger in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf war. While exasperation with the regime festered unspoken in the past, the war and the country's reliance on US soldiers galvanized dissenters who shattered the silence. In addition, the Islamist opposition movement had finally tired of government corruption and betrayal of the austere Islamic principles the Al Saud purported to uphold. Throughout the 1990s, the regime cracked down on the dissidents, leading some to proclaim their defeat. As Gwenn Okruhlik has argued, however, while the Islamist opposition failed to topple the regime, such a yardstick for success is not wholly appropriate. The Islamists fundamentally altered the terms of political discourse in the kingdom, forcing the royal family to take them seriously. Yet even in the new era of discussion and debate about the nation and the proper relationship between the state and citizen, the brutal regime endured.[4] What appeared to be significant political compromises, like the creation of the consultative council and the 1992 Basic Law, actually enabled the Al Saud to centralize power more completely and erode already limited political access.[5]

"Better That It Happen from Above"

In mid-January 2003, Crown Prince Abdallah, de facto ruler of the kingdom since his brother King Fahd suffered a stroke in 1995, issued a call for political reform across the Middle East. When asked about Abdallah's initiative, Mohammed al-Mohaissen, the secretary for one reform group, replied that "I believe he is sincere, but for his thoughts to be credible, they must first be applied in Saudi Arabia." He continued sarcastically that "I also believe that he has reflected many of our ideas and so perhaps news of our discussions has already reached him."[6] It was al-Mohaissen's group, 104 strong, that presented Abdallah with the first of the year's petitions, called "The Vision" (al-Ru'ya), later that same month. The letter demanded sweeping changes. It recommended broad reforms including public election of the consultative council (Majlis al-Shura), social justice, civil rights, ending corruption, an independent and reformed judiciary, the creation of human rights institutions and economic diversity, as well as freedom of speech, assembly and association. Emphasizing the Islamic roots of citizenship, the document underscored that scripture mandates fairness on the part of governments and that they were bound to consult with the community in "affairs."[7] There were, however, no women signatories and the demand for women's rights was addressed in vague terms.

The end of April witnessed the second petition, as 450 Shi'i men and women signed an ambitious entreaty for reform. As with their predecessors, the Shi'a emphasized Islamic and national unity as well as explicit support for the royal family. The document, titled "Partners in One Nation," expressed solidarity with the January group in calling for structural change as well as "justice, security, equality and stability." More importantly, though, they petitioned for relief from the forces that continue to operate against them in the country. Urging an end to discrimination and the "fanatical sectarian tendencies stimulating hatred," the document called for equal representation of Shi'is in government positions such as the Majlis al-Shura (of the 120, there are two Shi'i members at present), the cabinet, diplomatic posts and in military and security fields. The petition implored the regime to stop "unlawful" arrests, interrogation, the deprivation of travel, detention at borders and "the personal frisking associated with insult." They also demanded educational reform, a national program promoting tolerance, human rights, intellectual and religious freedom, laws allowing for the prosecution of hate crimes as well as a public announcement "by leaders of this country to respect Shi'a rights in the Kingdom and equality with other citizens."[8] Finally, the petitioners requested greater freedom for worship and religious institutions, the right to publish religious books and the creation of an official government organization to oversee their religious affairs, as well as the institutionalization of religious courts with "suitable legal executive power."

Whether Abdallah had Saudi Arabia in mind or not when he called for regional reform, he has been accommodating to Saudi Arabian activists, meeting each group for extended discussion. The crown prince's willingness to welcome them may have had less to do with the actual content of their reform agenda than it does with their tone and timing. While efforts in the past have challenged the royal family, the 2003 generation has aligned itself with the regime. Hajib al-Khunayzi, who signed the January letter and attended the first meeting with Abdallah, remarked in February that "whether we like it or not, change will come -- from above or below. It's better that it happen from above."[9] Emphasizing Islamic and national unity, they have appeal as progressive-moderate Islamic reformers who would prefer the current regime to a more reactionary alternative. A decade ago, reformers demanded accountability from the Al Saud. In 2003, the talk is of the "social contract" and mutual interests.[10]

Intense Unease

What appears to be the melding of mutual interests is more likely a shared understanding of the precarious positions of both the reformers and Abdallah at the moment. The September 11 attacks and the revelation that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi Arabian has generated intense international scrutiny of the regime, particularly from the United States. The subsequent war on terrorism has had two visible effects on politics in Saudi Arabia. First, a deep fear that external forces threaten the sovereignty and integrity of the country has taken root, particularly as the US expands its military efforts globally. Compounding the fear, a cottage industry in the American media and certain "intellectual" circles has dedicated itself to Saudi-bashing. While criticism of the royals is clearly justified, the vituperative tone of much of the maligning has worked to engender paranoia among ordinary Saudis that the Americans are coming. The Iraq war exacerbated the intense unease. Turki al-Hamad captured much of the pre-war sentiment: "Iraq is just a starting point. Saudi Arabia could be the next target, since America considers it the cradle of terrorism."[11]

The war amplified the anxiety, and even fostered unjustified distrust between Saudi Arabian reformers. In the drive to war, an article in the Wall Street Journal -- subsequently translated in Arabic and widely distributed -- suggested that the Shi'a in al-Hasa would be amenable to separating from the kingdom.[12] After the article circulated, rumors swirled that "liberating" the eastern province had in fact become official US policy and that residents in the predominantly Shi'i areas sought to re-establish Greater Bahrain, the ancient name for the eastern part of the peninsula, what is now southern Iraq, Kuwait and the Persian Gulf island nation.[13]

Shi'a community leaders scrambled to fend off suggestions that they intend to join forces with the newly "liberated" Iraqi Shi'a and that they are partial to other meddling external influences. Jaafar al-Shayeb, one of the petition's co-authors, declared that the group's "demands were made toÉclose the door to any outside party wanting to exert pressure on the kingdom and threaten its unity."[14] In fact, it is clear that the Shi'a document in particular is neither a knee-jerk reaction to the Iraq war nor an attempt to generate pressure by soliciting outside support. To the contrary, the petition states that "at this stage, our Arab and Islamic nation faces the most dangerous challenges. There is a massive global hostile campaign intending to give a false image about Islam and Muslims. Additionally, the Zionist crimes were unleashed in the Palestinian occupied territories, at the time when the American and British forces started their intensive attack against Iraq, with no consideration for the Security Council, the United Nations and worldwide opinion, and they are raising threats to other Arab and Islamic countries."[15] Additional materials suggest that such sentiments are more than mere political grandstanding. Summaries of weekly meetings held for the last three years in Qatif, the largest Shi'i city in the eastern province, and obtained for this article indicate that community leaders gathered regularly to discuss local politics, social issues and their vision of how best to become more, not less, integrated into Saudi society.[16]

Second, the horror and magnitude of September 11 forced Abdallah and reform-minded Saudis to come to terms with the reactionary powers in their midst and their possible mobilization due to the war on terrorism. Mohammed al-Mohaissen admitted in an interview with an American journalist that "[September 11] raised a lot of questions," including "What was behind it? Who was responsible? The government realized it must listen to inside voices and find a margin of freedom for these questions to be discussed."[17] He editorialized before the Iraq war that "current US military plans have only destabilized societies and strengthened the hand of reactionary forces in the region." Al-Mohaissen's fear that the US effort to remake the Arab world would engender enduring difficulty for domestic activists is powerful. He claimed that Washington's "attempts to appropriate the goals and language of our grassroots efforts has set us back considerably by risking the perception that ours is a movement being imposed from the outside."[18] His worries about such forces proved prescient when on May 12, terrorists carried out a deadly assault on American and Saudi interests in Riyadh.

For the Shi'a, similar forces operating in the kingdom may have played a direct role in the timing of their missive. Al-Ahram Weekly, published in Cairo, reported that their petition "came just after authorities announced an investigation into a number of Shiite mosques in the Eastern Province set ablaze in apparent arson attacks."[19] While it is difficult to verify the al-Ahram account, it has been widely reported that several places of worship in the east were attacked days after the Qatif-based group submitted their petition to Abdallah. Other instances of sectarian strife have been reported, including physical violence between Shi'i and Sunni youth as well as the desecration of a Shi'i cemetery in Annak -- a village south of Qatif near the Persian Gulf.

The real power of these reactionary forces is largely unknown. As the social and economic data mentioned earlier makes clear, there are material forces leading to despair -- fodder for radical Islamists. Conversely, the social base supporting reform is also unknown. The middle class is vanishing, creating a large group of poorer Saudi Arabians who continue to harbor hopeful expectations with few real prospects. An alternative clergy, much more radical in its message and feared by moderates, capitalizes on the resulting anxiety.[20] Several Saudi Arabians told the author that the extremists outnumber the more progressive-minded by a wide margin. The certainty with which individual citizens will attest to this "fact," even without being able to cite precise data, makes it a powerful truth whatever the reality. Even after the May bombings, which did not discriminate among religious or national groups, we know very little. The government has taken to speaking about terrorism more openly and claims to be fighting against the "evildoers."[21] However, there is little consistency in their position.[22] The government splashes its claimed victories -- which all happen to occur when presumed militants crash through police roadblocks -- across national newspapers, but its war on terrorism raises more questions than it answers about the extent of the radical Islamist threat.

Islamic Unity and the Boundaries of Reform

Fundamental to the new reform initiative is the principle of Islamic unity. Theoretically, it is hoped that space will be opened for Saudi Arabia's diverse population to participate. In the early summer, the crown prince hosted a gathering of religious leaders from around the kingdom in Riyadh to promote pluralism. Al-Majalla, a weekly based in Jidda, called the National Forum for Dialogue "the first of its kind in Saudi history." The group included "salafi Hanbalis, Twelver Shi'a (from Qatif, al-Hasa and Medina), Isma'ili Shi'a (from Najran) as well as representatives from the Maliki and Shafi'i Sunni schools. To a limited extent, Sufis were represented."[23] Dialogue focused on a familiar set of progressive themes, especially defining national unity and the centrality of Islamic law and the clerics to the process. Other topics included expanding efforts to oppose forces threatening the "dissolution" of the nation, promoting diversity of thought, the rights and responsibilities of women in society, freedom of expression and contemporary religious rulings (fatawa) -- their connection to social reality and their effects on national unity and internal cohesion. The coming together of historically oppressed religious leaders was hailed by various participants. Abd al-Aziz al-Khadr, an Islamic journalist and writer, remarked that the meeting represented "a huge step" in moving past long-standing divisions. Qays bin Muhammad al-Sheikh Mubarak, professor of jurisprudence at King Faisal University in al-Hasa, commented that it symbolized a "cornerstone" in building a national identity.[24]

But promoting a shared vision for Islamic unity, while also including room for a plurality of ideas, is a daunting task. Historically, the official religious authorities in Saudi Arabia have been given tremendous power in shaping the kingdom's theological orientation and infrastructure. As is well-known, the "official" religion of the kingdom is a puritanical variant of Islam deriving its theology from the fifteenth-century thinker Ibn Taymiyya and the eighteenth-century preacher Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. Historically, Wahhabis have not welcomed the principle of plurality. As late as 1991, high-ranking official religious leaders railed against the Shi'a, for example. That year, Sheikh Abdallah bin Jibrin, a noted religious scholar, called for their extermination. Although it has not been reported in the press, in the weeks after the Shi'a reform group met with Crown Prince Abdallah, a Sunni cleric in the east reiterated this call, leading predictably to heightened tension.

The crisis over Islamic principles transcends sectarian conflict. The question of who has ultimate authority to define, or even discuss religion and religious institutions, has played out in the press, demonstrating the impotence of dialogue alone. On May 27, the Minister of Information unceremoniously fired Jamal Khashoggi from his post as editor of the "liberal" Saudi newspaper al-Watan for being critical of powerful religious interests. Khashoggi had previously written on other progressive reform efforts, but stood out for his critical handling of the Saudi religious police (mutawwa'in), officially known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. In the May 22 edition of al-Watan, he published a controversial piece critical of Ibn Taymiyya, blasting those responsible for the May 12 bombings and for their corrupted justifications of jihad. In the editorial, which cost him his job, the former editor wrote in strikingly similar terms to those discussed just a few weeks later at the National Forum for Dialogue. Regarding the importance of protecting the nation, he wrote "the homeland, which we fear may become a second Algeria, is a million times more precious and important to us than Ibn Taymiyya."[25]

Later in the summer, a similar incident occurred. On July 1, Saudi Arabian columnist Hussein Shobokshi penned an article in which he fantasized about the liberalization of the kingdom, challenging the stance of conservatives on women, human rights and sectarian differences. The public response to the article was mixed. While some found it courageous, Shoboshki also received death threats. One e-mail warned him to "know your limits or you will be punished by God and by his followers on earth." Shobokshi said that the Crown Prince wrote him remarking that "he liked the article, but that I shouldn't make so many people angry."[26] Abdallah's comment hardly reflects a firm stance on the issue of reform, indicating that he too is unable or unwilling to confront the reactionary forces operating in the kingdom. The vulnerability of those challenging the status quo was reconfirmed weeks later when Shobokshi was quietly fired over the affair. Episodes such as these raise serious concerns about intra-royal politics and the familiar gambit of playing rival social and political groups against one another to forestall challenges to power.

Security Is Freedom

Whatever his true intentions, Crown Prince Abdallah does not yet have the authority to implement the reform agenda. There are other sources of support for the project in the royal family, but they are limited. In an article in the London-based, Saudi-funded newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat, Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi ambassador to Great Britain, stated that "reforming the kingdom is not a choice, it is a necessity." He embellished a bit when he claimed that "the Saudi leadership has always been at the vanguard in implementing reforms," and suggested that "we have become more open and keen on reform after the attacks of September 11 while the US has become more closed."[27] Even so, his position is on the public record. While some of the Al Saud do appear to be encouraging progressive change in public, there are also clear warning signs that meaningful reform will be sacrificed on the altar of the family's internal power struggle.

One of Abdallah's chief rivals for power, Prince Nayif, who serves as Minister of the Interior, head of the intelligence services and chief of police as well as overseer of the mutawwa'in, is most active in stalling serious reform efforts. When asked about the January reform letter, Nayif remarked impatiently, "I have said it clearly -- no to change, yes to development." According to Nayif, "change means changing something that already exists. Whatever exists in the Kingdom is already well-established; however, there is scope for development -- development that does not clash with the principles of the nation." He crushed hopes for the formation of political parties, one of the main demands of the reformers. "This [system of political parties] does not exist now. But, as everyone knows, what exists in the country is something almost like it."[28]

As head of the various non-military police services, Nayif is principally concerned with domestic security, a position that grants him tremendous power. Remarking specifically on the reformers and the issue of their requests, Nayif argued that since threats to the country's safety, security and stability have yet to be overcome, "the current circumstances are not conducive to raising or speaking about such matters." When probed about the future prospects for change, he commented that "reforms are going on whether people ask for them or not. But now we should focus on the current critical situation around us." Speaking about the threat of terrorism, he concluded, "every country today is concerned about coming out of this critical situation with minimum losses. They don't think about anything else but this painful situation."[29] The Riyadh bombings, several months later, substantiate Nayif's comments that there are forces threatening the security and stability of the kingdom.

It would be a stretch, however, to conclude that Nayif was seriously concerned with the extremists in the Saudis' midst. Rather, Nayif has consistently manipulated his "worries" about security to maintain a huge intelligence service and project his control as widely as possible. Before the May attacks, Nayif regularly remarked that security was tantamount to freedom, although he never identified specific threats. In fact, it is clear from comments in the fall of 2002 that Nayif refused to admit that a specific domestic threat existed. In an interview given to al-Sharq al-Awsat in late November 2002, Nayif outlined his views about the national situation. When asked about al-Qaeda sleeper cells, he proffered that while there were indeed those in Saudi Arabia who harbored "violent thoughts," they posed no serious threat because they benignly sought to present "advice to officialsÉand some demands." Furthermore, "of course you find discussion by these groups on Internet magazines," but they are characterized by "exaggerations and absolute nonsense." He implied that the seriousness of the threat is non-existent "as "the positions of these groups are not consistent with reality" and "those who give voice to [their positions] are not concerned with accountability because they do not leave their backsides."[30] Nayif appeared unconcerned that his comments contradicted his standard refrain that Saudi Arabian security is constantly under threat. Meanwhile, reforms that might ameliorate the crises affording the reactionaries their social base are halted, and more than 30 people died in violent attacks that the Saudi security forces were either too ill-prepared or unwilling to handle.

Considering his public proclamations on security, it would seem that the May 12 bombings would undermine Nayif's credibility and potentially erode his power. After all, Saudi security forces failed to arrest a single suspect in the week before the attacks, when the police discovered their hideout and a huge cache of weapons in the same part of Riyadh in which the blasts occurred. All the suspects on that occasion fled into the night, while the police refused to pursue. Instead, the inverse is true. Saudi Arabians on the street now speak of the urgent need for security and that change should not come at the expense of stability. In spite of his penchant for assuming contradictory positions simultaneously, Nayif has shaped the current national discourse on which is more urgent -- reform or security. Even Abdallah has fallen into line. In early August the Crown Prince announced on Saudi television the establishment of the Center for National Dialogue in Riyadh, one of the steps called by participants in the National Forum for Dialogue. According to the Arab News, the center's opening represented "a further step toward fostering a national dialogue between people who hold different views."[31] Yet Abdallah's vague remarks diminished the significance of pluralism, let alone reform, focusing instead on the need for national unity in the face of the threat to security. "The responsible expression of opinion," he commented, "will have an impact on the fight against extremism and provide an atmosphere where considered views and new ideas that reject terrorism and extremist thought can emerge." That the militants can best be combated through structural and political change -- the message of the reformers -- is being ignored.

It is difficult to say what will happen if the powers that be continue to drag their heels on the reform agenda. For now, the reformers are not speaking publicly about the consequences of inaction. Jaafar al-Shayeb is no doubt close to the mark, however, when he says "I think that the time is right forÉseriously treating the [reform] issue with absolute devotion to unifying the nation and its security, rather than leaving it [so that] it becomes critical and danger arises and transforms into a social dilemma we cannot control."[32]



[1] Associated Press, February 9, 2003.

[2] Thanks to Bob Murphy for supplying the material used in this section.

[3] See Riyad Najib al-Rayyes, Poisonous Wind: Saudi Arabia and the Peninsula States after the Gulf War, 1991-1994 (London: Riyad El-Rayyes Books, 2002). [Arabic]

[4] Gwenn Okruhlik, "Networks of Dissent: Islamism and Reform in Saudi Arabia," Current History (January 2002).

[5] See A. Abu Hamad, Empty Reforms: Saudi Arabia's New Basic Laws (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1992). The Basic Law, drafted and implemented in 1992 -- some 53 years after it was first promised -- codified the legitimacy of the authoritarian system. The law managed to undo permanently basic political rights that had, at one time, been enjoyed by Saudi Arabians, including erasure of the right for citizens to elect their provincial leaders.

[6] Christian Science Monitor, January 15, 2003.

[7] The National Reform Document, mailed to Crown Prince Abdallah in January 2003.

[8] "Partners in One Nation" petition, submitted April 30, 2003.

[9] Associated Press, February 9, 2003.

[10] The National Reform Document.

[11] Associated Press, February 9, 2003.

[12] Wall Street Journal, February 3, 2003.

[13] The author was asked personally on several occasions about the veracity of rumors that Congress was debating the reconstitution of Greater Bahrain. The region is also referred to as Old Bahrain or Dilmoun. Among the handful of local histories written about the region, see Muhammad "Ali Salih al-Shurafa," The Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia: Civilization and History (Dammam, Saudi Arabia: Tihama Publishers, 1992), p. 50. [Arabic]

[14] Associated Press, May 12, 2003.

[15] From "Partners in One Nation."

[16] The group, called the Tuesday Cultural Assembly (Muntada al-Thulatha' al-Thaqafi), met 28 times during the academic year 2002-2003. Topics included "How do We Protect Our Society," "Developing Religious Discourse in Society" and "Human Rights Between Theory and Application." The Assembly regularly hosted guest speakers from inside and outside Saudi Arabia.

[17] Christian Science Monitor, January 15, 2003.

[18] Mohammed al-Mohaissen, "A Saudi Dissident's Agenda for Democratic Reform," International Herald Tribune, March 3, 2003.

[19] Al-Ahram Weekly, May 15-21, 2003.

[20] See Okruhlik.

[21] From a statement issued by the Ministry of Information on July 24, 2003, in response to leaks from the Congressional investigation into the September 11 attacks and claims of Saudi complicity therein.

[22] It is a characteristic of the Saudi war on terror that the 19 people involved in the May 12 bombings have been portrayed as representative of the entire threat inside the country. Interior Minister Prince Nayif said initially that the total number of "terrorists" inside the kingdom numbered no more than 50. By mid-August, according to media reports, over 200 people had been arrested. Al-Watan, August 13, 2003.

[23] Ali al-'Amim, "National Visions, Not Sectarianism," al-Majalla, July 19, 2003.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Al-Watan, May 22, 2003.

[26] Associated Press, July 16, 2003.

[27] Al-Sharq al-Awsat, March 16, 2003.

[28] Saudi Gazette, March 20, 2003.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Al-Sharq al-Awsat, November 28, 2002.

[31] Arab News, August 4, 2003.

[32] From an undated press release issued by the reform group behind "Partners in One Nation."

 

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By Desmond Tutu and Ian Urbina
International Herald Tribune (March 14, 2003)

People of faith belong on the side of peace. But it is more than just those of all religions who stand against an attack on Iraq. It is also those who put their trust in law. The current moment confronts the world with a terrible decision: will we stand by reason and law or act in force and aggression? There has never been a more important test of the values of average people around the globe. At stake is whether might makes right.
Full Op-Ed»


A Saudi Dissident's Agenda for Democratic Reform
By Mohammed AlMohaissen
International Herald Tribune (March 13, 2003)

From Washington to the Arab summit, there has been much discussion lately of reformism in Saudi Arabia, but few have heard from grassroots voices within the pro-democracy movement itself.
Full Op-Ed»


Sanctions No Longer Serve US Interests
By Ian Urbina
Los Angeles Times (January 3, 2003)

The Bush administration renewed US sanctions against Libya earlier this month. The announcement, although expected, frustrated US oil companies, which had hoped to gain access to some of the world's largest reserves of light crude oil. The rollover of sanctions comes despite the efforts of Libya's erratic leader, Col. Muammar Qaddafi, to convince Washington he is an ally in the war on terrorism, and it stands in stark contrast to recent European moves to improve relations with his regime.
Full Op-Ed»


The Fight for Iran's Democratic Ideals
By Saeed Razavi-Faqih and Ian Urbina
New York Times (December 10, 2002)

Over the weekend thousands of Iranian students continued their protests to demand political reform. Their voices were raised in support of Hashem Aghajari, the college professor who has been sentenced to death for blasphemy. But the student movement is broader than dissent over one injustice.
Full Op-Ed »


Ground Shifting Under Mullahs
By Ian Urbina
Los Angeles Times (December 8, 2002)

After a court in Iran sentenced dissident academic Hashem Aghajari to death for challenging clerical rule, several thousand university students took to the streets in Tehran. They protested for about two weeks before the government threatened to crack down and declare a state of emergency.
Full Op-Ed »


Up in Arms
By Ian Urbina
Village Voice (November 27-December 3, 2002)

Unemployment and inflation are skyrocketing in Israel, but fear and paranoia are also soaring, and so business is booming for gun dealers and security companies. Israeli society is becoming so militarized that hosts of weddings and bar mitzvahs sometimes can't attract guests unless they reveal the number of armed guards that will be on hand and even what firm they're from.
Full Op-Ed »


Broadcast Ruse
By Ian Urbina
(Village Voice, November 11-15, 2002)

"Word got around the department that I was a good Arabic translator who did a great Saddam imitation," recalls the Harvard grad student. "Eventually, someone phoned me asking if I wanted to help change the course of Iraq policy." So twice a week, for $3000 a month...
Full Op-Ed »


Is the US Ready for Democracy in the Mideast?
By Ian Urbina

(Houston Chronicle November 13, 2002)

Those in favor of an Iraq invasion argue that a regime change will be the first step in bringing democracy to the Middle East. But unnoticed in all the recent national focus on Iraq, recent elections in Morocco, Bahrain, Turkey and Pakistan indicate that democracy, albeit in small increments, has already begun arriving in that region and parts of Islamic South Asia.
Full Op-Ed »


Forked-Tongue Warriors
By Ian Urbina
(Village Voice, October 9-15, 2002)

Wedged between a rack of 99-cent Cheetos and a display of pork rinds stood a life-sized cardboard cutout of a buxom blond in a red miniskirt. Resting on her inner thigh was a frosty bottle of Miller Genuine Draft. "That's essentially what we do," an army major remarked, pointing to the stiletto-heeled eye-catcher. "But we don't sell beer."
Full Op-Ed »

 

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