Little Known Ways Saudi Rulers Suppress Development

Authoritarian Saudi rulers micromanage every aspect of their disenfranchised population’s lives and suppress human development.

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Credit: Students for Liberty

Saudi Arabia is considered one country where all elements conducive and challenging to human development-socially, politically, scholastically, sexually, psychologically and physiologically are either banned or branded antithetical to the Muslim faith as interpreted by the men who rule the country single-handedly.

By applying intrusive surveillance, physical and mental intimidation and financial handouts, the authoritarian Saudi rulers micromanage every aspect of their disenfranchised population’s lives. They determine what’s permissible and what’s illicit. The ruling princes have outlawed many social functions that are concomitant with human development.

Gender mixing, non-religious celebrations, women’s sports, all forms of public entertainment and musical performances, freedom of expression, free access to unregulated information and questioning of authority are considered un-Islamic. Forbidding these practices continues as Saudi government policy enacted by royal decrees, arbitrary ministerial orders and religious fatwas.

During its December 9, 2013 meeting, the Saudi cabinet (the King and his submissive ministers) “…ordered the General Commission for Audiovisual Media to monitor the moral and other content of traditional and electronic media, including social media platforms.”

On November 28, 2013, the highest religious authority, the Mufti, warned the population against the use of the empowering social media and its users’ agenda, “They seek to undermine the social fabric and they are platforms for malice that promote misleading doctrines.” In order to preempt a peaceful mass demonstration against the oppressive system planned for March 11, 2011, the Mufti and his High Council of Ulama (religious experts) issued a fatwa declaring that all forms of public expression are un-Islamic, a threat to national cohesiveness and therefore must be prohibited.

From the start of their union in the mid-eighteenth century (1745), the Saudi/Wahhabi allies designed an absolute sectarian system, Tawhid, which granted them the right to carry out grisly raids, conquer other tribes and rule in perpetuity. From the very outset, they declared and imposed the Quran and Shariah to be the constitution and the law of the land as they interpret them. After centuries of bloody wars, the descendants of the Saudi/Wahhabi clans created a country from confiscated territories in 1932, named it after themselves (“Saudi Arabia”) and declared themselves its “righteous rulers.” Thereafter, they have treated the country as their private property.

By imposing their debauched version of Islam, Wahhabism, on the entire country, the Saudi/Wahhabi dynasties designated themselves sacrosanct rulers. They consider opposition to their arbitrary policies and repressive practices contrary to “God’s will,” a crime punishable by death. To remind the increasingly inquisitive population of the royals’ ownership of the country, King Abdullah issued a royal decree in April 2011, stating that criticism or defamation of the ruling authorities and institutions was a criminal offense.

Despite the fast changing and aspiring Saudi society, especially the social media generation, the Saudi rulers continue to rely on the application of their lethal political ideology. They glorify the practices of society in the seventh century when Islam was founded instead of dealing with the realities of the 21st century. The government’s religious police still force people physically to pray five times a day. The socialization process at home, in school and in mosques is based on the state’s religious doctrine. Dress code, business practices, human interactions and perceptions, marriages and personal relationships as well as court indictments and verdicts are shaped by the state’s repressive Wahhabi dogma re-enforced by a xenophobic religious-based educational system.

The educational system continues to emphasize non-scientific and non-liberal arts curricula

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Women’s and human rights, as well as courses on other beliefs and democratic systems continue to be banned from Saudi schools. The Saudi educational system still emphasizes the teaching of religion and custom and bans courses that are likely to develop students’ critical thinking which authorities fear will lead to loss of control over people’s minds. While more technical fields are open to male students, obedience to the ruling dynasties via religious and traditional instruction overwhelms prospects for thought-provoking liberal education and impedes human development.

Controlling and regulating people’s behavior, perceptions and aspirations, the Saudi monarchy and its institutions, especially the educational system, have intentionally impeded human development of the Saudi people. The characteristics implied by the term “human development” include such things as intellectual advancement (especially in scientific areas), the freedom to think independently, curiosity to explore, openness to new ideas, unregulated social interactions, an adventuresome spirit and creative initiatives. These characteristics have been deliberately suppressed under the Saudi system.

The Saudi system’s suppression of human development via government controlled institutions is particularly evident in the marginalization of Saudi women. Excluding women from major roles in public life constitutes a leading impediment to children’s development and societal progress. As in most societies, especially in male-dominated countries like Saudi Arabia, children are raised by their mothers almost exclusively during their most impressionable developmental years. Growing up seeing their mothers treated as inferior and accepting it, Saudi males’ supercilious attitude toward women is generationally re-enforced. If mothers in any society are underdeveloped in the manner “human development” is used here, how can they teach their children that which is denied to them?

Through no fault of their own, Saudi women’s development is severely constricted by their government’s institutionalized and enforced discriminatory policies as evidenced by the male guardian system or “modern day slavery.” Without permission from a male relative, women cannot travel, go to school, work or deliver babies in hospitals. As stated by an appalled critic of the Saudi treatment of women, “I cannot believe that a Saudi female cardiac consultant, a PhD holder in nanotechnology or a researcher at international center can be prevented from traveling just because her male guardian has not given her permission to do so. This guardian may be her own son who still receives pocket money from his mother.”

The detrimental consequences of repressing human development in Saudi society are manifold. Despite its wealth and small population, Saudi Arabia is among the least politically, socially, scientifically and technologically developed countries in the world. The country imports most of its food, clothing, hospital equipment, medicine and workforce, including engineers, doctors, nurses, plumbers and ditch diggers.

Globally, Saudi Arabia has become synonymous with intolerance, extremism and terrorism. Until all the current pre-modern institutions in the country are transformed to meet the Saudi people’s demands of the Saudi people and those of the 21st century and until the grip of Saudi/Wahhabi ideology is eliminated, the country will continue to rank among the richest, most detested, backwards societies in the world.

Dr. Ali Alyami is the founder and executive director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, CDHR, in Washington, DC. CDHR focuses on promoting peaceful and incremental democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia, including empowerment of women, religious freedom, free flow of information, free movement, free press, privatization of government industries, free elections, non-sectarian constitution, and codified rule of law, transparency and accountabilityRead other articles by Ali.