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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Oh brave new world, that hath such people in it!

The September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States spurred calls for the Saudi royal family to modernize the country’s political landscape. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers involved in September 11 were Saudis.

Which is obviously why the Saudi political landscape has changed so radically that women… um, still are not allowed to vote. Or drive. Or talk to men in public. Or go out of doors without a big black cloak on.

They would be voting though, if it weren’t for a few major administrative problems that the government can not possibly be expected to solve. Oh yes.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there are not enough women to run women’s-only registration centers and polling stations, and that only a fraction of the country’s women have the photo identity cards that would have been needed to vote.

Well, obviously. Not to mention that:

Many women in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, have balked at getting the ID cards — introduced three years ago — because the photographs would show their faces unveiled.

Right. And anyone who says this only illustrates the extent to which they have had the s*** scared out of them is just a Bush-loving Zionist neo-con. They should be glad that the ban on women voting, “[eases] fears among conservatives that the kingdom is moving too fast on reforms”. Because, moving too fast on reforms would be terrible, obviously. So, hang onto those abayas for a little while longer, girls. You will be needing them.

Overall, it is good to see how things are improving in the kingdom now. Islamism can seem a little off-putting from time to time, but Saudi hotels are super, and the government is surely well-intentioned. And the women are not in any way oppressed: they may have “limited freedoms,” but then again, don’t we all?

Thank gooodness CNN is there to tell it like it is. They even took the trouble to interview women against the idea of votes for women, just to provide a clear and balanced picture of events.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers involved in September 11 were Saudis.

Did I mention that already? Please excuse me.

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21 comments to Oh brave new world, that hath such people in it!

  • This leads me to my perpetual question, which is why do we keep supporting the Saudi government, and the governments of other horrible repressive regimes around the world?

    The question is, of course, rhetorical, as the answer is obvious. The governments of the US and UK do it because they are convinced that practicing “realpolitik” is the way to serve their interests.

    The sad thing is that all evidence says “realpolitik” isn’t terribly effective in the long run. The policy is like that of the old woman who swallowed the fly in the children’s nursery rhyme. Realpolitik leads you to trade unpleasant but acceptable short term problems for ever more intractable long term ones. In the end, they kill you.

    Even more sadly, I suspect that our foreign services will stop playing “The Great Game” only when governments voluntarily abandon domestic interventionist policies — which is to say, slightly after hell becomes a popular ski resort.

  • John J. Coupal

    That is but one change – ranging from small to large – that has been, and will be, coming to the Middle East.

    Their peoples deserve the liberty and freedom shared by the billions around the globe.

  • A_t

    Couple of responses… overall, I completely agree, & we should be putting far more pressure on the Saudis to reform. They’ve spread evil all over the muslim world with their stupid madrassas & yet we continue to handle them with kid gloves.

    On the oppressed women front tho’, it’s very simplistic to model the entire situation around pure victimology, with women as the innocent victims who’d really love to be free & men as the ones imposing the regulations through fear. I’m sure there are some women in Saudi who would like nothing better than to walk around unveiled & have the same opportunities as men, but I’m equally sure there are many women who support the status quo & would disapprove of anyone breaking it. This has been true for any women’s liberation movements around the world; women have had to overcome x amount of criticism from their own side for doing ‘unwomanly’ things as well as forcing the patriarchs to accept their agenda. Only through widespread social change can you truly alter that, & ’tis a tricky thing to bring about; much trickier than ending a situation based on pure coercion alone.

    Another point, I saw a documentary a while back in which a Saudi national (quite critical of his govt. from what i remember) pointed out that the pilots in 9/11 came from different nations, and Al Quaida could easily have made up the rest of the hijackers from many different nations, but all the ‘extra’ people were Saudi. His suggestion was that this was quite deliberate & intended to make the American public suspicious of Saudi; driving a wedge between the US & the Saudi govts. Whilst less support for the Saudis wouldn’t displease me at all, it might also suit Bin Laden’s agenda quite well, no?

  • Well, Bush seems to love Saudi Arabia just as much, if not more, than he loves Israel. It is most odd that Alice seems to have mistaken Bush for a radical feminist liberationist since that is not my impression.

    Anyway, dreadful though the oppression of women in Saudi Arabia undoubtedly is, I don’t see what the West is supposed practically to do about it. It is also not at all clear that introducing democracy will make anything very much better since the Saudi government looks to be rather more progressive in its thinking that the actual population.

  • Guy Herbert

    I was under the impression that the Iraq invasion was about putting pressure on the Saudis to reform.

  • Hm, well I don’t think it takes being a radical feminist to see that Arab women are human beings who should have a right to vote, even if they don’t choose to turn up at a polling station. Until they get that right, there is no way of knowing what they want anyway.

    And the point of the war on terror is to turn barbaric states into democracies, so that their people have choices: because that’s how countries move towards being more civilised and less thuggish. And appalling treatment of women is one of the common threads in barbaric societies.

    Bush’s policy on the Middle East is clear:

    “For decades, free nations tolerated oppression in the Middle East for the sake of stability. In practice, this approach brought little stability and much oppression, so I have changed this policy.”

    That he has not launched war on every oppressive country in the region is a matter of practicality, not implicit support for those regimes.

  • A_t

    “For decades, free nations tolerated oppression in the Middle East for the sake of stability. In practice, this approach brought little stability and much oppression, so I have changed this policy.”

    is all very well, but what has he actually done to put pressure on the Saudis? Invading Iraq may make the Western public think the Saudis are under pressure, but realistically if anything so far it’s been a favour to them; they’ll certainly not be displeased that a local threat to their rule has disappeared. We’re not threatening sanctions against them as far as I know, & if there are any diplomatic moves being made to try and strongarm them into changing their ways on various fronts, they’re very low key.

    With that in mind, I’m struggling to see what the policy sea change is tbh, at least in respect to Saudi. Yeah, I understand that another invasion or any military action wouldn’t be doable at the moment (or desirable anyway), but is there any reason (other than ‘we want their oil’ which was the reason for the ‘bad’ old policy anyway) why we couldn’t do a bit more to pressure them?

    On the votes for women front, of course I completely agree; everyone, women & men, should have the right to vote for their government, but changing the law doesn’t necessarily change society; see the large numbers of burkas still being worn in afganistan, & whilst applying obvious pressure tends to work well on governments, it often has the opposite effect on large numbers of people; if they perceive their culture to be under attack from outside, they’ll become far firmer in their defense of it, more rigid in their definitions of what constitutes ‘correct’ behaviour.

    I’m not claiming I know what to do about this at all, but hopefully we’re covertly pressuring the saudis to introduce ‘domestically inspired’ reforms, which won’t be rejected as colonial impositions by their populace, and this will slowly lead to a more liberal & free society as early adopters spread the concept, with the sanction of the law. We can but hope, i guess.

  • guy herbert

    A friendly, well-ordered Iraq would make Saudi much less important relatively, in the longer term. Democratising all Araby in a big bang as some culture warriors would have it was a bit of a silly hope. But a secular, free-ish, wealthy Iraq full of US bases was a reasonable possibilty. It yet might happen. That would leave the House of Saud in danger of being surplus to requirements.

    The invasion hasn’t worked out all that well, because of lack of attention to politics, mainly, rather than bad luck, as far as I can see. US/western interests in the region don’t stand much better than they did, though nor are they really much worse. They are still bad and slipping gradually downhill for the moment.

    But I am sure that as much pressure (and assistance) that can be offered towards Saudi reform as can be used is now in play… Unlike a decade and two ago. It may turn around, eventually, but it is going to be slow.

  • Walter Wallis

    Aren’t we supposed to avoid criticizing other cultures just because they don’t embrace Western values?

  • The Saudis are unbelievably arrogant because they think the pilgrimage and their possession of the Qa’aba makes them invulnerable. Nonetheless, the liberation of Iraq and Afghanistan has put tremendous pressure on the Saudi regime, which at least balances the pressure they have been feeling from the other side, the Wahhabis, for decades now. It’s a long slow process, but the more progress democracy makes – and the more oil democratic Arab countries pump – the weaker Saudi religious totalitarianism becomes.

  • Tedd McHenry

    Aren’t we supposed to avoid criticizing other cultures just because they don’t embrace Western values?

    No.

  • J

    Walter Wallis

    Yes, we are meant to avoid that. But then we aren’t criticizing Saudi Arabia for being non-Western, we are criticizing it for being repressive.

    The thing that people are missing, I think, is that the House of Saud is respressive full stop. The fact that women have fewer rights than men is a minor injustice. The problem is that neither women nor men in Saudi Arabia have any rights worth mentioning unless they are part of the elite 1%.

    It’s this imbalance that is the problem. The house of Saud is at much greater risk of a coup d’état than the rulers of pakistan, Iran, Yemen etc.

    In recent years the house of Saud has started appeasing the Saudi population by kicking the US military out, but it’s going to have to do a lot more than that to survive in the long run.

  • Kerry Hardy

    Yes, photos of unveiled women… we can’t solve that problem with biometrics, a thumbprint or retinal scan, because that might involve un-gloving a hand. Or immodest, intimate contact between an eyeball and a camera.

  • Wm

    mmm… camera and eyeball… I’m starting to feel all funny inside….

  • If the art of diplomacy is saying “nice doggie” while reaching for a rock or stick, we’re still in the reaching phase. The “doggie” has us by the shorts and extracting ourselves from this delicate situation is likely to take awhile.

    Since we’re well into the $50/barrel range with Saudi Arabia pumping oil for all its worth, do we really want to see what happens if we push too hard?

    I’m happy they’re having elections at all. I suspect that their time from first election to first election with universal suffrage is likely to be shorter than was the case for the US, UK, France, or Germany.

    Can we be at least a little happy with half a loaf? Who would have thought 5 years ago that there would be elections at all?

  • Aren’t we supposed to avoid criticizing other cultures just because they don’t embrace Western values?

    Depends on which Western values. Decentralized representative government or Marxism? Thomas Sowell or Jacques Derrida? McDonalds or militant vegetarianism?

  • Julian Morrison

    It’s not just oil. they’re protected by the holy sites too. An attack on Saudi would be seen as unforgivable “crusade” into Mecca, Medina etc by infidels. It would be almost guaranteed to kick off World War III.

  • VS

    I disagree with Alice’s point (based on a Bush speech) that Bush is seriously interested in helping the Middle East to democratise. The US has traditionally supported reactionary regimes in the Middle East in the hope they would be a “bulwalk” against ‘communism’/Soviet influence. Now it backs regimes it thinks will be a ‘bulwalk’ against anti-American religious fanatics. Although the Saudis are, to my mind, religious fanatics they are ‘conservative’ religious fanatics rather than the “revolutionary” anti-American religious fanatics of Bin Laden’s ilk. The US is thus happy to see the regime continue.

  • VS

    Julian makes a good point that any attack on Saudi Arabia (if it ever was to take place) by a non-Muslim power would not go down well and would possibly cause a v big war (WW3 might be a bit of an exagguration).

    That is why, in my opinion, those who are serious about democratising the Arab world should work _in conjuction_ with domestic dissident forces rather than trying to impose a model of democracy from outside. You can’t invade a country to make it free. You can only make it free if you have a strong local democratic movement who is willing to provide the new generation of political, social, economic leaders. If you not, then an invasion to get rid of a bad regime could turn into an occupation (as in iraq).

  • VS

    Julian makes a good point that any attack on Saudi Arabia (if it ever was to take place) by a non-Muslim power would not go down well and would possibly cause a v big war (WW3 might be a bit of an exagguration).

    That is why, in my opinion, those who are serious about democratising the Arab world should work _in conjuction_ with domestic dissident forces rather than trying to impose a model of democracy from outside. You can’t invade a country to make it free. You can only make it free if you have a strong local democratic movement who is willing to provide the new generation of political, social, economic leaders. If you not, then an invasion to get rid of a bad regime could turn into an occupation (as i feel is happening in Iraq).

  • markm

    In the short term, supporting the Saudi regime has always made sense because the alternatives are so much worse. Remove the Saud royal family and you don’t magically get a democratic regime. I’d expect you’d get something like Afghanistan was between the Soviet pull-out and the US invasion, that is anarchy and warlords followed by a religious dictatorship that makes the Saudis look like moderates. However, in the long term the Saudis are probably making things worse – more kids growing up believing the poisonous nonsense taught in religious schools, and more insulation from western ideas.

    So what do you want to do, invade and force democracy and human rights upon them? It would be much worse than Iraq and Afghanistan together, and we really don’t have the military force to be fighting any more wars until the ones we’re already into are concluded. Support Saudi revolutionaries? I doubt there are enough of these (aside from the radical Islamists) to put a dent in the regime no matter how much help we give them – and there certainly aren’t enough of them to keep a moderate government in power if they did succeed in removing the Sauds. Pressure the Sauds to reform? Why should they pay any attention to our pressure?

    So Bush is trying to create a modern democracy in Iraq, where at least there are many who understand ideas developed since 1200 AD. If we succeed there, we can hope that the idea will spread to their neighbors. It’s a very slow plan, and doubtful if even the Iraqi democracy part of it can work – but I haven’t heard any alternative plan that isn’t flat out ridiculous.