Khashoggi and I came from very different backgrounds, and this shaped our views
on the politics of our Saudi homeland. There were many issues on which we
didn’t agree. But we did share one crucial belief: that untrammelled power is
always a danger — and particularly in the case of Saudi Arabia.
he was perfectly willing to acknowledge, was born into a position of privilege.
He was a product of the system and, despite his clashes with Saudi authorities
over his journalism, was convinced that the politics of the royal court could
be swayed by words of wisdom. He believed that the Saudi monarchy, with all its
limitations, was the glue that kept Saudi Arabia together.
I do not.
Unlike Jamal, my activism has rarely focused on influencing the ruling elites
but rather on elevating the capacity and voices of the marginalized. My view of
the royal family has always been correspondingly sceptical.
when we first met in the United States after Jamal had left Saudi Arabia in
2017, we discovered common ground. We both agreed that the lack of checks and
balances in the Saudi system was a crucial problem, one aggravated by current circumstances.
A country that was established as an absolute monarchy has dangerously drifted
into even more of a monopoly of power with the rise of Crown Prince Mohammed
bin Salman, who has control over both resources and politics.
There is a
clear pattern of human rights abuses without meaningful checks since the crown
prince came to power. An early signal of this trend was nothing less than Saudi
Arabia’s role in creating one of the worst man-made catastrophes in Yemen. This
was followed by the government’s decision to round up of virtually every person
or group with the potential to resist its abuses of power. Hundreds of
journalists, thought leaders, religious reformers and women’s rights activists
were viciously targeted, sending a clear message that no one in Saudi Arabia
would be allowed to independently influence public discourse or raise
legitimate policy concerns.
caused by the absence of balances and checks on power have naturally extended
to the economy. Take the recent attack on Saudi Arabia’s Aramco oil facilities.
After an attack on the country’s most valuable industry, any elected,
democratically accountable national leader would focus on learning as much as
possible about what happened and finding solutions to the crisis that ensued.
But on the morning of the attack, Mohammed — the minister of defence and de
facto ruler of Saudi Arabia — was attending a camel race rally. There is no
more pathetic picture to reflect the monarchy’s self-centred disregard and the
absence of ordinary citizens’ voices or engagement.
monarchy has positioned itself at the center of statecraft in Saudi Arabia
without any independent institutions. As a result, citizens have become
increasingly dependent on the monarchy’s whims and decision-making — and faced
further crackdowns if they tried to organize for change outside the system. In
today’s Saudi Arabia, no one independent institution exists, and no one is able
to safely speak truth to power. Even those like Jamal, who supported the
monarchy as a system, understand the perils of this reality.
fragile system of governance has left the fate of the country in the hands of
Mohammed and a few ill-fitted advisers and yes-men. The leadership has turned
the capacity and skills of high-ranking officials, including consular staff and
journalists, into tools of oppression. The media has been fuelling
ultranationalist sentiment to justify its domestic and foreign policy failures.
No public discourse exists on critical issues, including the war in Yemen, the
Saudi-led boycott of Qatar, or the enduring challenges of unemployment and
poverty — let alone discussion on the trial of Jamal’s killers or justice for
There was a
point in time when hope for a societal transformation was centred on the return
of thousands of Saudis who studied abroad. Instead, there has been a sharp rise
in asylum seekers fleeing from Saudi Arabia. This figure more than doubled
between 2015 and 2018. In European countries alone during the first half of
2019, the number of Saudi asylum seekers has shown a 106 percent year-on-year
increase. The unabated persecution will, without a doubt, continue to fuel this
trend as long as the current system is in place.
monarchy might claim to be forward-thinking with its Vision 2030 modernization
plan and efforts to court Western leaders. In reality, however, it has simply
institutionalized a centuries-old monarchic legacy of violence,
disenfranchisement and repression. Jamal’s brutal murder and the torture of
female activists have brought this all to light.
so, it has crystallized what Jamal and I have been warning, from different
sides of the debate, for years: Unless power is decentralized away from the
royal family and its cronies in power, Saudi Arabia’s drift toward more
repression and destructive interventions abroad will continue unchallenged.
Headline: ts monarchy has left Saudi
Arabia fragile and unbalanced
Source: Washington Post