Letter from Dr Khalid Alnowaiser
Published in Arab
News, 5 March 2011
As a Saudi national, I am writing to say how pleased I am to see your return to the Kingdom after successful medical treatment abroad. I am sure this feeling is shared by all Saudis, since your citizens not only hold you in high esteem but you are also, in an unprecedented way, very close to the heart of all Saudis and indeed the symbol of reform and stability in our country. What you have done for the Kingdom since you became our king will not be forgotten and will be revered for all time.
Having said that, permit me to candidly express my concern about the many challenges Saudi Arabia faces as never before. As you know, the entire Middle East is experiencing profound political turmoil. Regional events have shown that the power of any ruling system really depends upon how strong, peaceful and transparent is the relation between the regime and its people.
Notwithstanding some positive steps taken in recent years which no one can deny, “reform” too often is regarded as a cliché. Given recent events, our country now needs urgent and more meaningful reform measures, particularly since life nowadays is changing very rapidly and unbelievably.
Politically, inclusive reforms must be introduced by establishing institutions that can be in real partnership with the government. The formation of the Shoura Council is a step forward, but its current role is not up to the huge challenges that the country now faces. It is high time for a real and effective council that can take part in political decision-making. Such an effective institution, if constituted properly, will not be a threat to the country but instead help to reduce your regime’s huge responsibilities which no government ever can bear alone.
Saudi Arabia, like any other countries in the world, must have a social contract where the rights and obligations of each party (individuals and government) are clearly defined. This will never be achieved until there is a formalized national constitution. Without one, personal freedom is not guaranteed, leading to social unrest. The constitution should be derived from the Holy
Moreover, it is time to take the initiative in educating Saudis on the subject of “political rights.” This will allow the Kingdom to differentiate it from other countries where repression exists. Rather than viewing it as a threat, greater political rights will lead to more political stability. Simply stated, if one knows his political rights, he can work with his government to build the nation. If not, he may easily be solicited by terrorist groups or become apathetic and produce no contributions to the nation.
Economically, there is a great need for realistic strategies to solve the Kingdom’s chronic problems. Mostly, strategic development plans are viewed as huge amounts of money that are announced but accomplish little. The central management approach adopted by the government in our administrative and financial systems should be reconsidered. Regional authorities must be given more authority over their projects and affairs. Such decentralization should reduce bureaucratic inefficiencies and embarrassing responses like the Jeddah rain tragedy — an event which should never have occurred in a wealthy nation holding 25% of the world’s oil reserves.
Likewise, our continued overdependence on oil revenue is another important issue that needs to be solved. Reliance on the false joy of increasing oil prices and global demand must end. Alternative sources of revenue must be created immediately. Current unemployment, especially among Saudi youth, has become a worrisome issue with the failure of Saudization efforts and the apparent absence of any other solutions. Housing also represents a serious issue that needs to be addressed.
There is no doubt that the recent measures issued by Your Majesty for the benefit of Saudis worth SR135 billion are welcome, but what the country really needs more than money are meaningful reforms addressing all political, social and economic issues. Although Saudis appreciate your generous initiative, the concern is that this may result in a society that is more dependent on the government and less willing or able to rely upon individual initiatives essential to the overall health of the Kingdom. Even if this initiative is followed by changing governmental officials, this will not resolve the issue. What all Saudis (especially our youth) really need are opportunities, jobs, hope, and real political, economic, and civil reforms promoting the goals of living a decent and productive life and participating in activities that build up Saudi Arabia.
Our courts must also undergo a major review leading to establishing principles for respecting law and the legal system. This can be achieved by developing effective regulations, promoting accountability and transparency, and combating all aspects of corruption so citizens can continue to trust the government. Indeed, corruption along with unemployment must be regarded as Public Enemy No. 1 for the country at this time in its history. I hope that Your Majesty’s excellent initiative aimed at developing the Kingdom’s legal system will result in a totally independent institution and a constitutional court which can be — along with formalizing a national constitution — a valuable addition to the judiciary.
Education needs fundamental strategic solutions to develop a modern education system that is not affected by anyone, especially those who want the country to continue to live in the past. Philosophy, logic, arts, languages and other modern sciences must be promoted and be part of the curriculum from elementary school on.
Socially, some serious decisions need to be made concerning Saudi women and young people, particularly with respect to their freedom and personal choices. To disregard these issues will not serve the long-term interests of the country and will only cause discontent and compromise public security. The Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of vice is totally unacceptable, not only for a country that is a member of the G-20 but also in the 21st Century. It is now time to abolish this commission, especially since its practice is clearly a violation of Human Rights including the 1948 Human Rights Declaration where each individual is entitled to freedom and dignity. Current religious rhetoric is confusing and is actually sending the wrong message to the world about our progress. I urge Your Majesty to intervene and take the necessary action to reflect the true and positive picture of Islam and Saudi Arabia.
In light of unprecedented information from the Internet and satellite TV channels, it is now impossible to hide what happens in any country. Thus, we need to act proactively rather than defensively to protect our homeland from the political turmoil roiling the Middle East. I am certain that Your Majesty will, as always with your wisdom, enlightened and progressive leadership, and full faith in the Saudi people, make the right decisions for our beloved country.
Thank you very much for your kind attention and time.
Dr Khalid Alnowaiser
Dr Alnowaiser is a Saudi lawyer and columnist.
Demands of Saudi youth for the future of the nation
Translation from Jadaliyya
blog. Original Arabic version is here.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz:
Our precious country is experiencing a relative openness in different fields, and we can feel the tireless efforts of reform in religious, social, and economic areas and organizations, all of which seek to meet the demands of the people. However, we find that the reforms are still far from achieving what we hope for, and what this diverse nation- especially young people- needs and aspires to.
We young Saudi men and women have our own aspirations for the future of this country in terms of development and prosperity in the fields of scientific and cultural development, as well as in the political, social and economic spheres. We long for a free and dignified life at a time when modern means of communication have enabled us to become informed about the lives of people from all over the world. Indeed, we have been following the milestones that these societies have achieved in terms of development and civilizational accomplishments.
Based on a simple comparison between these countries and ours, we can say that our economic and human resources drastically exceed theirs. Yet, we don’t even experience half of what they do in terms of justice, freedom, democracy, respect for human rights, and scientific, practical, and cultural progress. We therefore can no longer ignore all these modern developments, and find that we already engage them practically, intellectually, and existentially. When we look at our reality, we see the clear contradictions between what they have achieved and our reality and what little freedom we enjoy… which begs the question: Why? With this question, our sense of responsibility for the importance of change only increases.
We are young men and women from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. As other young Arabs are bringing about the grand political and cultural change that the Arab world is witnessing today, we find that we share with them their visions and aspirations for a more dignified life. However, we first affirm our patriotism, support of our leaders, and commitment to the tolerant principles of Islamic Shari’a. Second, we declare our aspirations and willingness to work toward achieving our reform goals.
We refuse to continue to be a wasted resource surrounded by neglect, unemployment, financial and administrative corruption, forgery and silence. We also refuse to be forced away from our roles in contributing to the development of society, and to be sidelined into passive receivers of ready-made, magical solutions that we neither participate in or execute.
We therefore announce our following demands:
1- We demand an immediate end to the problem of unemployment by providing well-paid job opportunities to young men and women in all specializations. Jobs must also provide health insurance and housing to all citizens, giving them a dignified life in which their basic needs are met, which opens the door to competition, development, and growth.
2- We demand an end to the pervasive problem of poverty which wide sectors of society are suffering from, in our nation that is considered one of the richest oil-exporting countries in the world. Poverty has affected people’s education, health, and quality of life, which in turn disqualify them from good and rewarding employment opportunities.
3- We demand that the government take all necessary financial measures to subsidize and lower the prices of basic necessities, construction materials, rent, and land prices for all citizens. The government must strive to support citizens by providing gas, water, and electricity, and lowering the price of communication and transportation.
4- We demand that the government fight all forms of financial and administrative corruption, and prosecute all those involved in corruption cases, the theft of public money, human rights violations, or abuse of power. We also demand the implementation of the principles of monitoring, transparency, and accountability in dealing with public money, and of fair distribution of wealth among all citizens. We want a monitoring body that oversees and enforces strict rules on the activities of economic and investments organizations so the rights of citizens are guaranteed and protected.
5- We demand the criminalization of all forms of nepotism, bias and regional, tribal, and sectarian discrimination against citizens in the distribution of wealth. Here we demand that regional princes stop all their profit-motivated businesses and their competing with locals for land and wealt. This applies to those in ministerial positions and the managers of government institutions directly responsible for citizens’ daily activities.
6- We demand an end to all forms of discrimination against women and giving women all their political, economic, social, and cultural rights. These include their right to represent themselves without their guardian; choose their educational specialization; work in all administrative, health, educational, and commercial institutions, whether public or private; and partake in public life without any restrictions.
7- We demand the application of the notion of citizenship by putting an end to all forms of racial and sectarian discrimination in the Kingdom; not treating those who belong to the latter categories as second class citizens; providing them with equal employment opportunities; and allowing them to practice their religious rituals.
8- We demand a restructuring of the educational development plan for all grades, in form and content, by improving educational facilities such as transportation, schools, teaching tools; training teachers and preparing them for teaching and educating in all its proper understandings and methodologies; formulating modern educational curricula in all fields of knowledge in a way that prepares students for the labor market; formulating theoretical approaches in a way that affirms values of tolerance and brotherhood; recognizing the right to diversity within society; and dealing with “the other” in an open, discursive and civilized manner.
9- We demand the improvement of the quality of education in all the Kingdom’s universities; Opening more free public universities; increasing the student quota whereby each student can receive a university education without discrimination; ending arbitrary acceptance requirements and ensuring they correspond to requirements of the labor market; implementing principles of academic freedom and impunity when conducting research; allowing the freedom of academic critique that is not censored; and establishing the role of universities in social and volunteer work.
10- We demand the criminalization of all forms of domestic, social, religious, and sectarian violence, and instead, allowing for an atmosphere of tolerance and fighting intellectual stagnancy, and encouraging ijtihad, since Islamic Shari’a is broad enough to deal with the reality in ways that accomplish its noble goals.
11- We demand an end to the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice’s religious guardianship over society and replacing it with academic programs that breed principles of humanness through schools and universities. This will develop a sense of responsibility and self-censorship among citizens, which the Committee has failed to do for decades and on the contrary, has created an atmosphere of violence, anger, fear, doubting society’s morality, religion, and credibility in dealing with oneself and with others.
12- We demand the inclusion of cultural activities in citizens’ lives, which requires an atmosphere of freedom and democracy in running public libraries, literary and sports clubs, and cultural and art societies; and eliminating all restrictions on these societies and relying on their role in reviving Saudi society.
13- We demand activating the role of the arts in developing cultural life for society (acting, directing, music, cinema, etc…) by allowing the establishment of institutes that teach these majors and opening up cinemas and theaters that the public can access freely.
14- We demand the inclusion of young men and women in all institutions involved in economic and cultural development, for purposes of dialogue, the exchange of ideas and planning for the future, so that their voices and aspirations may be heard and incorporated.
We believe that our demands can only be achieved in a democratic atmosphere that informs and organizes the work of the state apparatus and its ministries and institutions, which allows for competition and enables people to be critical and to freely and publicly choose whoever achieves their interests. We believe that this will only be achieved by an immediate implementation of the following procedures:
a) Developing the “system of governance” into a constitutional monarchy that strengthens the rule of law and institutions and guarantees: the separation of the legislative, executive, and judiciary powers; the freedom of opinion and expression; the right to protest and demonstrate; the freedom to form civil society institutions, which includes the freedom to form parties and societies; the right of the people to partake in political decision-making through electing their own male and female representatives in the Shura Council; and commitment to the enforcement of all international human rights covenants and agreements.
b) Releasing all prisoners of conscience, and lifting all travel restrictions on them as well as providing them with moral and financial support, regardless of whether in their peaceful expressions they had represented themselves, a religious sect, or a social or intellectual segment of society.
We are inclined to declare this statement because of our sense of responsibility to our nation and our feeling of national belonging and due to our concerns for the future of the coming generations, and the current widespread problems we are experiencing in light of the failure of government institutions and ministries to adapt to the changes in Saudi society and its needs and aspirations. We assure you that we are ready for reform and equipped for democracy.
23 February, 2011
al-Omran. Original Arabic version is here.
It is no secret that the revolutions of Tunisia and Egypt, and their aftermath of crises and changing political discourse in many Arab countries, have created circumstances in which we need to reevaluate our situation and do our best to reform before it is too late, and before we are confronted with developments whose consequences we cannot prevent nor predict.
A group of Saudi intellectuals have previously presented the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques in January 2003 with a set of specific suggestions in a statement titled “A Vision for the Nation’s Present and the Future.” His Majesty has welcomed it then, and promised to consider it. Moreover, a number of senior officials announced later that the government is determined to adopt a wide range of reform policies in the state apparatus, and in its relationship with the Saudi society.
After a decade of those promises, very little of the promised reforms has been achieved. We believe that the delay in political reform has aggravated the problems which were referred to in the “Vision” document and the other statements that followed it.
The status quo is full of risks and causes for concern. We are witnessing with the rest of the Saudi people the decline of our country’s regional role, the stagnation of the government, the deterioration in the efficiency of the management, the prevalence of corruption and nepotism, fanaticism, and the increasingly widening gap between the state and society, especially the new generation of youth. This could lead to disastrous consequences on the country and the people, and it is something we cannot accept for our homeland and our children.
Addressing this situation requires a serious review and an immediate adoption of large-scale reforms by both the state and society, focusing on fixing the fundamental flaws in our political system, and leading the country to a well-grounded constitutional monarchy.
The people’s acceptance is the basis for legitimacy of the authority, and it is the only guarantee for unity, stability, the efficiency of governance, and protecting the country against foreign interference. This requires a reformulation of the relationship between society and the state, in which the people are the source of power, a full partner in deciding public policy through their elected representatives in the Shoura Council, and that the purpose of the state is to serve society, protect its interests, enhance the standard of living, and guarantee the dignity and honor of individuals and the future of their children.
Thus, we look forward to a royal declaration that clearly underlines the commitment of the state to become a “constitutional monarchy,” and to set a timetable that specifies a date for the beginning of desired reforms, the initiation of applying them, and the date of concluding them. The declaration has to confirm adopting the great objectives of reform, namely: the rule of law, full equality for members of the public, legal guarantees for individual and civil freedoms, popular participation in decision making, balanced development, uprooting poverty, and the optimum use of national resources.
In this regard, we see that the reform program should include the following:
First: The development of the Basic Law into a comprehensive constitution that serves as a social contract between the people and the state stating that the people are the source of power. The separation of the three branches of government: the executive, judicial and legislative; defining authorities, and tying them with responsibility and accountability; the equality of all citizens, the legal protection of individual and civil freedoms, ensure justice, equality of opportunity. Reaffirming the responsibility of the state in guaranteeing human rights, protecting the right to peaceful expression of opinion, and reinforce public freedoms, including the right to form political and professional associations.
Second: To emphasize the principle of the rule of law, and that everyone — statesmen and citizens — are under the law equally and without discrimination; and to incriminate improper handling of national resources or using them outside the framework of the law.
Third: the adoption of general election as a way to form municipal, provincial, and the Shoura Council; and the participation of women in nomination and election.
Fourth: The adoption of the principle of administrative decentralization, and granting local administrations in regions and governorates the necessary powers to establish effective, local government that can interact with the demands of citizens in each region.
Fifth: To activate the principle of the independence of the judiciary, by canceling all the bodies that play parallel roles outside the framework of the judicial system, and to have the courts presiding over the investigation with the accused and the conditions of prisoners, and public prosecution; and to cancel all the instructions and regulations that limit the independence of the judiciary and its effectiveness or limit the immunity of judges, or open the door to the interference in judiciary. The codification and standardization of provisions must be accelerated. ‘Tazir’ must be regulated. The international charters on Human Rights that our government has signed must become part of the judicial system. All of this to ensure justice, equality and discipline in the application of the provisions. The system of criminal procedures and legal defense system must be activated, preventing any action or conduct outside their framework or a breach of their limits.
Sixth: Accelerating the issuance of the non-governmental organizations law, which was approved by the Shoura Council, and opening the door to establishing civil society institutions in all forms and for all purposes, as a channel to rationalize and shape public opinion, and increase popular participation in decision-making.
Seventh: Despite widespread debate on women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, the government had failed to take adequate action to fulfill the requirements of this pressing issue. Ignoring or postponing the rights of women contributes to deepening the problems of poverty and violence, and undermines the contribution of the family in improving the quality of education. What is required is to take legal and institutional measures to empowering women to attain their rights to empower women in order to gain their rights in education, ownership, work and participation in public affairs without discrimination.
Eighth: The issuance of legislation banning discrimination between citizens, for any reason and under any justification. The legislation must criminalizes any practice that involves sectarian, tribal, regional, racial, ethnic or any other type of discrimination. The law must also criminalize hate speech for any reasons, religious or otherwise. Implementing a strategy for national integration that explicitly recognizes the social and cultural diversity of the Saudi society, and affirms respect for this diversity and considers it a source of enrichment for national unity and social peace. We need an effective strategy for national integration to that can rectify the situation of groups that suffer from exclusion, marginalization and denial of rights due to any of the above reasons, and to compensate them for what they have undergone.
Ninth: King Abdullah’s decision to set up the Human Rights Commission and the National Society of Human Rights was a promising step. But we find now that both HRC and NSHR have turned into what looks like a bureaucracy with a limited role in the defending the rights of citizens. One of the reasons for this decline is the government’s interference in the appointment of these bodies members, as well as the refusal of many government agencies to deal with them. Guarding the rights of citizens and residents, and protecting them against injustice, must be at the top of the priorities for the government and society. Therefore, we demand the removal of restrictions imposed on HRC and NSHR, and to ensure their independence within the framework of the law. We also call for legalizing the right to form other non-governmental organizations for the defense of human rights.
Tenth: There is no dignity without decent living. Our country has been blessed, but a large segment of our citizens complain of poverty and neediness. We have witnessed the slowness of the government in addressing the problem of unemployment and housing, and improving the quality of life, particularly in rural areas and suburbs, and among the retired and the elderly. There is no justification for the failure to develop solutions to these problems. We believe that not raising these issues for general debate, ignoring the role of the private sector and civil society when thinking about such problems, and to see it from a purely commercial perspective, had turned these problems into dilemmas, and it has become one of the reasons and to humiliate citizens and restricting them.
Eleventh: the past years revealed the aggravation of tampering with public funds, which requires the elected Shoura Council to use its powers to monitor government agencies and keep them accountable. The Council can establish structures and independent bodies capable of carrying out monitoring functions, the declare their findings to the people, especially those related to the administrative corruption, misuse of power, and mismanagement of public funds by government agencies. We reaffirm the need for the adoption of the principle of transparency and accountability, and the establishment of an institutional framework to ensure these principles by a) establishing a national for integrity that enjoys independence and declares the results of its investigations to public opinion; b) enabling the citizens to obtain access to the use of public funds by government agencies, and abolishing restrictions that prevent the press from exposing transactions suspected of being involved in corruption.
Twelfth: Oil revenues have jumped over the past five years to high levels, providing the government with huge funds that should have been used and spent wisely, rather than squander them in expensive, cost-ineffective projects. We call for a review of the foundations used as basis for the five-year development plans, and to adopt a long-term strategy for overall development, focusing on expanding the base of national production, building the base for alternative economic sources, creating jobs, and including the private sector in deciding economic policies.
In conclusion, we reiterate our call for the political leaders to adopt the reform proposals.
In order to show the goodwill and determination to reform, four steps must be taken immediately:
A royal declaration that confirms the government’s intention to introduce political reform, and to set a timetable to initiate it and apply it.
The immediate release of political prisoners, and to present those who committed crimes to trial without delay, while ensuring the necessary judicial guarantees for each of the accused.
Lifting the travel ban orders that have been imposed on a large number of people who expressed their opinions.
Removing the restrictions imposed on the freedom of publishing and expression, and to enable the citizens to express their opinions publicly and peacefully. And to stop prosecuting those who express their opinion in a peaceful manner.
As we make this declaration to our political leaders and the citizens of our country, we reaffirm the solidarity of all, the people and the government, in the face of the dangers facing us, and to avoid any unexpected surprises. We trust that all of us have learned the lessons from what happened in brotherly Arab countries.
Facing challenges can only be achieved through serious, comprehensive and immediate reform that embodies popular participation in decision-making, enhances national cohesion, and meets the people’s aspirations in a glorious homeland.