Wednesday, June 11, 2003

From the Eurasia Research Center e-mail list, I just received a translated article of a multi-part al-Jazeera report on the Shi'ites in Saudi Arabia. This reminds me of something I should have noticed before writing this post in which I suggested religious diversity could be imported to the kingdom. As the report describes, Saudi Arabia is already highly diverse - the Hijaz, after all, is the site of the hajj and maintains religious links with a variety of places. Oddly, the religious center of the Islamic world ceased to be the religious center of its own kingdom when the Saudis came to power in the early 20th century. The eastern part of the kingdom also has a Shi'ite majority which has been bitterly persecuted by the Wahhabis.

The substance of my first suggestion, then, should have been for the Saudis to reach out to these other religious communities - particularly the Medina one - rather than allow the Wahhabis a continued monopoly. This would not lead to instant democracy, but as I've said, that isn't going to happen. It would allow the Saudi royals a freer reign, which I see as ultimately a good thing at this point. The al-Jazeera story theorizes that: "Recognizing and dealing with religious pluralism raises the issue of religious and intellectual rights of the followers of the other sects. It also demands reevaluating the privileges the winning sect enjoys from the state--in other words, reconstituting the authority and its components on new basis." Yet this authority is based on what Muhammad Ibn Saud did to win support in the conservative heartland of Najd. If the Saudi monarchy is to survive, it needs to reconfigure itself to earn legitimacy with all Muslims on the peninsula.

The article's last paragraph: "The suffering of the Shiites from oppression is no different from the suffering of the Saudi woman from deprivation and the Saudi man from persecution. The solution does not lie in dealing with the results but in solving the main problem, which is the absence of tolerance, political participation, and human rights. When every citizen, irrespective of his belief, race, and ethnic background, feels that the homeland belongs to him, his dignity is being safeguarded, and his freedom is being guaranteed, we can talk about the branches, including the problem of the Shiite sect in the Kingdom."


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