Saudi Regime Represses Liberals

This blog analyzes the Saudi Wahhabi regime’s ongoing campaign of repression and imprisonment against leading Saudi liberals.  The goal of this campaign is clearly to appease Wahhabi radicals and to deter liberal activists from speaking out and organizing.  The Saudi regime reveals its fear of the liberal elements within Saudi society which are seeking gradual political change.

The Saudi liberal Raif Al Badawi committed two ‘crimes’ in the eyes of the regime.  First of all, he organized the Liberal Saudi Network, an online forum for Saudi liberals to express their opinions and debate the political issues facing Saudi society.  Perhaps even more dangerously, he tried to organize a conference of Saudi liberals to mark ‘a day of liberalism.’ The regime banned the conference because they are frightened by the idea of liberals meeting in person and collaborating on projects that could challenge the Wahhabi religious and political monopoly.

The regime revealed its intolerance toward Saudi liberals by sentencing him to 7 years in prison and 600 lashes.  One commentator noted that he could die from 600 lashes, and thus he is facing a potential death sentence from the lashes alone.  The goal of this sentence is to intimidate other Saudi liberals and prevent them from organizing and speaking out. Another commentator noted the hypocrisy of releasing a Wahhabi cleric, Fayhan al Ghamdi, who served only a few months in prison for murdering his four year old daughter.  The regime is sending a devastating message that clerical fathers can get away with murdering their daughters and that criticizing the regime on liberal grounds is much worse than murdering one’s daughter.

The Saudi regime also arrested another prominent Saudi liberal named Turki al Hamid, who has challenged radical Islam directly. He has a long history of criticizing radical Islam and was arrested for a tweet which compared Islamism to Nazism.  The Saudi regime reveals its continuing intolerance toward criticism of radical Islam by persecuting Hamid.  The regime is trying to make an example out of Hamid and to silence the Saudi liberals.

Saudi liberals responded by mobilizing in defense of Hamid.  Saudi journalist Ahmad ‘Adnan wrote on Twitter: “Turki Al-Hamad’s arrest is resounding proof of the truth of his own statement that ‘Islamism is the new Nazism.”  In an article in the official Saudi daily Al-Sharq, columnist ‘Ali Makki attacked attempts to label Hamid as an infidel and defended him by saying that he was criticizing radical Islam and not the Prophet Mohammed.

Saudi liberals understand that the assault against Hamid and Badawi are an attack against them as well, and that they are not safe and free as long as Hamid and Badawi are imprisoned.  For this reason they are expressing their solidarity with Hamid and Badawi at some risk of facing arrest themselves.  They are also resisting the regime’s attempts to silence them and to suppress debate and discussion about the critical issues facing Saudi society.  The Saudi liberals’ expressions of solidarity with Hamid and Badawi reveal that the regime cannot imprison the idea of freedom and symbolize the hope of long-term political change in Saudi Arabia in a more humane and democratic direction.


About the Author
Rachel's educational background includes a B.A. in international relations from Brown University; she has been an independent scholar, analyst, and researcher about Middle Eastern affairs for 12 years; Her focus has been on Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Egypt.