Democracy and Saudi Arabia
Well, in Episode #2,345 of this Quixotic Political Saga, the Saudi royal family, which has been a trusted US "ally," "has been under pressure from Washington to engage in political reform at a time of social tension and a two-year campaign against the state by militants associated with al-Qaeda." Today, the news tells us:
Candidates on an alleged "golden list" backed by religious clerics have swept the final round of Saudi Arabia's first nationwide municipal elections. Islamist candidates won all the municipal council seats contested in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. They also fared well in northern towns as well as the comparatively liberal port of Jeddah, according to results released on Saturday. Women were barred from the polls, which were presented as a step towards more popular participation in public life.
Of course, the regime itself will pick "roughly half" of 1,200 councillors, which might "dilute" the power of Islamicists. Not that the Saudi regime is all that liberal by comparison. After all, this election news comes on the heels of another news story that the Saudis had detained 40 Pakistani Christians who were caught "attending a service in Riyadh" in a private home. The police also found (horrors!!) "Christian tapes and books." Since one cannot practice any religion other than Islam in Saudi Arabia, this is a crime, in case you were wondering.
I get exhausted pointing out the obvious. This is a regime that is allegedly a "friend" of the United States government. Let's put aside the prospects for democracy among "unfriendly" regimes. Of what use is procedural "democracy" when a "friendly" regime schools its citizens in a fanatical ideology of intolerance, when it marginalizes and criminalizes women, non-Muslims, and freedom itself? Of what use is "democracy" when the dominant culture would bring about a political condition that might make the current Saudi regime appear "moderate" by comparison?
Comments welcome, or readers may comment at L&P, where this has been cross-posted here.
Update: In addition to L&P comments on this post here and here, readers should check out Matthew Barganier's antiwar.com blog entry, "Saudi Democracy: A Little Realism, Please." Matthew makes some excellent points in that post. I agree that the US presence in Saudi Arabia might have made that country a tad less illiberal, and I also agree that the US-House of Sa'ud relationship has been a focal attack point for fanatical Islamic fundamentalists. In many respects, however, the US presence has been a model of neocorporatist intervention, a symbol of everything that is wrong with US foreign policy, as I point out here, for example.