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Democracy and Saudi Arabia

I've had a lot to say about Saudi Arabia, and about the Bush administration's Adventures in Mideast Democracy.

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.


Yes, Iíve been saying this also: http://libertyandculture.blogspot.com/2005/04/islam-and-its-denial-part-vi.html and Iíve even coined a phrase for the administrations philosophy of social change (you might like my touch).

Hey, Jason, thanks for your comment, and a good post at Liberty & Culture. I wanted to leave a comment there---but was confused: It kept asking if I had an account.

Anyway, you ask: "Why are our conservative friends acting like utopian leftists of years past?"

Alas, as you know, a portion of that conservative establishment has internalized that utopianism. There is a very real Trotskyite and social-democratic ideological lineage at work among a portion of neoconservative intellectuals, which therefore encapsulates the same problematic utopianism on the left.

Chris, there is little doubt that if ~most~ majority Islamic countries had free and fair elections the hard-line theocrats would win easily.

I suppose the only bright spot is that the holy Quran does place ~some~ limits on governmental power even in Saudi Arabia. All out socialism is against Islam.

Not the Trots! Could some of our best friends be Ö Internationalist Conservatives? It gets even more worrisome. I wrote about how certain conservatives are ready to accept the advent of Islamic theocracy in multi-cultural terms: we canít define democracy for another people! Yikes! Who needs relativistic leftists when you have conservatives like these? Of course, I think in their hearts they hope for a liberal democracy and spin to the contrary, given the outcome, will reflect face-saving as they scale back their ambitions.

PS, Mark, I take exception with your assessment of Islam, I donít see any basis for individualism in this collectivist religious supremacist ideology. But thatís a whole new thread that best left to another venue.

Saudi should be a democrcay. Under monarchy it caused terroriosts and caused teh war in sudan and algeria dn yemen, it is a disaster, we shoul;d condemn it as much aas we condemn castro as it arrests mor epople, for politics,

why on earth when peopel talk about bringing in democracy in teh middle east, do people, claim saudi arabia is teh only regime we shoudl not topple, it is teh only regime we should topple, they caused Bin Laden, indeed in bin laden's family are best freinds with their royal family, and still in the early 90s, bin laden was an ally of teh king, they also caused teh civil war in dsudan by installing shaaria on a christian and animists and partly secular muslim, land, and by installing hjard line isalimaists there, by tehri aid, and funded algeri'as terrortss before thy staretd tehri civil war, teh saudi regime, is a hugfe threat to teh world, i read in 19997, it arrestyed 7000 maids who had ran away from their owners and returned them to them, it floggs people for critisising teh regime, it bans women from driving, it bans people from loads, it floggs homosexuals, come on, it is an islamist regime, teh only difference is that it is a very corrupt, and unpopular type, at least if it was liek iran, it would not have caused bin laden, and also look at iran, when its funds suicide bombers in isarel, peopel say what a disgarce, when the saudi regiem does, prince charels, and georeg bush go and have a nice talk with them, if gadaffi had doen anything like this, we would be going mad, abut as it is a king, who gicves corrupt cash to political parties, and foundatiosn we pretened their flogging of critics is perfectly ok, even tehri hangings of theri liberals, and support for terrorims,