Friday, November 02, 2007

Strategies for Encouraging Democratic Reform in Saudi Arabia

Don't know if Huma Abedin has commented on Ali Alyami's recent publication from the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia: Strategies for Encouraging Democratic Reform in Saudi Arabia: The Path and Obstacles to Democratization and Respect for Human Rights. An excerpt:
In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US , The Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (CDHR), located in Washington, DC, was established as a non-sectarian, non-partisan and educational tax exempt organization to shed light on the Saudi government’s political, social, educational, economic and religious institutions and their role in mobilizing well-to-do Saudi nationals to plan and carryout a catastrophic mission against Saudi Arabia’s main Western partner, the United States of America. Careful investigations by the global media after 9/11 showed that the current structure and practices of Saudi institutions contribute to the creation of an environment that instills hate for, and intolerance of, other peoples, and rejection of their empowering democratic contributions because of their beliefs, lifestyles and scientific accomplishments.

CDHR sought, and was awarded, a grant to research and write a White Paper titled: “Strategies for Encouraging Democratic Reforms in Saudi Arabia”. This paper is intended to assist US officials, business executives, educators and NGO’s in promoting peaceful political reforms, accountability, transparency and rule of civil laws in Saudi Arabia. After intense research to unearth reliable resources and numerous contacts with a number of Saudi men and women, which proved to be very challenging, the Center would like to offer some practical, prudent, and constructive suggestions for peaceful and achievable reforms:

One, empower and expand the membership of the existing 150 members of the 16-year-old appointed Majlis Al-Shura, or “National Parliament” to become a representative legislative body.

Two, empower Saudi women to become full citizens and participating members of society in all decisions and activities that affect their daily lives and the future of their country.

Three, establish committees to start organizing for free elections at local, regional and municipal levels to elect qualified people regardless of race, gender, religion, ethnic and regional background to serve the people and ensure their rights are protected.

Four, create a transparent treasury where public wealth is managed and regulated by the empowered representative national parliament.

Five, create a process whereby the judicial system is removed from the hands of religious clerics and placed in the hands of independent persons properly trained in the rule of law.

Six, for all officials, without any exception, financial compensation should be limited, regulated, and open to public scrutiny .

Seven, initiate a committee of qualified and independent experts to draft a comprehensive plan for transparent privatization of all government-owned and controlled industries and public utilities.

Eight, all public policies, budget decisions and official assignments should be initiated and approved by a national parliament and other freely elected representatives at all levels of society.

Nine, all government contracts should be regulated by the elected representatives of the people.

Ten, non-sectarian national, regional and local constitutions should be developed to protect the people from government abuses and ensure the rights of all citizens.
You can download the entire document in PDF format, here. There's more about this report from POMED, the Project on Middle East Democracy:
Ali Alyami began by mentioning Mrs. Bush’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia to speak to women about breast cancer and told how she “donned the Saudi black abaya out of respect for the culture.” However, he argued that “the abaya represents the most dehumanizing and repressive policy” and that it is not about culture or tradition, but a pure Saudi-Wahhabi plot. He suggested that Saudi women would have been better served by Mrs. Bush helping them fight their segregation and gain their rights than talking about cancer.

He went on to speak about several “steps” that have been taken by the Saudi government, but argued that they mean nothing in terms of real change and reform. First, he pointed out that King Abdullah has met with reformers and had national dialog meetings. However, none of the recommendations have been carried out. Also, the staff of human rights associations that were formed are appointed and paid by the government, making them meaningless. Finally, while there have been municipal council elections, women and the armed forces were disenfranchised, and the councils have no power.
Interestingly the POMED conference featured Thomas Melia of Freedom House, who used to live down the street from us and wear an Afghan hat (I guess a souvenir from Kabul); and David Mikosz of the Center for Democracy and Election Management at the American University, whom I last saw in Tashkent, where he was working for IREX on IT, before he went to Kazakhstan for the World Bank, and then to Kyrgyzstan to do election work for IFES, a US government-funded NGO. Small world...