If Ronald Reagan’s “evil empire” epithet stood the test of time in defining the Soviet Union, George W. Bush’s “axis of evil,” so belligerently uttered on January 29, 2002, gave way to a more perfunctory warning to Iraqis on January 28, 2003.1 “Your enemy is not surrounding your country,” declared the president of the United States to Iraqis; “your enemy is ruling your country.” The Iraqi regime fell on March 9, 2003, following a three-week war, though Saddam Hussein’s capture did not occur until December 13, 2003. Dramatic developments continued to unfold after the invasion in the form of a protracted occupation, but then came the even more forceful American call for widespread democratization – a remaking of the entire Middle East. Speaking at the twentieth anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy on November 7, 2003, in Washington, DC, Bush identified the “advance of freedom [as] the calling of our time, . . . the calling of our country,” and announced that “the United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East” to ensure peace.2
According to the president, who identified five Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members by name in this seminal lecture (the exception was the United Arab Emirates), several governments were “beginning to see the need for change.” “In Bahrain last year,” professed Mr. Bush, “citizens elected their own parliament for the first time in nearly three decades. Oman has extended the vote to all adult citizens; Qatar has a new constitution. . . . Kuwait has a directly elected national assembly.” Even “the Saudi government is taking first steps toward reform, including a plan for gradual introduction of elections. By giving the Saudi people a greater role in their own society, the Saudi government can demonstrate true leadership in the region,” concluded the cheerful leader.
Yet the unprecedented challenge of September 11, 2001, led to the moral crusade that guided Washington’s numerous strategies towards the region. Nestled in an even more difficult crucible of “preemptive strikes” that, for all practical purposes, threatened to remove regimes in the name of “liberation,” the democratization agenda was disputable.3 Unlike Ronald Reagan, Bush seems to rely on the use of raw military power: one either sides with him or is squarely on the side of “terrorists.”4
Insofar as strategic steps are targeted against sworn enemies of the United States, and much of the rest of the world for that matter (as Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda clearly are), the approach may have some virtue. Yet when the fight against terrorism is wobbly – with the chief perpetrator still at large – and when far more serious economic issues threaten the long-term stability of the United States and its allies, how can Washington build a “coalition of the willing” to deliver on “the rule of law, respect for women, private property, free speech, equal justice, and religious tolerance” throughout the Middle East? How can these laudable goals, which were first promised in 2002 and, in fact, fell under the “non-negotiable demands” category in Mr. Bush’s 2002 State of the Union address, enhance democratization and economic-integration prospects in the Arab world? With both the Republican and Democratic candidates challenging Middle Eastern societies to cleanse themselves from within, can the rhetoric of the 2004 presidential campaign advance democratization in the Arab/Muslim realm without plunging the region into chaos?
From a more positive angle, should GCC states jump onto the American bandwagon or chart their own paths to political and economic reform?
Since 1981, when the six conservative Arab Gulf monarchies created a regional security alliance, the Persian Gulf region has witnessed two major wars that ushered in permanent changes. Among several key developments was the phenomenal wave of democratization and political participation in Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, for their part, have not been immune to powerful regional jolts, although in the latter two countries a slew of political and economic challenges preoccupied conservative governments. In response to some of these challenges, GCC leaders and elites alike have reacted with both a degree of urgency – to stay ahead of the curve – and, not surprisingly, a sense of satisfaction, since many assumed that the winds of change would die down before long. Whether the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the repercussions of the U.S. wars against Afghanistan and Iraq will further encourage democratization in the GCC states is the focus of this essay.
What is the track record of GCC member-states in addressing intrinsic challenges, and how have they translated deliberations and findings into policy?
It is amply clear that GCC states were all affected by the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, as Osama bin Laden was not arrested as of November 2004 and, as several Al Jazeera and Al Arabiyya broadcasts – authenticated by American intelligence experts – illustrated, the Saudi fugitive posed a serious dilemma for Arab Gulf leaders. Ironically, Bin Laden made reference to various terrorist activities undertaken by his supporters in Bali, Moscow and Amman as well as in Riyadh, and even in Iraq. He promised additional retribution for military action in Iraq and warned Westerners in sinister terms: “As you kill, you will be killed; as you raid, you will be raided.”5 Equally important, Bin Laden issued warnings to
U.S. allies, including Britain, France, Italy, Canada, Germany and Australia. He also warned Arab regimes allied with Western powers, most of which, for a variety of reasons, fear that his message finds a receptive audience among their marginalized populations.
Without exception, GCC states are fearful that the change of regime in Baghdad will have negative repercussions on them. Unlike several other Arab and/or Muslim countries, Gulf states are mindful of Iraq’s ethnic, religious, social, economic and military threats. Moreover, with a significant Kurdish population that may form a bridge to Baghdad, GCC leaders know that potential Kurdish aspirations will not sit well with either Turkey or Iran, both of which have large Kurdish minorities. A federal arrangement that may have some democratic features will not sit well with conservative Arab Gulf monarchies either. In fact, chances are very good that a semi independent Iraqi Kurdistan, even if safely nestled in a federated arrangement, will reignite Kurdish nationalism in Turkey and/or Iran. Likewise, Iraq’s population is 60 percent Shia, which, for opposite reasons, threatens the cohesiveness of secular Turkey and fundamentalist Saudi Arabia.
A theocracy in Baghdad that could possibly align itself with Tehran will also be perceived as a genuine regional challenge by a number of Gulf governments. Equally pertinent but seldom assessed are the many social repercussions of rapid changes in Afghanistan and Iraq, including the desire for revenge, the opportunity to retaliate against abusive security apparatuses and, more important, the ability to assume economic independence when the overwhelming majority of Afghans and Iraqis have grown financially dependent on tribal entities or on the “state.”6
These valid concerns were not always well received. How the wars against the Taliban and Saddam Hussein affected the hapless Afghan and Iraqi populations was of less interest to Western military commanders than the implementation of well orchestrated battle plans.7 Democratization and economic integration were secondary issues. In Afghanistan, support was extended to interim President Hamid Karzai, while powerful tribal leaders, who enjoyed full legitimacy in the eyes of their numerous followers, were marginalized.8 In the case of the Iraqi opposition grouped within the rag-tag Iraqi National Congress (INC), the United States at first suspended financial support in 2001-2002 because of corruption. As the invasion progressed, payments were rescheduled and, more important, political consultations with the INC were accelerated. Washington had to fall back on this incompetent group for lack of an alternative.
Ironically, Washington repudiated Ahmad Chalabi in mid-2004, when it was revealed that the former trusted intimate of the powerful may have maintained privileged as well as compromising relations with Iran.9 Irrespective of what the INC purported to accomplish in a “liberated Iraq,” Saddam Hussein’s Baath party and much-touted military – kept at bay for over a decade under strict UN sponsored sanctions – were the two institutions that preoccupied Western decision makers.10 Democratization could wait.
To make matters worse, and in the aftermath of both the Afghanistan and Iraq “victories,” Washington called on the NATO alliance to take a more active role in all Middle Eastern countries to implement a democratization plan based on consolidating human rights and liberties.11 The confusion of GCC leaders regarding such American plans is not surprising, even if most supported Washington’s actions against the Afghan and Iraqi dictators.
What they and their populations strongly object to is the very narrow confines within which unilateral U.S. military power is exercised to usher in deep changes in the structure of Arab and Muslim societies. It is this general apprehension that GCC officials harbor – but which they have utterly failed to articulate, much less defend – that colors their often contradictory statements. In fact, GCC states could not espouse full democratization as long as the region was dominated by war, and as long as their ties with leading Western powers were dominated by access to oil supplies and the sale of sophisticated weapons.
Under the circumstances, how have individual GCC states perceived democratization? Equally important, how have Gulf elites perceived the phenomena of media emancipation and the sharp drop in the ruling families’ monopoly of traditional information outlets?
Bahrain. The first steps toward political participation in contemporary Gulf affairs occurred in Bahrain long before the island-state became a monarchy in 2002. Bahrainis formed trade unions in the 1920s and 1930s, when the shaikhdom was under British colonial rule, and enjoyed a brief parliamentary experiment between 1972 and 1975.12 For a full quarter century after the country’s fledgling National Assembly was suspended, Bahrainis experienced widespread and serious discontent, which culminated in the outbreak of the 1994 uprising. It took Manama until late 1998 to decisively quell the rioting, although the popular concerns that sustained it were seldom tackled.
Consequently, historical abuses evolved into a full-fledged crisis that scarred the body politic.13
Bahrain entered a new era in March 1999, when Shaikh Hamad bin Isa acceded to the throne. He pardoned dissidents, promised to tackle various political concerns, and called for the adoption of a modern charter for the country.14 In 2001, close to 300 political prisoners were freed before a referendum was held. In the event, the electorate voted overwhelmingly to create a 40-member parliament, along with a 40-member appointed Majlis al-Shura (consultative council). A parliament was elected in due course, with Islamist groups dominating it. Shaikh Hamad appointed five women, a Christian and a Jew to the Shura Council to complete the process.
Nevertheless, and while the Al Khalifah ruling family ensured that a major referendum on a new constitution for the Kingdom of Bahrain was well received, it remains to be determined to what extent these moves towards democracy are genuine. Parliament is dominated by Islamists, both Sunni and Shia, but its deliberations have concentrated on social issues rather than political affairs. Still, some Bahrainis are optimistic, although being a “reformist” in the Gulf is not a very popular option. For Rasheed Al-Maraj, the chairman of the Muntada Forum, a group of liberal intellectuals and businessmen,
democracy is not a switch; it’s a process. It’s not just about the ballot box. You can have a constitution that is second to none, but if you don’t have the institutions of civil society, the rule of law and the human rights to underpin it, it won’t work. And getting there is an evolutionary process. Corruption is not just about money; it’s also about people thinking that they’re entitled to a government job. For a society where family and tribal connections have always counted for so much, there’s some way to go.15
This view was not a voice in the wilderness. Prominent Bahrainis, speaking individually or on behalf of legitimate organizations, challenge Manama to accept dialogue. Leaders of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), officials of the General Organization for Youth and Sports (GOYS), Al-Uruba Club administrators and other responsible intellectuals were all barred from public gatherings. Dismissed on flimsy excuses – that such clubs were cultural establishments and, consequently, barred from political activities – Bahraini activists found solace in courts that eventually recognized their intrinsic constitutional rights. Although the criminal courts relented, human-rights reformers maintained that the country’s prime minister was directly responsible for the heavy-handed responses and blamed him for alleged abuses.16 The leader who called on Prime Minister Khalifah bin Salman to resign – on the grounds that he failed to restore conditions to redress the Bahraini economy as well as violating basic human rights – was BCHR’s Abdul-Hadi al-Khawajah. A prominent Shia representative who returned from exile in 2001, Al-Khawajah was arrested in September 2004. He pleaded “not guilty” to charges of sedition, defamation and spreading false information, although his trial was postponed after serious demonstrations disrupted court proceedings.17 Ironically, Manama felt the necessity to organize pro-government activities, in the form of loyalty pledges to the prime minister, to overcome and reverse popular perceptions of incompetence.18
These developments support the premise that a genuine democratic society in Bahrain, including respect for human rights and the rule of law, is certainly possible – if and when the country’s political institutions are strengthened and allowed to make their own contributions.
Kuwait. Enhancing fledgling political institutions is not new in the Gulf as the Kuwait experiment clearly illustrates. The Kuwaiti parliament experienced several jolts after the shaikhdom adopted its constitution in 1962. Parliamentary crises followed, especially in 1975-76 (directly tied to the Lebanese civil war as well as the presence of a significant Palestinian population in the country), in 1986 (with the rise of an Islamist tendency) and, of course, in the aftermath of the 1990 Iraqi invasion.19
Although Kuwait revived parliamentary life after its 1991 liberation, and while the shaikhdom’s exiled rulers promised that genuine democratization would be created, few of the pledges made by the Al Sabah materialized.20 Understandably, in the aftermath of the 2003 war in neighboring Iraq, Kuwaiti leaders are reluctant to introduce sorely needed political reforms. To be sure, the restored parliament is functioning, but the shaikhdom continues to hesitate in granting suffrage to women and the bidun, even if the ruler “wished” to empower women.21 The gender predicament will probably be addressed before long because women throughout the region are increasingly insisting on representation.
The dilemma facing the bidun jinsiyyah (those without nationality) is far more complicated. These neglected Arabs could potentially represent an important constituency. The vast majority of the bidun, although born in Kuwait, cannot produce papers tracing their ancestral residency in the shaikhdom. Consequently, they are denied citizenship and even basic entitlements that Kuwaiti “nationality” grants. Ironically, most Kuwaiti bidun proved their loyalty during the 1990 Iraqi invasion, when they stayed put and defended the country. While a few sided with Iraqis and others opted to stay because returning without papers would have jeopardized life-long earnings, legions joined the resistance. Denying such “patriots” basic rights is deemed unfair and may, in the long term, create additional political difficulties for the Al Sabah.
Likewise, the way Kuwait’s main minority population – the Shia – is treated is also critical. Although the Shia comprise less than 30 percent of the population and are, generally speaking, better off than their coreligionists in other GCC states, they continue to face discrimination.
The Al Sabah know that the Iraqi claim to Kuwait predates the 1990 occupation and that most Iraqis are “certain” that London unfairly detached Kuwait from Iraq after World War I. It is too early to say how this interpretation will eventually translate into policy. Yet Kuwaitis must ask themselves whether Washington will always defend the shaikhdom’s territorial integrity, even if Iraq’s government were to become democratic as well as pro-American – neither of which would alter historical Iraqi claims – and even if the Al Sabah actually transformed the country into a “constitutional monarchy.”
Saudi Arabia. The 1991 war for Kuwait not only traumatized the small northern emirate, it also sent shock waves throughout the GCC states. In March 1992, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia promulgated its famous Basic Law of Government, ostensibly to create a representative consultative council, first promised in 1927.22 Although the Saudi Majlis al-Shura has experimented with several interesting debates during the past decade, consultation and consensus – the two bases for public participation – did not spread through the ultra-conservative ruling family. Rather, public discourse was fine-tuned, with a brand new phenomenon emerging that will permanently alter society: the petition.
Rather sophisticated supplications, addressed to the king and other senior members of the ruling family, have become both frequent and public.23 Since early 2003, prominent Saudi reformers led by Abdullah al-Hamed have argued that the best way to counter the spread of Muslim extremist thinking is to transform the kingdom into a constitutional monarchy. Al-Hamed, along with Matruk al-Faleh and Ali al-Diminni and thirteen other activists, was arrested in March 2004, although on November 2, 2004, only the three named individuals were still in custody and scheduled for trial.24 Remarkably, the tone of Saudi reformists was non-confrontational, even respectful towards the Al Saud.
Although their demands were nothing short of spectacular – challenging the ruler’s absolute power – Heir Apparent Abdullah bin Abdulaziz met with leading petition signatories and authorized well-thought-out dialogues as a partial rejoinder. In December 2003, in June 2004 and again in September 2004, several rounds of National Dialogue were held to discuss, at times with unabashed frankness, sensitive questions. Saudis from all walks of life debated their religious differences, education concerns, some of the causes leading to extremism, gender matters and municipal elections. The latter were scheduled for late 2004, early 2005, although disappointingly without the participation of women.25 These honorable efforts stressed the need for the Al Saud to address specific grievances. Whether the Al Saud respond to such protestations will most likely determine how their relationships with ordinary Saudis will evolve.
Qatar. In April 2003, Qatari citizens, including women, voted and approved a new constitution for the shaikhdom that called for the establishment of a 45member parliament. According to its bylaws, the new parliament will be composed of 30 elected and 15 appointed representatives.26 Significantly, Doha ushered in suffrage in 1999, when municipal elections were first held, and, while women were allowed to vote and run for office, none were elected. Still, the precedent was set, as the shaikhdom’s rapidly evolving political institutions cleared existing social hurdles. While it may be too early to assess the long-term viability of modernization in Qatar, Shaikh Hamad bin Khalifah Al Thani seems to be decisive in promoting change.
Doha planned to hold elections in 2005 for part of its Majlis to further buttress its legitimacy and fulfill the ruler’s public commitments to genuine change. In fact, the Al Thani managed to rearrange Qatar’s succession lineup in June 2003, when Tamim bin Hamad replaced his brother Jasim as heir apparent, with relative success.27 The astute sovereign demonstrated vigor and determination by staying the course as his vision for change was slowly implemented. His confidence reached its zenith when he welcomed his estranged father, who returned to the country after a decade-long absence, having been for all practical purposes persona non grata.28 The “amir-father” was greeted at the airport with full honors, accepted public condolences beside his son, and shared Iftar meals during Ramadan. The reconciliation, unthinkable just a few years ago, was complete.29
Still, the major challenge facing Hamad bin Khalifah Al Thani was to retain relevance; the small country is perceived by many throughout the region as little more than an American military base.30
Oman. The Sultanate of Oman has experimented with various aspects of democratization since 1970 even if its most visible accomplishments to date have been those associated with the Majlis al-Dawla.31 In November 1996, Sultan Qaboos bin Said announced his intention to introduce a “Basic Law” that promised to revolutionize the country and set a significant precedent for the region.32 The written constitution provided a Bill of Rights, guaranteed freedom of the press, encouraged religious tolerance, insisted on an equality of race and gender, and appointed an independent judiciary – emulating a Supreme Court scheme – that would interpret the Basic Law and act as its guardian.33
This unprecedented initiative in the Gulf region augured well for Oman. Over time, the sultan, or perhaps his successor, will probably emerge as the first constitutional monarch on the Arabian Peninsula. Nevertheless, the pace of reform remained slow and, in specific instances, tied to internal crises. Critics of the Omani approach claim that the 1996 initiatives were only taken after the 1994 attempted coup d’état that shook the regime.34
The Role of the Media
Although individual Gulf states introduced key democratization initiatives, the most noteworthy steps were those associated with the media. GCC leaders faced an information conundrum, especially after Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite television channel, started blanketing the airwaves in 1996. This was the first of several news outlets that outpaced domestic networks and won the minds – as well as hearts – of average Arab television viewers. In fact, the Al Jazeera phenomenon predated 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, even if Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein added to the station’s worldwide notoriety.35
What preoccupied GCC governments was the tone set by the network’s highly skilled journalists (mostly trained at the BBC in London), which was rapidly emulated by Al Arabiyya, MBC (Middle East Broadcasting Corporation), LBC (Lebanese Broadcasting Company, which teamed up with the respected Al Hayat newspaper), and many others. Simply stated, the most significant impact of these alternative networks is the fact that they represent the removal of state-sponsored media protections, painstakingly imposed over the years, to protect Arab Gulf regimes from their populations. Al Jazeera addressed such varied subjects as corruption, political will, thorny religious questions, semi parliamentary institutions and the most taboo social issues imaginable – all in impeccable presentations. Not surprisingly, the reaction of Gulf governments, including Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, was telling.36 Intermittently, all three closed Al Jazeera’s local offices, expelled reporters, criticized Doha for tolerating the station, and even temporarily recalled their ambassadors from Qatar.37
Ironically, none could prevent their populations from tuning in, and the more Gulf governments focused on independent media outlets, the more the latter gained in popularity. Anecdotal evidence points to their widespread availability and consumption. In fact, the Internet now supplements satellite news services throughout the Arab Gulf region. Over the years, Al Jazeera’s accurate reporting not only drew the ire of Gulf rulers, but most blamed the Qatari leadership for introducing such an innovation in their midst.38 Doha stood firm, and as the cordial foreign minister Hamad bin Jasim Al Thani declared to CBS’s 60 Minutes,
I think [Arab] people are not used . . . to hearing things which they don’t like, especially the top people, including me. However, democracy has started. Either the leaders like it, or they don’t like it. Either you open the door, or they break the door. It’s a matter of time, in my opinion.39
Shaikh Hamad’s cautionary words angered some. Yet, as pioneering Arab satellite networks pursued exclusive commercial interests – and every indication points to their success – GCC governments emulated a similar approach, albeit in the political sense. As the region enters the twenty-first century, an emancipation of the media seems intimately tied to whatever democratic experiments are underway. Rather than perceive Al Jazeera and Al Arabiyya as thorns in their sides, some emancipated ruling-family members have reluctantly accepted them as alternative information sources that could enhance the evolving world views of GCC populations. Today few deny the contributions made by these networks, especially in compelling traditional channels to professionalize and, more important, in providing Gulf leaders with rare insights into their own societies.
REGIONAL IMPLICATIONS OF DEMOCRACY
Such insights have not always been well understood or accepted by GCC officialdom. Speaking at the conclusion of the twenty-second GCC Summit in Muscat, on December 31, 2001, Heir Apparent Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia harshly criticized GCC governments for doing little to achieve their long-sought aim of economic and military unity. “We are not ashamed to say that we have not been able to achieve the objectives we sought when we set up the Gulf Cooperation Council 20 years ago,” Abdullah declared. “We have not yet set up a unified military force that deters enemies and supports friends. We have not reached a common market, nor formulated a unified position on political crises.”40 This public admission that GCC leaders failed to appreciate the necessity for unified political agendas was novel. Abdullah specifically added:
The painful events that have affected the Arab and Muslim society the world over, dictate to us to take our historical responsibility and demand that we make an introspection before accusing others. . . . The real crisis is our standing with both hands folded in the face of crises and blaming others. . . . We admit we all, with no exception, wronged the Ummah when we permitted ourselves to be led by suspicion and misunderstanding instead of objectivity and frankness. While we sought the help of strangers, we forgot our kin, and when we opened our countries and markets to foreign goods, we closed our doors against the products of Muslim and Arab countries.41
The Saudi heir apparent concluded his frank speech by identifying intrinsic problems facing member states, led by a narrow definition of sovereignty, which, he posited, tied them into a traditional concept that acted as a stumbling block for GCC integration efforts. The Muslim Ummah, he stated, had suffered from “terrorists” who cloaked themselves under the banner of Islam. Therefore, it was the duty of every Muslim “to condemn all forms of terrorist actions unequivocally, [since] Islam is the religion of tolerance and love, and killing an innocent person is considered equal to killing all mankind.”
Those who heard the speech and those who commented on it afterwards were stunned. Seldom had a GCC leader spoken with such clarity or purpose. It was one thing for the GCC to back the fight against terrorism by providing “assistance” or by creating a fund to aid the reconstruction of both Afghanistan and Iraq; it was something else to call member-states to action. For Abdullah and other senior GCC leaders the regional implications of the challenge of democracy on the region as a whole were quite clear. War was looming, and the time was ripe for its leaders to ask whether an alliance created to serve ruling establishments could evolve and adapt before their own populations acted.
INTERNAL (MIS)DEEDS AND DEBATES
Despite this fresh approach, Saudi Arabia did not address the terrorism issue until May 12, 2003, when a series of bombings killed at least 34, including 8 Americans, and injured several hundred in Riyadh. Their determination to confront extremist militants changed, and several local commentators as well as officials concluded that radical elements represented as much of a threat to Saudi Arabia as to the United States. Heir Apparent Abdullah went on national television vowing to “confront the murderous criminals” and their supporters behind the attacks – a very bold statement that expanded the circle by taking on the militants’ sympathizers. He pledged to remain “vigilant about . . . security” and “to confront and destroy the threat posed by a deviant few.”42 Shortly thereafter, Saudi newspapers carried editorials using unusually harsh language. Most lashed out at extremists who, they posited, used religion to rally misguided – and mostly unemployed – youths to carry out suicide attacks.43
To be sure, a series of unprecedented procedures were launched to encourage debate and explore reforms, but it is critical to note that the Al Saud acted to first protect the ruling family. In fact, underscoring the idea that change is the best way to ensure survival and, equally important, to solidify a key legitimizing role within the larger Muslim world, were primary motives. Other GCC leaders shared similar perceptions, and it is critical to assess how each country’s leaders addressed these concerns.
Saudi Arabia. In the case of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, exploring political reforms was closely tied to what the United States intended to do in the Gulf region, and how successfully Riyadh could “translate” its relationship with Washington to its own population. Towards that end, calls for an American withdrawal from Saudi Arabia, uttered in public to regain the Al Saud’s battered legitimacy, picked up momentum in 2002.
Talal bin Abdulaziz, the maverick “free prince” who was fully rehabilitated some years ago and is a confidant of Heir Apparent Abdullah, articulated the view that Saudis would like to see American troops pack their bags.44 Since September 11, 2001, the American-Saudi security relationship, which had been under careful construction since the early 1920s, was on the verge of collapse. That senior Al Saud officials may be willing to risk rupturing one of their core alliances must surely indicate the intense internal pressures from increasingly powerful Islamists. In fact, several prayer leaders opted to resign their posts in early 2002 to indicate their opposition to Riyadh’s putative collusion with Washington. Abdullah took note of the huge funeral procession for Shaikh Hamud bin Uqla al-Shuaybi, the author of the 1991 fatwa against the Al Saud (for siding with infidels against Muslims), and opted to speak out.45 At first, the heir apparent warned leading Islamists to tone down the rhetoric, allegedly because their vitriolic statements were adding fuel to the fire burning on the banks of the Potomac. In fact, in Burayda, a city famed for its unadulterated Puritanism, noticeable changes surfaced, to Riyadh’s delight.46 Muhsin al-Awaji, once jailed for alleged religious extremism, called for the development of a “modern, tolerant and inclusive interpretation of faith.” Salman al-Awdah, also jailed for alleged extremist activities, issued cyber fatwas, thereby demonstrating a knack for adaptability under duress. Even Saudi Shias were finally considered to be Muslims, although Saudi courts continued to enforce the Hanbali (Sunni) code on all.47
What changed, in addition to Abdullah’s admonition, was the death of 15 young girls in a Mecca school fire when mutawaeen (religious police) prevented rescue teams from entering the facility because the children were not properly veiled. The outrage that followed, coupled with Abdullah’s opportunistic stand (reminiscent of King Faysal’s approach), wrested control of girls’ education from the clerical establishment.48 The heir apparent issued a rare public “lecture” to senior members of the ulama, certainly not accustomed to be on the receiving end, to change their message and eliminate the excessive pronouncements that passed for law. This was a unique moment, and Abdullah seems to have given the kingdom room to maneuver. Throughout 2002 and 2003, he bluntly admitted to failings – thereby gaining respect abroad – and called on his fellow citizens to assume additional responsibilities. Liberals were glad that he addressed intrinsic tensions and conservatives trusted him because of his impeccable credentials not to waver from core ideology.49
Much changed in the aftermath of May 2003 as the domestic challenge awaiting the Al Saud crystalized. Would small gains become permanent, or would they wither away when the storm moved along? While reforms remained key and could no longer be delayed, the Al Saud price for domestic tranquility could not be measured with yet fresh petitions calling for the creation of an independent judiciary, civil and human-rights institutions, constitutional reforms, elections to a consultative council and freedom of expression. The Al Saud faced the prospect of a renewed rise in nationalism, but it was not clear whether that nationalism could be channeled to serve the ruling family, or whether the latter could tolerate genuine reform.
If Heir Apparent Abdullah faced disquieting challenges at home, his disputes overseas, but especially with the United States, were far worse. After an initial hesitation to accept President Bush’s invitation to visit Washington, Abdullah finally called upon Bush in Crawford, Texas, in late April 2002. Coming on the heels of the Bush assertion that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was “a man of peace,” the Texan barely acknowledged the need to consider Arab public opinion in conducting U.S. foreign policy towards the Middle East. His priority was to salvage what was left of U.S.-Saudi relations, but, no matter how palatable Bush’s arguments may well have sounded (to embark on a common fight against “Saudi fundamentalism”), Abdullah left empty-handed. A visibly shaken Abdullah displayed his anger with the U.S. approach by authorizing a leak to The New York Times. Unnamed Saudi sources declared that “it [was] a mistake to think that our people will not do what is necessary to survive. And if that means we move to the right of Bin Laden, so be it; to the left of Qaddhafi, so be it; or fly to Baghdad and embrace Saddam like a brother, so be it.”50 How could Abdullah talk about democratization when he was preoccupied with American perceptions of what the kingdom was, or had become?
As if this were not sufficient, on July 10, 2002, a RAND briefing to the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board described Saudi Arabia as an enemy of the United States – “the kernel of evil” – and recommended that Washington issue an ultimatum: stop supporting terrorists or face seizure of the oil fields and all financial assets in the United States.51 Riyadh refused to accept such terms, and Washington looked for an alternative on the Arabian Peninsula. Equipment and U.S. troops made a steady move out of Prince Sultan Air Base near Riyadh throughout the year on their way to Al Udaid Air Base near Doha, Qatar.
Few Saudis could welcome Washington’s long list of demands, including changing the country’s religious curriculum and crushing fundamentalist elements. Such actions, were they to be undertaken, would further jeopardize the ruling family’s tense relationship with the legitimizing religious establishment. The popular Abdullah noted the steep rise of violent crime and drug trafficking, despite Draconian repercussions for those caught in the act, as further signs of a breakdown of law and order. On November 16, 2002, a shootout in central Riyadh between the police and a group of Saudi Afghanistan veterans, left dozens of injured.52 Interior Minister Naif bin Abdulaziz acknowledged that his recent aggressive tactics had resulted in the arrest of over 100 “terrorists” whose supporters took to the streets in November. The problem was not the lone attackers on security forces. The problem was the potential sympathizers, including radical preachers, hundreds of clergymen removed from their pulpits, an estimated 20,000 veterans of the Afghanistan campaign against the Soviet Union, and the ever-larger pool among many who perceived America as holding double standards in its foreign policy in the Middle East (even Kuwaiti authorities had to contend with several assassinations of U.S. servicemen). What Riyadh planned to do and what it could do were two difficult propositions.
A significant step was the acquisition of independent identity for Saudi women, who were issued separate identification cards with unveiled photographs of the face. Ostensibly issued by the Interior Ministry “to combat fraud and forgery” to women at least 22 years old (but with written consent from their guardians, as well as a letter from an employer if applicable), the measure was a concrete illustration of the types of reforms imposed by outside developments.
Saudi reformists considered the issuance of a separate identity card to women a positive step, the arrest of several al-Qaeda lieutenants a good omen, and the authorities’ willingness to address the sacrosanct relationship with Washington an even better indication of how best to defend the country from its internal detractors. For Abdullah, the opportunity to exercise his right as regent – of skipping sons of Abdulaziz and appointing a younger heir – was considerably strengthened, especially because the Saudi role in the war against Iraq was minimal.
In mid-February 2003, Osama bin Laden released a statement calling on Muslims to oppose “allies of the devil,” an exhortation which, at least in the kingdom, reverberated at the highest levels of government. The kingdom’s senior religious cleric, Shaikh Abdul Aziz Al Shaikh, called for unity at a time when its “enemies,” he maintained, were undermining Islamic doctrine itself. This call was made in Mecca at the conclusion of the Hajj in a sermon televised worldwide.53 In response to undeniable internal rumblings, Riyadh released Said al-Zuwayr, one of its most vocal opponents, as it assessed the implications of the Iraq War on the Al Saud.54 Parallel to its carefully monitored response to the war – allowing Saudis to vent their frustrations while cooperating with the Anglo-American war effort – Heir Apparent Abdullah even invited many of the 104 Saudis who drafted a new petition, the “National Reform Document,” to visit with him.55 The ever-vigilant Abdullah coerced the Council of Ulama not to remain idle, and the latter dutifully issued a scathing condemnation of any attacks on non-Muslim civilians, identifying such dastardly acts as a form of religious “deviancy.”56 No matter which options Riyadh pursued, and there were a number of indications suggesting that the heir apparent would opt for several, Saudi Arabia was caught on the horns of an acute dilemma: how to remain true to its character without jeopardizing its interests?
Kuwait. Anti-regime activities were not limited to Saudi Arabia. Bombings targeting Westerners as well as locals occurred in Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman, and the need to address intrinsic internal questions became more urgent throughout GCC States.
The Kuwaiti government essentially turned over large portions of the shaikhdom to American and British forces in early 2003 with an estimated 60 percent of the country closed to civilians. Although this was a necessary step from a military perspective – preparing for the war against Iraq – the presence of large numbers of foreign troops provided extremists with political ammunition. A civilian employee
of a San Diego-based software company working for the U.S. military was killed on January 20, 2003.57 Kuwait charged a civil servant, Sami al-Mutairi, with the crime, even though the alleged murderer’s confession may have been obtained under duress.58 Authorities stressed that this, and previous attacks on Westerners in the shaikhdom, were the work of “misled zealots.”
Whether Kuwaiti extremists were operating alone or in an organized conspiracy was difficult to determine. Yet, as Kuwaiti civilians and military officers – albeit low-ranking ones – were arrested for a number of these crimes, a disturbing pattern emerged. No longer was it possible for Kuwaiti officials to blame Iraq or its infiltrators. Likewise, it was not possible to simply condemn al-Qaeda for every one of these attacks.
While in February 2003 a Kuwaiti court handed down five-year sentences to four men accused of orchestrating an attack on U.S. marines practicing on Failaka Island, the state’s argument that concrete evidence linked the men with al-Qaeda – because the men had trained in Afghanistan – did not demonstrate incontrovertible proof. By itself, “training” in Afghanistan by young Muslim men was too vague to qualify as evidence in a court of law. Moreover, although a large portion of young Muslim mujahedin went to Afghanistan to defend it from the Soviet Union in the 1980s, such travel did not always translate into al-Qaeda membership. More astute Kuwaiti officials recognized this and called on the Al Sabah to acknowledge that an indigenous terrorist threat against the ruling regime existed in the shaikhdom. Abdullah Bisharah, the former secretary-general of the GCC and a past ambassador with experience in the West, called on the government to recognize that Kuwaitis may have grievances.59
Bahrain. Even before the war for Iraq, demonstrators chanting “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” were frequently heard throughout Bahrain, as citizens clashed with authorities on a periodic basis. Riot police were deployed outside major installations, including the American embassy and other “Western” compounds. At times, protests deteriorated into violence, “with protesters hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails into the embassy grounds and setting a satellite dish and a sentry box on fire.” Bahraini demonstrators routinely demanded that American forces, especially the Fifth Fleet, leave Bahrain. “The Americans are the enemies, not only of the people, but also of God,” said one protester, a 17-year-old student who would only give his first name, Hussein. “We want the Americans to leave our country,” he insisted.60
This overall sentiment translated to specific steps in the October 2002 elected parliament when four opposition groups boycotted the plebiscite. At the time, leading political figures objected to constitutional amendments enacted by the ruler, giving the elected and appointed bodies equal weight. It was chiefly for this reason that the Al-Wufaq Islamic Action Society, the main Shia organization, abstained.
Nevertheless, both Sunni and Shia Islamists had gained sixteen representatives, and most insisted on their “constitutional duty” to serve the people of Bahrain.61 Manama ignored such calls, contending that rabble rousers were peripheral to the body politic, which was highly questionable. In fact, as the December 31, 2002, riots in the city demonstrated, there were indigenous problems to address.
At the time, Islamist youth rampaged through an entertainment district frequented mostly by Saudi tourists, smashing restaurant windows and setting a few cars on fire.62 Other demonstrations called on the government to place Adel Flayfil, the former head of the Bahrain Security and Intelligence Service (BSIS) [now replaced with the National Security Agency (NSA)], on trial. Allegations against Flayfil included abuse of power, tolerating and even encouraging torture, as well as embezzlement.63 The NSA, for its part, announced the arrest of five Bahrainis – all Sunnis – plotting “terrorist acts against national interests and endangering the lives of innocent citizens.” One of those arrested allegedly “worked for the Bahraini military and another was trained in Afghanistan.”64 Unfortunately for Manama, the case against three of the nationals arrested in February collapsed for lack of evidence.65
Demonstrations and arrests followed throughout 2003 and 2004 with identical outcomes. Although such “isolated incidents” grew in frequency, Bahraini authorities dismissed these attacks as routine developments, even if real grievances – mostly based on authentic economic disparity – existed. At times, opposition forces were emboldened enough to take action, especially in Parliament. In most instances, however, Manama successfully managed to keep its opponents at bay.
Caught between the state’s dual approach, to confront demonstrators with conciliatory initiatives, were a majority of Bahrainis eager to introduce sorely needed political changes.
Oman. Demonstrations were also held in the Sultanate of Oman, mostly due to domestic opposition to the American war against Iraq, which saw thousands venting their anger in the most unexpected settings on the Arabian Peninsula. According to press reports, protests were held in several cities, including Muscat, Izki, Khasab, Nizwa, Salalah and Sur.66 Most of the smaller cities are either in the interior or the more remote southern areas of the country, further illustrating how attuned Gulf citizens were to international and regional developments. Starting in early December 2003, several Westerners were shot near the capital city, although authorities maintained that all were accidental episodes.67 Still, anti-Western sentiments were running high, prompting Sultan Qaboos to accelerate his government’s political reform agenda.
Against this background, are various GCC efforts to encourage political participation a top-down or bottom-up process? What is the true meaning of democratization in the Gulf? What are the roles of various Islamist groups? Can ruling families tolerate their presence in increasingly open fora? Finally, what are the potentials for clashes between ruling elites and Islamists in the name of democratization?
The Bottom-up Process
In July 2002, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) published a report titled “Arab Human Development Report 2002,” which purported to look at the region’s strengths and failings.68 Although the report recorded several positive steps that had led to improved life expectancy and a drop in infant mortality, it included substantial discussion on the overall underdevelopment of the region compared to its vast and largely untapped wealth. The combined GDP of the 22member League of Arab States stood at a mere $531 billion in 2002 (less than Spain’s). That, for its authors, illustrated what was wrong in the vast Arab world: lack of freedom, a low level of education, and neglect of women as full contributors to society. Clearly, such factors prevented democratization from taking root in the Arab world.
A second, equally devastating report was published in 2003.69 Its authors concluded that the Arab world’s “freedom deficit” remained the key obstacle to real reform throughout the region. Moreover, they emphasized the link between plurality and prosperity that, irrespective of the Gulf’s limited wealth, was still in high demand.
Although a few revolutionary experiments may be underway – hinting at positive change – internal clashes between GCC regimes and their opponents have turned nasty and do not augur well for the future. In fact, throughout the Arab world, there seemed to exist a direct contradiction between autocratic regimes that are loathe to give up power in any orderly fashion, and intrinsic forces for change that clamor for freedom, better education and emancipation of women. The prospects for such significant changes could not be ensured in the aftermath of a war for Iraq, however, because most regimes will successfully argue that security must come before political reforms. Under the circumstances, “liberation” may have to be delayed or, worse, introduced at a slower pace. The logic behind such tactics – based on the false premise that traditional societies accept gradual change better than any dictated by fiat – lured GCC officialdom into erroneous perceptions of security.
Still, Washington officialdom revisited its democracy initiative in June 2004, when the Group of Eight (G8) Summit leaders agreed on a “Forum for the Future” (FFF) with invited Middle Eastern heads, during their Sea Island, Georgia, gathering.
Morocco volunteered to host the forthcoming (December 2004) forum to discuss political and economic liberalization, although only Jordan, Bahrain and Yemen partially accepted the process to date.
Whether the G8-FFF dialogue will result in profound changes is too early to determine. What is certain, nevertheless, is that a slew of human-rights groups and pro-democracy movements are sprouting throughout the Middle East.70 How Gulf monarchies welcome and respond to such groups’ political maneuvers will surely color the results of any putative G8-FFF talks.
As the American war in Iraq unfolded, and as poorly defined Western ideas about democratization of the Muslim world were translated into concrete proposals for Baghdad and the other Arab capitals, GCC leaders’ unease resurfaced. Despite Herculean efforts to link al-Qaeda with the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, little supporting evidence emerged – at least by fall 2004.71 In fact, on January 8, 2004, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell recognized that no such link existed, even if he had firmly declared such a link during his February 5, 2003, UN Security Council presentation.72 Powell’s post-war arguments were substantially revised, especially after the impartial yet authoritative National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States affirmed the absence of such connections.73 Moreover, pre-war allegations that Baghdad possessed weapons of mass destruction were also elusive, further complicating the rationale for an attack on Iraq.74 Wary Arab and GCC governments hoped that a link with al-Qaeda and illicit weapons would quickly materialize, to better fend off the wrath of their increasingly mistrustful and agitated populations. Without such incontestable evidence, their own efforts to “manage” existing democratization programs became more complicated. In the end, security precautions could only delay genuine action for so long, even for an area that was entrenched in security affairs for the better part of the twentieth century.
Still, while subdued GCC populations trusted their governments almost by habit, ruling families increasingly faced challenges to their legitimacy that could no longer be postponed until blanket protection could be ensured.
Islamism and Democratization
When elections were held in Kuwait in early July 2003, democracy triumphed because an estimated 80 percent of all eligible voters (136,715 citizens) participated in the plebiscite. To be sure, most of Kuwait’s national population of approximately 898,000 were not privy to this exercise, because women as well as some men have no access to suffrage. Still, and while these elections were a clear indication of many democratic strides within Kuwaiti society, the ritual stood out as a warning to those who wished to Westernize the Gulf region at a fast pace.
Kuwaiti experts quickly concluded that the newly elected Majlis al-Umma (National Assembly) would be “a weaker, quieter Parliament, causing less trouble for the government,” and that the new Parliament would be “easy to handle.” The consensus was that this “was a pro-Kuwait parliament” that would opt for moderate policies. Yet, with a non-negligible Islamist victory (21 out of 50 total seats), Kuwaiti democracy will probably usher in a series of dramatic political changes both in the shaikhdom and throughout the region – including as a critical electoral model for Iraq, when plebiscites are held there.75
The Islamist victory in Kuwait could not be dismissed as inconsequential because conservative groups with impeccable tribal roots gained a number of seats.76 Naturally, stalwart government supporters dominated, but the actual loss of so-called liberals stood as a clear indication of regional trends. In a widely watched television program, the affable foreign minister of Qatar, Shaikh Hamad bin Jasim bin Jabr Al Thani, recognized the necessity to factor in tribal considerations in future democratization initiatives.77 Saudi officials were equally adamant that change would have to respect local requirements.
Clearly, the ruling families were seeking to balance various contradictory policies, but it remains to be determined whether tribalism or any other intrinsic factor might serve to postpone difficult decisions.
Throughout the region, from Jordan to Iran but also in Bahrain and Qatar, the involvement of critical participatory movements meant that the Islamists were no longer satisfied with caretaker regimes. “Shock and awe” elections toppled Kuwaiti liberals in July 2003. Similar plebiscites may yet blanket the area’s nascent parliamentary bodies with ultraconservative elements that, for better or worse, will guide already entrenched governments.
Elsewhere, Islamists demanded that those entrusted with authority exercise it with several things in mind: administer control with justice, govern efficiently and disentangle their countries’ destinies from larger and more determining factors, including with the United States as the latter reshapes the area. Ordinary Gulf citizens were routinely verbalizing some of their anxieties, insisting on the need for openness, both on internal matters as well as key foreign-policy issues.
“Democracy” is developing throughout the area, and while some GCC ruling families have faced the will of their electorates, progress is painfully slow. Still, there is every reason to believe that the process itself will continue to empower GCC citizens to gradually assume a greater share of the burden of governance.
1 “President Delivers State of the Union Address, 2002,” and “President Delivers State of the Union Address, 2003,” both at http://www.whitehouse.gov.
2 “Remarks by the President at the 20th Anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy,” at http:// www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/11/20031106-3.html.
3 The rationale for war against Iraq for the better part of 2002 and 2003 was, of course, centered on “weapons of mass destruction,” not the search for democracy or freedom. Although the Bush and Blair administrations argued Iraq’s WMDs were the most compelling reason for the United States and Britain to resort to war, in the summer of 2003, the emphasis changed. At first, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz testified to congressional committees that “the evil, dictatorial nature of former president Saddam Hussein’s defunct government and the opportunity to turn Iraq into a beacon of hope for the rest of the Middle East,” were equally valid reasons to go to war. See Michael Dobbs, “Wolfowitz Shifts Rationales on Iraq War: With Weapons Unfound, Talk of Threat Gives Way to Rhetoric on Hussein, Democracy,” The Washington Post, September 12, 2003, p. A23. The logic of war shifted shortly thereafter when Mr. Wolfowitz maintained that the WMD issue was a “bureaucratic fudge,” and that the real reason was America’s need to shift its military bases from Saudi Arabia. For additional details, see Joseph A. Kéchichian, “Testing the Saudi ‘Will to Power:’ Challenges Confronting Prince Abdullah,” Middle East Policy, Vol. 10, No. 4, Winter 2003, pp. 100-115.
4 The Bush administration has not altered its approach during the 2004 election year. See Suzanne Goldenberg, Simon Tisdall and Nicholas Watt, “Rebranding Bush as Man of Peace,” The Guardian, January 3, 2004; for a thorough discussion of the president’s preferences, see Bob Woodward, Plan of Attack (Simon & Schuster, 2004).
5 Al Jazeera, November 12, 2002. See also James Risen and Neil MacFarquhar, “New Recording May Be Threat from Bin Laden,” The New York Times, November 13, 2002, p. 1.
6 Doyle McManus and Sonni Efron, “The Iraq Dilemma: Do It Right or Quick?,” The Los Angeles Times, December 28, 2003, pp. A1, A10, A11.
7 The internal repercussions of the war for Iraq are beyond the scope of this essay even if they are pertinent to GCC States’ own internal developments.
8 Milton Bearden, “Afghanistan, Graveyard of Empires,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 80, No. 6, November/ December 2001, pp. 17-30. See also Michael E. O’Hanlon, “A Flawed Masterpiece,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 81, No. 3, May/June 2002, pp. 47-63.
9 American sources suspected that Chalabi may have leaked secrets to Iran. See Edmund Sanders and Monte Morin, “Iraqi Police Raid Chalabi’s Home, Offices,” The Los Angeles Times, May 21, 2004, pp. A1, A6. See also Guy Dinmore, “CIA to Look at Chalabi’s Links with Iran,” The Financial Times, June 3, 2004, p. 2.
When Washington anointed a long-time Chalabi foe, Iyad Allawi, the interim prime minister quickly issued arrest warrants. Chalabi was accused of counterfeiting while his nephew, Salem Chalabi – then head of the Special Iraqi Tribunal set up to try Saddam Hussein – was charged with the murder of a finance ministry official involved in an investigation of Chalabi family business dealings. Although most of these charges were dismissed by late September 2004, Allawi emerged victorious, as the Chalabis were no longer contenders for power. See Edward Wong, “Iraqi Judge Closes Case against Ahmad Chalabi,” The New York Times, September 28, 2004.
10 Kenneth M. Pollack, The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq (Random House, 2002), especially pp. 148-180. See also Amatzia Baram, Culture, History, and Ideology in the Formation of Baathist Iraq: 1968-1989 (St. Martin’s Press, 1991). For a more recent analysis of the Baath party, and what Saddam Hussein did to it, see Hazem Saghieh, Baath al-Iraq: Sultat Saddam Qiyaman wa Hutaman (London: Dar al-Saqi, 2003).
11 According to the explanation proffered by National Security Council Advisor Condoleezza Rice to her European counterparts, President Bush planned an expanded and democratic Middle East that would amount to a “roadmap” for Arab and Muslim states which “export terrorism.” As a result, other regional conflicts, including the Arab-Israeli conflict and the civil war in Sudan, would have to await Arab democratic transformations before they could find their way towards balanced, viable and peaceful settlements. For an incisive commentary, see Hassan Abu Taleb, al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), December 8, 2003, p. 1.
12 Fuad I. Khuri, Tribe and State in Bahrain: The Transformation of Social and Political Authority in an Arab State (The University of Chicago Press, 1980). See also Talal Toufic Farah, Protection and Politics in Bahrain: 1869-1915 (Beirut, Lebanon: American University of Beirut, 1985).
13 Joe Stork, Routine Abuse, Routine Denial: Civil Rights and the Political Crisis in Bahrain (Human Rights Watch, 1997).
14 A. H. Khalaf, “The New Amir of Bahrain: Marching Sideways,” Civil Society, Vol. 9, No. 100, April 2000, pp. 6-13. See also Al Tatawur al-Dimuqrati fil-Bahrayn: Ruyat Al-Awsat al-Arabiyyah wal-Dawliyyah (Gulf Center for Strategic Studies, 2001).
15 Quoted in Geraldine Bedell, “Bahrain/Democracy,” DPA (German News Agency), December 14, 2003.
16 “Club Reopens after Compromise Reached on Early Lifting of Ban,” Gulf News, October 24, 2004, p. 8.
17 “Al Khawaja is Charged,” Gulf Daily News, October 17, 2004, p. 1. See also “Bahraini Activist Faces Trial for Dissent,” The Associated Press, October 16, 2004; and Mohammed Almezel, “Bahrain Rights Activist Trial Put Off after Chaotic Scenes,” Gulf News, October 17, 2004, p. 6.
18 “Loyalty Saluted,” Gulf Daily News, October 3, 2004, p. 1; see also “Crowds Pledge Loyalty to Premier,”
Gulf Daily News, October 7, 2004, p. 1.
19 For background details, see Habib Ishow, Le Koweit: Evolution Politique, Economique et Sociale (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1989); and Jill Crystal, Oil and Politics in the Gulf: Rulers and Merchants in Kuwait and Qatar (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).
20 Paul Aarts, “Parliamentary Politics in Post-War Kuwait: Withered Euphoria,” JIME Review [Japanese Institute of Middle Eastern Economies], Vol. 9, No. 34, Winter 1996, pp. 39-56.
21 Nirmala Hanssen, “Spotlight on Women’s Rights,” Gulf News, October 27, 2004, p. 8.
22 The full text of the law is reproduced in Joseph A. Kéchichian, Succession in Saudi Arabia (Palgrave, 2001), pp. 209-218.
23 Political petitions gained popularity in the early 1990s, following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, but acquired a certain mystique more recently because of their breadth and depth. For sample petitions, see Kéchichian, Succession, op. cit., pp. 193-201. More recently, opposition to the 2003 American war in Iraq saw a group of Saudis, estimated by news agencies as 200 intellectuals, both men and women, petition the Saudi monarch to condemn the war. Presumably, they also demanded a measure of democracy at home, although the latter quest was not new. See Samir Awwad, “The Recent Bombings in Riyadh Were the First Attacks Carried Out by al-Qa’ida in the Saudi Capital,” al-Rayah (Qatar), July 2, 2003, reproduced in Mideast Mirror, July 3, 2003, part B.
24 F. Gregory Gause III, “The FP Memo: How to Save Saudi Arabia,” Foreign Policy, No. 144, September October 2004, pp. 66-70.
25 “Let Saudi Women Vote,” The Christian Science Monitor, October 15, 2004, p. 9. See also Nawaf Obaid, “Saudi Women Must Get the Vote in 2009,” The Financial Times, October 12, 2004, p. 15.
26 Jackson Diehl, “Sheikdom Democracy,” The Washington Post, June 2, 2003, p. A17.
27 “In succession of Jasem, Tamim becomes Crown Prince of Qatar,” Gulf Times, June 8, 2003, p. 1.
28 Khalifah bin Hamad Al Thani was overthrown in a 1995 palace coup. He returned to attend his first wife’s funeral. It may be useful to note that Shaykha Mawzah bint Ali bin Saud bin Abdul Aziz Al Thani was not the current ruler’s mother.
29 “Qatar’s Former Emir Returns Home for Wife’s Funeral,” Arab News, October 15, 2004, p. 3.
30 A recent essay referred to Qatar as “a dinky emirate whose quicksilver political reforms over the past few years could provide one model for 21st century Arab democracy.” While the sentence was somewhat positive, the word dinky is quite insulting, and could have different meanings: small, minor, lesser, but also insignificant, petty, secondary, inferior, or inconsiderable, among others. See Carla Power, “Hillary Clinton Stand Back,” Newsweek, November 10, 2003, pp. 31-32. Such epithets were not new in any sense of the imagination. On July 7, 1988, a prominent Democratic representative from California, Tom Lantos, referred to Qatar while addressing a hearing of the House International Relations Committee on a proposed arms sale to Kuwait. Representative Lantos asked Peter Burleigh, then-deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs, about Stinger missiles that mysteriously found their way to Doha. At the time, a number of countries were accused of illegally acquiring these missiles from American allies fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. When Burleigh explained that Washington was discussing the matter with Doha, Mr. Lantos interjected with these memorable words: “What is your reaction to a speck of a little country snubbing its nose at the United States?” [emphasis added]. See “Proposed Arms Sales to Kuwait,” Hearing, Committee on Foreign Affairs, Washington, DC: July 7, 1988, p. 38.
31 See Dale Eickelman, “Kings and People: Oman’s State Consultative Council,” Middle East Journal, Vol. 38, No. 1, Winter 1984, pp. 51-70. See also Joseph A. Kéchichian, “Oman: A Council for the People,” Arabies Trends, No. 19, April 1999, pp. 24-27.
32 Al Nizam al-Asasi lil-Dawlat [The Basic Statute of the State], Muscat, Diwan of Royal Court, 1996.
33 Nikolaus A. Siegfried, “Legislation and Legitimation in Oman: The Basic Law,” Islamic Law and Society, Vol. 7, No. 2, 2000, pp. 359-397.
34 John Beasant, Oman: The True Life Drama and Intrigue of an Arab State (Edinburgh and London: Mainstream Publishing, 2002), especially, pp. 14-21. See also Mark N. Katz, “Assessing the Political Stability of Oman,” Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, Vol. 8, No. 3, September 2004, at http://meria.idc.ac.il.
35 For a solid analysis, see Mohammed El-Nawawy and Adel Iskandar, Al-Jazeera: How the Free Arab News Network Scooped the World and Changed the Middle East (Westview Press, 2002).
36 Other countries, including Jordan, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority, among others, joined in vociferous criticisms at various intervals.
37 El-Nawawy and Iskandar, op. cit., pp. 113-142.
38 According to a well-informed Lebanese journalist, Heir Apparent Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia voiced specific criticisms towards Al Jazeera to Shaykh Hamad bin Khalifah Al Thani, the ruler of Qatar, during a formal GCC Summit meeting. See Shaheen Sihbai, “Prince Abdullah Vents Fury at Al Jazeera,” Al Anwar, January 17, 2002, p. 1.
39 60 Minutes “Inside Al Jazeera,” CBS News, October 10, 2001 [originally broadcast in May 2001], at http:// www.cnsnews.com/stories/2001/10/10/60minutes/314278.html.
40 Tajuddin Abdul Haq, “Abdullah Slams GCC Indecision,” Arab News, January 1, 2002, p. 1.
42 Press Release, “Address to the Nation by Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz,” Washington, DC: Embassy of Saudi Arabia, May 13, 2003.
43 See, for example, Khalid al-Ghanami, “Al-Insan wal-watan ahamun min Ibn Taymiyyah” [The Human Being and the Nation are More Important than Ibn Taymiyyah], Al-Watan, May 22, 2003, p. 6. Al-Watan, which championed the anti-extremist cause, was mired in controversy and suffered significant setbacks when its editor in chief, Mr. Jamal A. Khashoggi, was eventually muzzled. See Neil MacFarquhar, “A Saudi Editor Who Offended Clerics Is Ousted from His Post,” The New York Times, May 28, 2003, p. A1. This setback notwithstanding, the assault on extremists was ongoing; see R. Hrair Dekmejian, “The Liberal Impulse in Saudi Arabia,” Middle East Journal, Vol. 57, No. 3, Summer 2003, pp. 400-13.
44 “Saudi Arabia and America: Time to Move On,” The Economist, Vol. 362, No. 8257, January 26, 2002, p. 43.
45 Background details on Saudi Islamists are available in Reuven Paz, “Islamists and Anti-Americanism,” MERIA Journal, Vol. 7, No. 4, December 2003, at http://meria.idc.ac.il.
46 Donna Abu-Nasr, “Saudis Allow More Anti-U.S. Protests,” The Associated Press, April 10, 2002.
47 “Saudi Arabian Murmurs: Palpitations at the Kingdom’s Heart,” The Economist. Vol. 364, No. 8287, August 24, 2002, pp. 35-36.
48 “Saudi Religious Police Blocked Fire Rescue,” Reuters, March 14, 2002.
49 Dekmejian, op. cit., pp. 400-413.
50 Patrick E. Tyler, “Saudi to Warn Bush of Rupture over Israel Policy,” The New York Times, April 25, 2002,
51 Thomas E. Ricks, “Briefing Depicted Saudis as Enemies: Ultimatum Urged to Pentagon Board,” The Washington Post, August 6, 2002, p. A1. See also Jack Shafer, “The Powerpoint That Rocked the Pentagon: The La Rouche Defector who’s Advising the Defense Establishment on Saudi Arabia,” August 7, 2002, published online by Slate at http://slate.msn.com/id/2069119/.
52 “Operations in Riyadh in Search for al-Qaida Members, 8 Saudi Soldiers Wounded in Clashes,” at ArabicNews.com, November 18, 2002; see also Abdul Aziz Al-Hindi, “Over 100 Held for Al-Qaeda Links: Naif,” Arab News, November 21, 2002, p. 1; and “Anti-Terrorism in the Gulf: Rooting Out Their Radicals,” The Economist, Vol. 365, No. 8300, November 23, 2002, p. 44.
53 “The Muslim World and America: Sermons that Resound with the Clash of Civilizations,” The Economist, Vol. 366, No. 8311, February 15, 2003, p. 41.
54 “Saudi Arabia: Growing Unease,” Middle East International, No. 697, April 4, 2003, p. 26.
55 Thirty-four of the signatories met with Heir Apparent Abdullah at his Palace in Riyadh January 20th, 2003, for a three-hour meeting. See “The National Reform Document,” February 17, 2003 [in author’s possession]. Various versions of the document have been published to date, notably online at SaudHouse.com.
56 “Address to the Nation by Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz,” Washington, DC: Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, May 13, 2003.
57 Diana Elias, “Kuwait Seeks Gunman Who Killed American,” The Associated Press, January 21, 2003.
58 “Arrests and Shootings Heighten Security Risk,” Country Report: Kuwait (London: The Economist Intelligence Unit, March 2003), p. 13. [Hereafter CR].
59 “Al-Qaida Connection Also Claimed,” CR-Kuwait, March 2003, p. 13.
60 Adnan Malik, “Police, Protesters Clash in Bahrain,” The Associated Press, April 10, 2002.
61 “Elected Chamber Seeks Strengthened Powers,” Country Report: Bahrain (London: The Economist Intelligence Unit, March 2003), p. 13.
62 “Conservatives Say Riots Were Premeditated,” CR-Bahrain, March 2003, p. 15.
63 “Demonstrations Demanding Trial of Flaifel Continue,” CR-Bahrain, March 2003, p. 16.
64 “Five Islamists Are Arrested for Planning Attacks in Bahrain,” CR-Bahrain, March 2003, p. 17.
65 “The Men Accused of Planning Attacks are Released,” CR-Bahrain, June 2003, p. 15.
66 “Omanis March Against War,” Country Report: Oman (London: The Economist Intelligence Unit, June 2003), p. 13.
67 “American Found Dead in Oman,” AlJazeera.net, January 1, 2004.
68 Arab Fund For Economic And Social Development, Arab Human Development Report 2002: Creating Opportunities for Future Generations (United Nations Development Program, July 2002).
69 Arab Fund For Economic And Social Development, Arab Human Development Report 2003: Building a Knowledge Society (United Nations Development Program, October 2003).
70 Jackson Diehl, “An Opening for Arab Democrats,” The Washington Post, October 11, 2004, p. A23.
71 Richard A. Clarke, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror (Free Press, 2004). Senior administration officials have insisted that a direct link existed between Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, Saddam Hussein and Iraq, inter alia. In the absence of concrete evidence, however, all of these statements were nothing more than rhetorical overstatements. For a thorough analysis of these political exaggerations, see also David Barstow, William J. Broad and Jeff Gerth, “How the White House Embraced Disputed Arms Intelligence,” The New York Times, October 3, 2004, p. A1.
72 Christopher Marquis, “Powell Admits No Hard Proof in Linking Iraq to Al Qaeda,” The New York Times, January 9, 2004, p. A1. See also the first-hand exposé of the former director of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), Hans Blix, Disarming Iraq (Pantheon Books, 2004).
73 Thomas H. Kean, Lee H. Hamilton, et. al., The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (W.W. Norton & Company, 2004).
74 “Think Tank: U.S. Overstated Iraqi Threat,” The New York Times, January 8, 2004. See also Joseph Cirincione, Jessica T. Mathews and George Perkovich, with Alexis Orton, WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2004). See also Barstow, Broad and Gerth, op. cit., October 3, 2004, p. A1.
75 “Kuwaitis Vote in Parliamentary Elections,” The New York Times, July 5, 2003. See also Diana Elias, “Kuwaitis Vote in Parliamentary Elections,” The Associated Press, July 6, 2003.
76 Although the Islamic Constitutional Movement, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, lost a seat (now only with 2 representatives left in office), Salafi groups gained 5 seats, up 1. Shia parliamentarians were down to 5 seats (from 6) even if they fielded 50 candidates (out of a total of 250). Importantly, an estimated 24,000 Shia citizens were eligible to vote, and, according to anecdotal evidence, many exercised their rights to cast ballots. See Diana Elias, “Liberals Lose in Kuwait Parliament Vote,” The Associated Press, July 6, 2003.
77 See “Democracy in Qatar to be Tribally Based,” Gulf Times (Doha), January 8-9, 2004, p. 1.