I actually was giving Saudi Arabia the benefit of the doubt. I was following its own media, its own newspapers, and was hopeful. Hopeful because of some critical articles, written by Saudi intellectuals, that pointed to the danger of religious fundamentalism engrained within the Kingdom.
I thought, maybe, maybe the Kingdom started to recognize the danger of its policy of mainstreaming the ISIS ideology. Maybe it started to see that such a policy is bound to backfire.
Then I received the news from Saudi Arabia!
The Saudi appeal court has confirmed (September 1) Raif Badawi's sentence, making it final: 10 years prison, 1,000 lashes, 10 years travel and media ban.
In case you do not remember his case. Raif Badawi is a famous Saudi blogger, a freedom of expression defender, who committed a 'crime' according to Saudi authorities: He created the Free Saudi Liberals website, which promoted liberal ideas. He criticized the conduct of the religious police, which turned the lives of Saudis into a daily nightmare. He warned of some Saudi universities, which indoctrinate students and promote Jihad, ISIS style. He asked simple questions such as 'why can't we celebrate valentine?' or 'what makes us fear love and colors?' And he dared to question the authority of the religious establishment.
The court decision was a blow to my hopes. It laid Saudi promises of reform bare, exposed them as empty words, shallow, and meaningless. If the Kingdom wants to reform and reign on its fundamentalists, then certainly releasing Raif Badawi would be a step in that direction. Right?
Of course I was mindful of the Saudi political system, based as it is on an unholy alliance between the royal family and the Wahhabi religious establishment. This has meant that in return for legitimacy, the religious establishment will have a free hand in applying its conservative and reactionary religious provisions in areas of education, religious teaching, mosques, and media. Social norms and women's lives are controlled and dictated by this dogmatic interpretation of religion.
Many experts will also point to the internal feuding and division within the royal family and Saudi political establishment. Sometimes one has the impression that the kingdom has two heads and two voices. One is calling for reform and another stubbornly fighting it, and the two heads are biting each other.
And yet I thought that the current developments in the MENA region and the rise of ISIS -- which applies Wahhabi religious dogmas combined with Jihadist ideology of political Islam -- are enough wake up calls to get the stagnated Kingdom out of its paralyzed modus. I thought perhaps the reform wing would slowly have the upper hand. After all, the whole world would benefit when the kingdom stop mainstreaming ISIS ideology.
But I was wrong.
I was wrong.
The kingdom is stuck with itself; unable to move; unable to reform. Stagnated and paralyzed.
It will continue to conduct its double game, promising reform while mainstreaming and exporting ISIS ideology.
Meanwhile, a courageous young man will continue to pay a high price for believing that reform was possible.
He is in jail for stating the obvious.