140 characters make you a terrorist
Saudi Arabia remains one of the countries untouched by the wave of democratic uproar which swept through many other Arab-speaking countries. The reason is the monopoly the ruling royal family holds over the media—a monopoly that now seems to be showing some cracks within Saudi Arabia as well. The report you will read below has been written by a Saudi journalist who wishes to remain anonymous.
I remember calling the Saudi human rights lawyer Waleed Abulkhair from a European capital city, to ask him if he thinks my life will be in danger if I return to Saudi Arabia, after publishing articles criticising the country’s human rights and political situation.
“The Saudi government can only shackle their own people but can do nothing to a foreigner,” is what Waleed told me in a phone conversation, suggesting that if I hold a western nationality, it might protect me from the harassment of the Saudi authorities. And he continued “Many European opinion writers wrote and criticised the Kingdom, but none have been punished. This regime can only take its strength out on us.” His words are still resonating in my head.
Today, that same advocate who advised me not to come back is languished in a dark prison, after being indicted by a variety of charges, including discrediting the Kingdom.
Waleed refused to take the opportunities to escape the country despite all the harassment he had been exposed to by the police and political security forces. Waleed decided to stay in the kingdom as he believes the struggle for human rights and reforms were worth it. Waleed refused to escape to any foreign country so as not to be accused of being supported by the west. He did not want people to think that his thoughts and political and human rights awareness were inspired by the west or coming only from abroad, which does not have anything in common with the local culture as the regime’s propaganda claims. He was trying to bear everything, in order to show that his endeavours to establish a better country for everyone is stemming from self-conscience as a citizen. Although, the dictatorial regime has no other power than shutting the mouths of its people and cutting the heads of its opponents, in the event of threatening its throne.
After the Arab spring revolutions, nothing terrifies the Saudi regime more than 140 characters on Twitter by a political reformist or anyone who dreams of a brighter future. The fear those tweets caused, were sufficient justification for the regime to introduce a new law against terrorism, which is now used against anyone calling for a constitutional monarchy or any type of reform. This law is the same one used by the security court in Riyadh to sentence the advocate Waleed to fifteen years in prison.
During the Gulf war 1991, the Saudi population did not know about the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait until three days after the war broke out. The royal family and the ministry of information banned all local media from mentioning anything about the Gulf war. There was a war next door and no one knows about it, this demonstrates the extreme degree of the authorities' ability to control the dissemination of information.
I talked to senior journalists who witnessed those days. They talked about fears spreading among media professionals working in the national television and local newspapers, to the extent that the voice of the weather forecaster was trembling whenever he talked about the climates of Kuwait and Iraq!
The Saudi Rentier State has—since its founding at the beginning of last century—sought to create a parish rather than to have citizens. Therefore, the welfare system has been created without demanding people to pay taxes; instead it has expanded to cover all expenses through oil revenues. By following such a system, the regime can ensure grateful “subject” to the royal family rather than a “citizen” paying taxes and voting to claim rights.
The royal family forgot that the new millennium will provide new tools and methods to their people that they won't be able to ban—tools and methods that anyone living in the Kingdom will be able to use to express their opinions, fears, demands, and dreams. Unrestricted tools which one can use without going through gatekeepers, whom are appointed and deposed by the Saudi Ministry of Information and whom, are in turn, enforcing censorship on each pronounced or written word.
The royal family forgot that global consciousness, despite the Kingdom oppressive control, can create citizens who are conscious enough to stand for their rights such as Waleed Abulkhair. Citizens who are no longer hesitate to demand for equal rights, the right for freedom of expression, and preserving universal human rights values.
The regime is currently living in a state of historical confusion, and doesn't know how to control the expansion of the social media networks and its growing popularity among the youth. The regime has lost control of these tools and all the stories which transcend borders and inspires those who are living in the Kingdom. The interaction through the new media inspires people to make changes and to establish a new social contract between the ruler and the ruled.
The regime sees the acquisition of free words as the possession of drugs as well as the possession of a terrorist ideology. Therefore they are blocking websites and issuing laws to restrict the internet and to imprison human rights activists, ostensibly to protect the intellectual and cultural security of the citizen. While in fact they are protecting the regime ...