There are two quasi-medieval Islamic states in the Middle East making the headlines at the moment. Both have fairly similar initial histories and even closer ideological leanings. One however is a new-born (and possibly still-born) thing battling against an array of enemies while imposing its bloody rule on diverse and often impoverished communities across large swathes of the region. The other has existed in its presence form for over eighty years, secure in the affections of most “Western” nations thanks to its willingness to provide access – at a price – to vast quantities of petroleum reserves under its control.
“Saudi Arabia’s deceased King Abdullah, according to just about every obituary in major Western publications, was a reformer. The New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, and NPR all describe Abdullah as a ruler committed to reforming Saudi Arabia’s notoriously repressive practices. Sen. John McCain called Abdullah an advocate for peace; IMF head Christine Lagarde called him a “strong advocate for women.”
But Abdullah did not, in fact, make any fundamental reforms to the Saudi state, which remains one of the most oppressive and inhumane on earth. It punishes dissidents, including currently with multiple rounds of publicly lashing a blogger, amputates hands and legs for robbery, and enforces a system of gender restrictions that make women not just second-class citizens, but in many ways the property of men.
The Saudi political system, a blend of absolute monarchy and Islamic extremism, has one of the world’s worst human rights records. There is no democracy and basic freedoms are limited.”
For women freedoms are far more than “limited” no matter what their status. From the Sunday Morning Herald newspaper:
“…there are a few women related to the late monarch who may object to the praise being heaped upon him. Abdullah, like other Saudi royals, had numerous wives – at least seven, and perhaps as many as 30. He had at least 15 daughters. Four of them, according to news reports, live under house arrest.
The plight of the Princesses Jawaher, Sahar, Hala, Maha attracted attention last spring, when details emerged of their supposedly dire condition living in captivity in Saudi royal compounds in the city of Jeddah. Their mother, Alanoud Al-Fayez, has lived in the United Kingdom for the past decade and a half. She was divorced by her husband multiple times, the final instance in 1985.
Fayez claims her daughters’ supposed incarceration, which has gone on for some 13 years, was both a mark of Abdullah’s vindictive streak and intolerance of his daughters’ modern, independent upbringing. She says the four have been locked away for more than a decade, subject to abuse and deprivation.
Last year, various news stations managed to reach Sahar, 42, and Jawaher, 38, who live in a separate compound from Maha, 41, and Hala, 39. In an interview with RT last May, the pair described how they were running out of food and water.
In another interview with an Arabic channel, the princesses described how they were being punished for championing women’s rights and resisting the kingdom’s strict rules mandating male guardianship over women.”
When American and European politicians and commentators speculate on the distant future shape of the Islamic State we already know the answer. It is called the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.