18 septembre 2012
Palais de Luxembourg (Sénat)
26, rue Vaugirard – 75006 PARIS
The Paris Academy of Geopolitics, in the framework of today’s world’s larger geopolitical questions, organized for 18th September 2012 its annual international conference on Human Rights in Saudi Arabia. This event took place at the Paris Luxembourg Palace, and involved interventions by researchers, experts and specialists on the region in question and coming from several continents.
Thus the Academy has wished to broach different aspects of the rights of man in Saudi Arabia, at a time when controversy on the subject is rife and virulent.
The conference was inaugurated by Mr. Ali RASTBEEN, the Academy’s President and recognized expert on Middle-East affairs, who thereupon was first speaker at the start of the first session, and reminded of the essential features of Saudi Arabia’s geography. He then tackled the prevailing concepts in defining human rights: the President insisted upon the fact that since the VIIth Century, Islam’s Prophet had been applying these principles at Medina. The conception of the rights of man and of the respect of women, such as elaborated by Islam is totally compatible with the 1948 Declaration by the United Nations. Therefore human rights should be respected in all Islamic countries without exception. However, the least that can be said is that Saudi Arabia does not apply the 1948 Charter and this is happening with silent global complicity. However, France remains attentive to the manner in which evolutions in Saudi Arabia occur with respect to the 1948 declaration.
Ali Rastbeen, founder and President of the Paris Academy of Geopolitics reminds that after Riyad sent troops to support popular repression in Bahrain, a territory where an American naval base is installed, the UN remained silent, a new phase is developing in the region’s Sultanates, indicates the orator. Riyad is attempting, under cover of unity, to put an end to Bahrein’s independence.
Today, whereas the Saudi system’s internal happenings have shaken the very foundations of the tribal regime, again the idea of a union of the South Persian Gulf’s coastal States would preserve the regime.
One can suppose that behind this attempt there hides a plot to fusion the smaller Emirates into the Saudi State, thanks to support of powers that are foreign to the region. This project announces an obscure future for the region. The President of the Paris Academy of Geopolitics notes that it is surprising that the States, international arrangements and even the UN’s members close their eyes on the existence, in the contemporary world, of a regime founded on tribal principles. And then to note that, thanks to petroleum manna, the Saudi regime’s main foreign policy is conducted by bribes. Also, human rights offences are generalized there, blessed by the international community’s silence. Saudi Arabia is attempting to buy, through providing advantages for Western States and the United States, the silence of these decision-makers, even , even if from time to time they publish reports on the human rights situation in that country.
Mr. Rastbeen further reminds that Wahhabism and the Saudi ethnic identity have permitted its allies to extend their political and religious power, beyond tribes and dynasties, on the entire Arabian Peninsula and their domination over other regions and tribes. Today, Wahhabism’s influence, because of its historical and vital role, surpasses the official one of a religious institution. Since the creation of the Saudi regime, Wahhabism has formed its own culture, its own pedagogy and its own legal system, and placed its mark on all of Saudi Arabia’s Sunni Islamic tendencies.
In current Arabia, the Wahhabite muftis play an essential role in the country’s political affairs, further the Ministers of Justice, of Pilgrimage, of Islamic Principles, of Inheritance, of Propaganda and of Orientation are named following their advice.
Saudi Arabia: denial of freedom of expression, persecution of the Shiite minority and women’s rights violation.
Then the declaration by Mr. Michel FOURNIER, Amnesty International’s Middle East responsible, was integrally read at the rostrum by Mr. Mohamed TROUDI, researcher at the Academy. Mr. FOURNIER conclusively condemns Saudi Arabia for its several failures to respect human rights and denounces the regime’s totalitarian and religious character. Wahhabism is held as responsible for the persecutions victimizing Shiites, the discrimination against women being also accused by Mr. FOURNIER.
Women and “human rights” in Saudi Arabia
In turn, Superior Education Director François DUMONT, a Sorbonne University Professor, for his part sets out – after a few minor precautions concerning the terms “human rights” or the “rights of man”, on a comparison between Saudi Arabia and other countries (neighbouring Iran and Irak, and also Tunisia). Women’s lot in these countries is particularly examined. Added to which a considerable mine of statistics permits to reach several notable conclusions, and to show that the situation of Saudi Arabian women isn’t as bad as some imagine, even if obesity (44% of the women) contributes to a high morbidity. Likewise, few Saudi women work – their right to work is more highly contained than elsewhere, indeed 85% of salaried personnel are men.
Finally, according to Saudi “Fundamental Law” that is theoretically at least the Kingdom’s base, in the absence of a veritable national Constitution and the right to vote, women’s access to politics is no part of reality to this day. In fact the cause of the situation of today’s women in Arabia, is above all the fact that the Sharia is given priority over any Charter or Agreement. The religious has invaded civil society’s domain. More globally, even the Arab Charter of the Rights of Man contains too many ambiguities. Only one question: what do the Saudi authorities desire. To advance or not in the direction of rights and liberties. The answer is therefore ambiguous, indeed not at all evident.
Arab Declaration of Rights to guarantee the fundamental rights of life?
The following intervention, that of Princess Basmah Bint SAOUD bin ABDULAZIZ, with her intellectual humanist approach, pleads for individual rights to be respected in the Arab world. She declares desiring the establishment of an Arab Declaration of the Rights of Man that would complete the Arab Charter of Human Rights, the U.N. Charter, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the International Convention on the Rights of Man, and the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam. The Princess denounces an entire series of offences against human dignity as well as all sorts of discrimination, of which women in particular are victims in Saudi Arabia as in other countries of the region.
The Princess evokes the questions:
– must one really adopt texts coming from beyond the cultural space concerned?
– Must one really continue to express oneself across international conferences that have absolutely no consequence?
– Must one really darken paper with ink, just to repeat ceaselessly the same facts that have no use?
All the same, the Egyptian Declaration: the Arab Declaration on Human Rights, seem to her to be a good enough springboard for the Near and Middle East to jump towards a more just, a more democratic and a more human society. For this, it seems indispensable to the Princess, that today’s youth must be listened to and heard. Likewise, new information and communications technologies can but push to more awareness of the ardent obligation that the Arab-Moslem world has to install all conditions and structures making real and respecting the existence of universal human rights – this is a prerequisite for dignity and justice.
For the Princess, the first item to realize is the establishment of a Constitution.
The Rights of Man in the Saudi Basic Law
Mrs Safa BEN SAAD, Teacher at the Comparative Law Centre of the University Toulouse-I Capitole, started the Conference’s Second Session in the afternoon, by explaining that it is necessary that a law permit that citizens voice opposition against State decisions. The Saudi kingdom’s “Fundamental Law” is, in this perspective, progressive since 1992 despite its restrictive character. It does contain several prescriptions for the guarantee of certain rights.
Mrs Safa BEN SAAD feels that human rights have indeed an Islamic echo, and this leads to suppose that Islam is a system that has an answer for everything. Thus and for example, an Islamic “male-female complementation” replaces the human rights “equality principle”. It’s a kind of arrangement between Divine Law and Constitutional Law – even if the text itself is not holy scripture.
The US and Saudi Arabia: Toward consensus on Democracy and Human Rights?
After these brief remarks, Professor Hall GARDNER, Director of the International Politics Department of the American University in Paris, explains that relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia are complex. The primary interests are petroleum, finance and geostrategy. The other side of the coin is the terrorist issue, human rights and women’s rights – these are main problematic matters. In effect, does Saudi Arabia favour terrorism, as certain American Senators accuse?
Numerous American NGOs struggle to help cultivate democracy, but this policy seems to just reinforce Islamic extremism, rather than secure the more “secular” parties, including those for which the Americans had initially hoped. Indeed this complication has at least in part deceived President Obama’s hopes after his Caïro speech looking toward reconciliation with the region’s peoples.
Saudis seem to support some of these reforms abroad, while at the same time struggling to adapt their own structure.
Further, the expression “Arab Spring” isn’t convenient because there are many social and political movements throughout the Middle East demanding more rights, including Kurds and Berbers, also Iranian democratic movements, and Israeli reform groups. Moreover, the Arab movements are divided into “secular”, non-religious, authoritatively religious (Sunni) and less religious (Shiite). On top of which, Sunni movements are further divided: the Moslem Brotherhood, the Wahhabites, the Salafists, and others (subsidiary movements, also subdivided or fragmented into independent cells). The Saudi population as a whole supports the Wahhabite groups.
As for the human rights issue, States are manipulating it to their own divergent ends: Iran deplores human rights violations against the Shiite minority in the petroleum-rich Arabian East, whereas Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of human rights violations against Arab minorities in Iran’s petroleum rich Khouzistan Province.
But the most important would be to understand that the human rights debate is an internal issue of the Western camp, as it is an internal issue of the disparate segments of the Moslem world. A simplistic West-Islam faceoff in the spirit of a “civilisation/culture shock” wouldn’t do justice to the situation. In this sense, the Saudi Arabia-Pakistan debate during the 1948 Universal Human Rights Declaration is very important: at the time, Pakistan had accepted the 1948 Declaration, but Saudi Arabia had abstained. This revealed the depths of the divisions existing already at the heart of the Islamic world, on as vital and far-reaching an issue as human rights. At the same time, most Islamic States, including Saudi Arabia, wanted that the 1948 Declaration express more explicitly the guaranteeing of economic, social and cultural guarantees rights, and this the United States refused, despite the fact that President Roosevelt during his term of office, had made of “economic rights” a priority as a “fundamental liberty”.
Alliance Arabia / Wahhabi: the imminent collapse?
Mr. Ali ALYAMI, Director of the Centre for Democracy and Human Rights for Saudi Arabia established in the United States, then spoke to insist on the fact that Saudi Arabia as a country of sacred shrines and very great producer of petroleum occupies a very privileged place at the heart of the Arab-Moslem world. For him, the fall of this country would arise from Wahhabism (which in fact is nothing but a danger for the entire Moslem world) succeeds in increasingly isolating Saudi Arabia. Moreover, the spirit of modernity and aspirations towards more liberty by Saudi elites shall underline further its tendency to fall.
The Saudi Dynasty that once held its clergy is today weaker before them.
So will Arabia be destroyed, as Carthage was destroyed by the Romans, or by inside rot? The future is deciding.
The human rights in Saudi Arabia at the twenty-first century
Mr. Ali ALAHMED, President of the Gulf Affairs Institute, created in Washington, and former member of the United States Commission on International Religious Rights, speaks in the direction of denouncing the lack of human rights in Saudi Arabia, in the religious, political and social domains, with an inferior position reserved for women. According to the speaker, freedom of the press is also particularly threatened there.
Finally, he makes a systematic review of the misfortunes of the religious minorities. The educational system is denounced as responsible for much social hatred. For Mr. ALAHMED, religious oppression is favourable ground for spreading terrorism.
Moreover, corruption, poverty, child misery are all common currency there, as the country’s standard of living declines. That could explain the regime’s imminent fall, because things are not getting better there, far from that.
It was up to Mr. Jacques BARRAT, Emeritus Professor at Paris-II Panthéon University, to draw conclusions to this very important international conference, and makes its synthesis by resuming all the interventions, and doing so precisely with sets of detailed data that expose the very many and consequent offences against human rights in Saudi Arabia, a country that is even protected in a privileged manner by the Western countries and at the U.N.. Future reflection, according to the Speaker, shall have to bear on coherence of democracies in relation to their international action aimed at the Gulf monarchies and Saudi Arabia in particular.
S’en suivit un riche débat entre la salle et Professeur GARDNER, Monsieur ALYAMI et Monsieur AL-AHMED.
Monsieur le président Ali RASTBEEN a ensuite prononcé la clôture de la conférence.
À cette occasion, un ouvrage consacré au thème des droits de l’homme en Arabie saoudite, et contenant la substance des interventions, a été édité et publié par l’Académie de géopolitique de Paris.
After that there was a rich debate between the Hall and Professor GARDNER, Mr. ALYAMI and Mr. AL-AHMED.
The President Ali RASTBEEN thereupon pronounced the closing of the conference.
This occasion has allowed to publish a book on Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, and containing the substance of the interventions. This book is edited and published by the Paris Academy of Geopolitics.