Under Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia continues to reform

The media, which has been hostile to Prince Mohammed bin Salman ever since Trump worked well with him, has downplayed the news that the Saudi kingdom is abolishing flogging. However, it’s a big story in a land that is slowly leaving the Middle Ages behind.

In 1932, when Saudi Arabia was created, the Royal House of Saud and the Wahhabis agreed to support each other. This deal went into overdrive in 1979 when the Saudi royals saw Ayatollah Khomeini’s mob drive the Shah of Iran off the throne. The Wahhabis promised the royal house that, if Saudi Arabia funded Wahhabi madrassas all over the world, the Wahhabis would protect the House of Saud.

Saudi Arabia, therefore, has always been run on sharia lines. The rules, of course, don’t apply to the numerous men in the royal family, provided that they keep their non-sharia peccadillos out of the public eye. 

Sharia law made women second class citizens. For decades they had no legal rights, could not drive cars, and were required to wear enveloping burqas, covering all but their eyes. In 2002, when a girl’s school caught fire, the religious police drove girls back into the burning building, rather than allowing them to escape without burqas. Fifteen girls were burned to death.

Sharia law’s medieval values appear most strongly in its penal system.  Wikipedia offers a good rundown of the punishments meted out in Saudi Arabia. Here are just some of those punishments (hyperlinks and footnotes omitted):

The death penalty can be imposed for a wide range of offences including murder, rape, armed robbery, repeated drug use, apostasy, adultery, witchcraft and sorcery and can be carried out by beheading with a sword, stoning or firing squad, followed by crucifixion. The 345 reported executions between 2007 and 2010 were all carried out by public beheading. Two executions for "witchcraft and sorcery" were carried out in 2011.

[snip]

Although repeated theft can be punishable by amputation of the right hand and aggravated theft by the cross-amputation of a hand and a foot, only one instance of judicial amputation was reported between 2007 and 2010. Homosexual acts are punishable by flogging, imprisonment or death. Lashings are a common form of punishment and are often imposed for offences against religion and public morality such as drinking alcohol and neglect of prayer and fasting obligations.

Beginning in the first year of Trump’s presidency, though, things started to change, and the change can be attributed almost entirely to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Under his leadership, while Saudi Arabia is still a cruel, backward country, it’s creeping incrementally forward.

One amazing thing is Salman’s push to normalize relations with Israel. This undoubtedly stems from the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” principle because both nations fear a nuclear Iran. Prince Salman also recognizes that oil wealth won’t last forever and that his subjects need to diversify their skill sets. Allying with Israel will help. Thus, in 2017, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia denounced Hamas as a “terror organization,” and then went on to issue a fatwa forbidding war against Jews and speaking out against fighting Israel.

Earlier that same year, when President Trump went to Saudi Arabia with Melania, Ivanka, and Jared, change was in the air. Neither Melania nor Ivanka wore head coverings and Ivanka was treated like a queen. There are rumors that Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jew, has formed a strong working relationship with Prince Salman.

Things changed again in 2018 when Saudi law changed to give women the right to drive as well as the right to attend sports matches.

This week, Saudi Arabia trickled out another reform: Despite sharia law’s mandate, flogging will no longer be a punishment in Saudi Arabia:

Saudi Arabia is to abolish flogging as a form of punishment, according to a legal document seen by media outlets.

The directive from the Gulf kingdom's Supreme Court says flogging will be replaced by imprisonment or fines.

It says this is an extension of human rights reforms brought by King Salman and his son, the country's de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

This is a huge change, although the Western media likes to paint it as just a micro concession due to international pressure following the death of Jamal Khashoggi. The reality is that, were it not for the fact that Prince Salman has a good relationship with the Trumps, the media would be celebrating him as a reformer despite Khashoggi's extrajudicial execution.

The reality is that Prince Salman is making changes slowly and carefully. His is still a medieval kingdom and he knows that, if he were to enact major changes, not only would the clergy turn against him, but the Saudi people might rise up to overthrow him, either for reforming too slowly or for abandoning sharia law.

The media, which has been hostile to Prince Mohammed bin Salman ever since Trump worked well with him, has downplayed the news that the Saudi kingdom is abolishing flogging. However, it’s a big story in a land that is slowly leaving the Middle Ages behind.

In 1932, when Saudi Arabia was created, the Royal House of Saud and the Wahhabis agreed to support each other. This deal went into overdrive in 1979 when the Saudi royals saw Ayatollah Khomeini’s mob drive the Shah of Iran off the throne. The Wahhabis promised the royal house that, if Saudi Arabia funded Wahhabi madrassas all over the world, the Wahhabis would protect the House of Saud.

Saudi Arabia, therefore, has always been run on sharia lines. The rules, of course, don’t apply to the numerous men in the royal family, provided that they keep their non-sharia peccadillos out of the public eye. 

Sharia law made women second class citizens. For decades they had no legal rights, could not drive cars, and were required to wear enveloping burqas, covering all but their eyes. In 2002, when a girl’s school caught fire, the religious police drove girls back into the burning building, rather than allowing them to escape without burqas. Fifteen girls were burned to death.

Sharia law’s medieval values appear most strongly in its penal system.  Wikipedia offers a good rundown of the punishments meted out in Saudi Arabia. Here are just some of those punishments (hyperlinks and footnotes omitted):

The death penalty can be imposed for a wide range of offences including murder, rape, armed robbery, repeated drug use, apostasy, adultery, witchcraft and sorcery and can be carried out by beheading with a sword, stoning or firing squad, followed by crucifixion. The 345 reported executions between 2007 and 2010 were all carried out by public beheading. Two executions for "witchcraft and sorcery" were carried out in 2011.

[snip]

Although repeated theft can be punishable by amputation of the right hand and aggravated theft by the cross-amputation of a hand and a foot, only one instance of judicial amputation was reported between 2007 and 2010. Homosexual acts are punishable by flogging, imprisonment or death. Lashings are a common form of punishment and are often imposed for offences against religion and public morality such as drinking alcohol and neglect of prayer and fasting obligations.

Beginning in the first year of Trump’s presidency, though, things started to change, and the change can be attributed almost entirely to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Under his leadership, while Saudi Arabia is still a cruel, backward country, it’s creeping incrementally forward.

One amazing thing is Salman’s push to normalize relations with Israel. This undoubtedly stems from the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” principle because both nations fear a nuclear Iran. Prince Salman also recognizes that oil wealth won’t last forever and that his subjects need to diversify their skill sets. Allying with Israel will help. Thus, in 2017, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia denounced Hamas as a “terror organization,” and then went on to issue a fatwa forbidding war against Jews and speaking out against fighting Israel.

Earlier that same year, when President Trump went to Saudi Arabia with Melania, Ivanka, and Jared, change was in the air. Neither Melania nor Ivanka wore head coverings and Ivanka was treated like a queen. There are rumors that Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jew, has formed a strong working relationship with Prince Salman.

Things changed again in 2018 when Saudi law changed to give women the right to drive as well as the right to attend sports matches.

This week, Saudi Arabia trickled out another reform: Despite sharia law’s mandate, flogging will no longer be a punishment in Saudi Arabia:

Saudi Arabia is to abolish flogging as a form of punishment, according to a legal document seen by media outlets.

The directive from the Gulf kingdom's Supreme Court says flogging will be replaced by imprisonment or fines.

It says this is an extension of human rights reforms brought by King Salman and his son, the country's de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

This is a huge change, although the Western media likes to paint it as just a micro concession due to international pressure following the death of Jamal Khashoggi. The reality is that, were it not for the fact that Prince Salman has a good relationship with the Trumps, the media would be celebrating him as a reformer despite Khashoggi's extrajudicial execution.

The reality is that Prince Salman is making changes slowly and carefully. His is still a medieval kingdom and he knows that, if he were to enact major changes, not only would the clergy turn against him, but the Saudi people might rise up to overthrow him, either for reforming too slowly or for abandoning sharia law.