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“Human justice is at stake” : Saudi poet & human rights activist Ahmed Al-Mulla on the struggle for freedom

Ahmed Al Mulla has published four volumes of poetry including ‘Thalla Yataqassaf’ (1995), ‘Khaleef Wa Mael Kanesyan’ (1997), ‘Sahm Yahmos Bi Ismi’ (2005) and ‘Tamareen Wahsh’ (2010). He has previously spoken on American radio programs concerning the protests in Saudi Arabia. You can find some of his poetry here

Last week, Al Mulla told the Institute for Public Accuracy:

There are many of the same issues here as in Egypt and Tunisia. About 70 percent of the people are young and frustrated with no rights, no freedoms, no jobs when they graduate. Our women’s rights situation is probably the worst in the world. After seeing others protest, people are becoming more aware, more are connecting online. There have been small protests recently, in various places and there’s the call for big protests on Friday. The government is spending money to make people feel better, but it’s not about money. The government tries to divide people, Shia or Sunni, but it’s not about that. It’s about the freedom to speak, it’s about the right to protest, it’s about human rights. Some political prisoners have been freed, but it is not enough. They have to announce a new, real kind of change. The government got the Mufti to issue a fatwa against protests, that it is against Islam — but people will not follow this.

I just returned from a demonstration in Qatif — 200 protesters demanding freedom and the release of prisoners held for more than 16 years.

Like many intellectuals in the Saudi human rights movement, Ahmed Al Mulla is a busy person living under the constant threat of retaliation in a complex political situation. So I appreciated even the relatively small amount of time he was able to devote to answering a few questions. His answers have been edited as little as possible; even where a language barrier exists in direct transcription, the meaning of those answers is clear.   

Politicalcontext.org: A couple of days ago, King Abdullah again ordered sweeping increases in government spending, including $67 billion on housing. Earlier you said that the government couldn’t spend their way out of protests and dissent. But what if they spent a great deal more, as they seem to be doing? Is there a threshold amount that would calm the dissenters, or are structural reforms the only way?

Ahmed Al Mulla: You referred to a single pattern of decisions (government spending) which will benefit the class of corrupt government only. [But] there are two very dangerous decisions: First, strengthen the security forces on one hand, second and support of the extremists religious, this is more dangerous to the future of the country than before.

The prevention of exposure to the Mufti and senior clerics and publications in the review of the system and the Ministry of Information, which is intended to further restrict freedom of expression, is a throwback and a derogation of the margin of freedom of expression in the media in Saudi Arabia, which suffered severely from the control and reached the point of suffocation.

The demands that were sent to the king, and the continuing appeals for reform, have been and continue to strive towards achieving the dignity of the citizen. [This is] not achieved by money alone (which is the right of the people and not a gift from any) those demands are headed: the constitutional monarchy, law and legislation, separation of powers, the election in the parliamentary assemblies, the elimination of administrative and financial corruption in the government, and the formation of an elected Government.

PC: Do you believe the Saudi government, in sending troops to Bahrain, has irreparably damaged relations with the United States, to the degree where the U.S. might not offer the kind of rhetorical support for the Kingdom that might help in calming current unrest?

AAM: The military forces to Bahrain, (90% Saudi forces) shows [that the] Bahrain government handed over its political will to another State. The claim that these forces are the so-called Peninsula Shield; it is the beginning of the end for the Gulf Cooperation Council.

As for U.S. policy toward this intervention, I think that the weapons used in the brutal suppression against unarmed civilians were U.S.-made weapons. Great sadness when measured in human lives and freedom of exchange for oil.

Duplication of U.S. policy in the region gradually degrades the value of the U.S. political discourse. People are comparing the reaction of the U.S. government to what happened in Bahrain and the reaction to what is happening in Syria or Iran or Libya, all of repressive regimes and tyrannical and brutal. For this you’ll find the Arab peoples feel hopeless about the U.S. government.

PC: You have said that the situation for women in your country is among the worst in the world. Can you describe the role that Saudi women are playing in the current protests? And do the men in the independence movement recognize the need for women’s emancipation? 

AAM: I think that women rights in Saudi Arabia are the worst in the region and in the bottom of the world. [The regime] does not deal with women as an independent person, but always subordinate to men, which is under the control of religious bodies, and government-sponsored.

The claimants’ freedoms (women and men) understand the awareness that the oppression of women is part of the human rights lost in Saudi Arabia.

PC: Many mainstream media sources seem to paint the Saudi picture differently than the rest of the region due to fears of some kind of disruption in global oil supplies if unrest, or independence movements, reach a certain level in Saudi Arabia. Does this seem unfair and misplaced to you? What would you like to tell the rest of the world concerning their tendency to prioritize oil pipelines over freedom?

AAM: I want to say to the world: Is the value of oil more important than people’s rights and dignity? Human justice is at stake.

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About Matt J. Stannard

Policy Director for Commonomics USA, longtime writer, speaker, and legal & policy consultant on economic justice and public deliberation.