This article belongs to With a Grain of Piquant Salt column.
One recent correspondence that I received about
However, remember what chaos theory says, the flapping of a butterfly's wings in
First, the recent petition. It wasn't lacking for ambition, asking for reforms in the economic, social and political spheres. This can be looked at in two ways. One way would be to read it and wonder, how in the name of all the turtles in the world, do these petitioners think that this would be accepted? Haven't they heard of being focused? Nobody loves a messiah, (if you excuse the pun!) but asking for so many things to be changed in one petition leads one to think perhaps they are theoretical, immature or even childish.
On the other hand, the fact that a reform petition had to be launched on such a broad front leads to the question of why
Linked to the freedom of association request is the request to legitimise the formation of NGOs, which means that associations such as unions, etc. cannot be formed. The petition requested some other administrative reforms such as reforming the Interior Ministry, Public and Government Audit Office, creation of an independent High Court of Justice, etc. One might wonder, as we hear these kinds of demands pretty much all over the world in some shape or form - what's the big deal? Well, it is a big deal when we are talking about
A pet extremely scientific and quantitative theory of mine goes something like this: and is based upon the theory that we only know the value of somebody/something when we no longer have it. To judge the importance of a country, empty out the country of its population. And then think, will the rest of the world really miss the population? Be brutal. Then assume you have actually cut out the country like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Is it a crucial piece or a piece whose removal (while detracting from the whole) can be lived without? In this particular case, I am afraid
So, what did the Saudi Regime do when it received the petition? It bunged ten of the signatories into jail, accusing them of offences ranging from being terrorist supporters to being terrorist ideologues to being thoroughly bad eggs. A whole host of worthies (Arab Committee for Human Rights, the Al-Karma Association for Defending Human Rights, the World Justice Organization, Human Rights First, Amnesty International etc.) complained vociferously about the Saudis being bad, sad and worse. Out of the total 99 signatories, when 10 of the highest profile signatories were thrown into jail, you can very well imagine what happened to the rest. Mind you, some of the people arrested were also previously arrested for signing another reform petition in 2004. Some people never learn, eh?
But, as Sherlock Holmes aficionados would remember in the case of the dog which didn't bark, it is not who shouted, but rather who didn't shout which is interesting. (In the Sherlock Holmes story "Silver Blaze", by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes was able to deduce that the killer was the owner of the stable dog, as the only person at whom the stable dog would not bark warnings at was the dog's owner. Hence, the dog's silence indicated that the only one who could have entered the stable and killed the horse was the dog's owner. Since then, the metaphor of the "dog that didn't bark" characterises any conspicuous silence.)
None of the governments, whether Arab or Western, did or said anything much. The Saudi Government of course wouldn't do anything silly like actually engage in a debate. All it said was: "thanks for the petition, you have been bad boys, off to jail with some of you, the rest of you shut up, as the time for change isn't here yet". Look at what happened with the local council elections. Has it made a difference? Nope! Are the elected members able to change anything? Nope! Does the local bureaucracy report to the elected member council? Nope! So what is it for? A sop!
Which leads one to question, why didn't the western governments say anything? This is where their moral bankruptcy shines through. You see, the sheer hypocrisy comes through everywhere. As was attributed to U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull, who said "he's a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch", which was based on another quote by Thaddeus Stevens who one day came late to a discussion of which of two office-seekers should be appointed. He asked which one was best and an aide said that they were "both damned rascals". "Well," said Stevens, "which one is OUR damned rascal?"
Here's a digression. People of all ilk's are all upset that
However, before you think that this was just a mickey taking exercise against western powers and the Saudi regime, let us take a look at what the respondents actually mean. Parliament, inequality reduction laws, freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, freedom of association, independent high court of justice, etc. Please do not think that all these words mean that the petitioners were asking for a secular liberal democracy. Far from it, it would not be secular, it certainly would not be liberal and well, the word democracy is a fig leaf.
So, effectively, what these respondents are complaining about isn't what you and I would understand as reform. A better word would be replacement. They want a replacement of the current regime and current rules with another regime and a slightly different set of rules. As someone said, be careful of what you wish for, as you might get it. For example, freedom of association does not mean that the expatriate labourers can form a union and demand better working conditions. Freedom of opinion does not mean that Shia missionaries or atheists can talk and speak about what they want. Parliament does not mean that any party can be formed and campaign. Also, justice is not what you and I know as justice based upon a precedent setting, open rule and law based justice system, it's a different justice system (more on this in a later column!).
So, while one might support a reform process, one might also question just what is the replacement that is being proposed. To answer the original question, this IS a small step in the long path for
All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!
PS: and now that Saudi Arabia has arrested 170 suspects, some of whom were accused of wanting to do a 9/11 using airplanes, reform will again be paused or stuck up on a shelf.