Should Democracy Be Forced on Saudi Arabia?
Someone, outside of Saudi, asked me this question yesterday. If I were just arriving in this country, I would think this a common sense answer! I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in a democracy, right?? Who wouldn’t want the freedoms of religion, speech, church and state, and the right to bear arms? Americans ability to basically do as we please seems to make the general public happy. And what works for us should work for everyone else…
In comes Saudi Arabia. This country, I must say, is unlike any other. Saudi is an absolute monarchy that has been heavily portrayed in media to be a trap, a desolate place for its women, and lacking of freedoms that “everyone” enjoys. Women can’t drive, its laws restrict most women from working (although this is changing), drugs and alcohol are prohibited in the country, it is gender-segregated, it is illegal to protest or say anything negative about the person in power, and women must cover in abayas.
The only thing that many people outside of Saudi don’t get the chance to see is that many Saudis may find the freedoms of democracy as detrimental. They love their country, how its run, and don’t want all of the changes. Democracy and Saudi don’t quite go together. And weirdly, I kinda agree.
You can’t separate church and state here. Saudi is 99.9% Muslim. Religion runs every part of everyone’s day, even if you’re non-Muslim. It is ruled by Sharia law (Islamic law) that has interpretations based on Saudi’s culture. Religious police are given the duty to enforce a dress-code standard. And shops shut 5 times a day, for 30 min-1 hr each, for prayer that blasts on loudspeakers across the country. As a Christian, I don’t get a free pass to forgo all of these rules. To me, yes, it can be a headache. Especially when I want to go straight from work to buy bread at 3pm, but I must wait outside the shop till 4pm which postpones my nap, my workout, and dinner… However, for the other 99%, this is a constant reminder to keep God first, no matter what you have on your schedule. And I’m sure that whatever religion you (my readers) follow, you can appreciate that.
Freedom of religion for Saudi would not only start some uproar within the country, but possibly from Muslims outside. Saudi is like the ‘Holy Land’ for Muslims around the world. Islam hasn’t gotten the best rap after extremist acts from Al Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks. And consequently, even Muslims who believe in peace (the majority) have received a lot of hatred and assaults. Like the Saudi women, many foreign Muslims don’t see the cover-up as an obligation, but a preference. Saudi is an escape for many of these individuals; a place where they can wear their hijab (scarf) and/or niqab (face covering) without harassment. And just as Christians may cherish the journey to Jerusalem and would like for it to stay a Christian site, every Muslim hopes to keep Mecca and Medina of Saudi Arabia.
Driving only seems like a freedom/luxury to western minds, depending on whom you ask. I personally enjoy wandering aimlessly around town, with the windows down, blasting whatever I want. However, there are those who see driving as a chore. It’s thought to be a luxury if you can afford your own personal driver, being able to sit in the back and take a nap until you reach your destination. That’s how many Saudi women see it. They don’t have to worry about pumping gas, following directions, insurance, tune-ups. Plus, in this country of only male drivers, you can imagine the impatience and swerving of the speed-demons behind the wheel. I wouldn’t want to drive in this country either!
Same thing with working.. How many women in the U.S. wouldn’t mind being able to have a life as a housewife, especially if you are given a nanny and a maid? Your time is basically freed up of all responsibility. Once again, I’d probably more enjoy a life working a purposeful job. But in the near future, these Saudi women will be able to work because they want to, not because they have to.
When you first step off the plane into Saudi, there’s a sign that says, “Drug trafficking equals death”. Alcohol is not publicly sold in the country either. Now, there are many days when this country does me in, and I feel like need a drink. But, I will applaud the government for being able to keep a handle on its country by applying these rules. Let’s be honest, drugs and alcohol is the start of many confrontations, accidents, and abuses. To attempt to eliminate the access of these into a country was a smart move. Saudi Arabia is basically run by expats, people who aren’t used to these restrictions. So you may not want alcohol involved, or they’d quickly start voicing their democratic opinions (and get kicked out of the country or jailed).
Lastly, there’s the gender segregation. If I was single, this one would be quite hard for me; but only because in the West, we are in constant interaction with men. Men give a nice balance in point of views. I could always go to my female friends if I want a little gossip and emotion; the men if I need a more logical opinion, less feelings involved. Call that statement slightly sexist if you want. But, more often than not, that’s how it goes.. If I have something heavy to lift, I don’t need to lift a finger. It’s pleasant to have something sexy to look at, and not be ashamed to actually look. Plus, they smell nice… For single expat women, this seems to be one of their biggest complaints. However, for a Saudi woman who has spent her whole life segregated, she can’t really miss something she’s never had. I can imagine that these male-female interactions, for them, would be quite awkward and intimidating. I don’t know the statistics, but in comparison to blended-gender societies, I would believe that Saudi’s percentages of rapes (date and stranger) are significantly less.
Now although I studied Diplomacy, I’m not a huge political person. I wrote all this to say that democracy is just not for everyone. Perhaps one day, Saudi would pick certain features to adopt, but to make any democracy work; you would need the general public’s consensus. Without their participation, you are bound to have a few riots on your hands. Despite how it looks from the outside, I believe the majority of Saudis citizens are quite proud of their country and would be fine without change.