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Asked what impact the Al-Azhar conference would have in changing the nature of today’s Islam, Alyami responded, “It is a very sobering warning against radical Islam as practiced by the Saudi state internally, and a lethal doctrine upon which Saudi policies are predicated.” He continued:
The Al-Azhar declaration could have made a big impact on many Muslims, especially intellectual men and women, minorities, and millions of Muslims who resent the Saudi influence on their lives, as well as on countries, and relations with non-Muslims. Sadly, the Al-Azhar declaration was hardly mentioned in Arab and Muslim media, print or visual. It was not mentioned in Western media either. This is due to two factors: Saudi influence on global media and fear, especially in the West, of being accused of being ‘Muslim bashers.’ CDHR was the only entity that held a major conference in the US House of Representative to discuss the Al-Azhar scholars’ warning against the Wahhabi threats to Muslims and non-Muslims. It was, however, covered by the US Alhurra Arabic Satellite, which is watched all over the Arab World.
Alyami also explained what changes he seeks with Saudi Arabia and to what extent U.S. administrations been helpful or obstructive: “[I would like to see] the people of Saudi Arabia both men and especially women empowered.” Alyami elaborated:
Because of its well known and documented influence on our government, private institutions, many think tanks, and mosques in America, the Saudi government is highly protected in the U.S. With a few exceptions in the US Congress, other branches of our government and many of the men and women who run them consider CDHR’s public and unabashed promotion of democracy in Saudi Arabia as problematic – especially at a time when the Administration is bending backward and forward to appease Arab oil rich absolute dictators whose institutions produce some of the most dangerous extremists on this planet.
Given that King Abdullah is in his 80s and his demise is in sight, it only made sense to ask how Alyami believed the potentate’s succession would play out and whether the royal regime was threatened from below by radical elements. Alyami responded:
Contrary to the West’s glorification of King Abdullah, he is neither a reformer nor powerful. In fact, he is considered, by his family and subjects, to be the least capable and decisive candidate for king. The real power is in the hands of the remaining powerful Sudairi brothers, namely the ailing Crown Prince and Defense Minister, Prince Sultan, the religious extremist Prince Salman, governor of the Saudi central region – including the capital, and the ferocious Minister of Interior, Prince Naif.
Succession may not be smooth. Crown Prince Sultan is too ill to rule and may die before Abdullah. Prince Naif was appointed by the King to become second deputy to King Abdullah, because of the Sultan’s lengthy illness, but that does not guarantee ascendance to the thrown. Naif is loathed by most citizens, especially the youth, because of his heavy handedness through the vicious religious police, which he controls. Many members of his large family dislike him. These scenarios could create a palace revolution especially if the Third Generation of the ruling Saud dynasty compete for the throne. They are more competitive, less connected to one another and harbor different views on how to run the country’s domestic and foreign affairs.
Alyami also explained how he envisioned reform in Saudi Arabia with respect to the status of women, minorities, religious freedom, and democratization in general:
True reform is impossible under the present Saudi political structure. The institutions are not designed to include public participation. They are designed by one family and for one family, as evidenced by the name of the country, Saudi. The family imposed its austere doctrine, Wahhabism, which represents less than 10% of the population, on all the people. The Quran and Sharia’h, Islamic Law are the constitution and the law of the land and because they discriminate against women, minorities and non-Muslims, there can be no equality or freedom of any kind.
Ali Alyami’s dream of democracy in Saudi Arabia may be far off but as he puts it: “As long as my brain works, I will continue the struggle.”
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