Key Saudi Cleric Warns King in Open Letter
On March 15, Sheikh Salman al Oudah warned that Saudi government inaction on political prisoners, poverty and corruption could spark violence in the kingdom. “When tempers are high, religious, political, and cultural symbols lose their value. The mob in the street takes control,” the open letter said on Twitter. Oudah called attention to key challenges facing the kingdom such as rampant unemployment, a housing shortage, and poor health and education systems. “How can a country that relies upon personal connections instead of institutions ever hope to face real challenges?” he asked in the 50-point statement.
Oudah was once a leading critic of the monarchy for allowing U.S. and Western troops into the birthplace of Islam during the 1990-1991 Gulf War. Saudi Arabia imprisoned him for five years. After his 1999 release, Oudah advocated for moderation. He even denounced Osama bin Laden in a statement published on September 11, 2007. The popular cleric and televangelist now has nearly 2.5 million Twitter followers. The following is the full text of Oudah’s open letter to the Saudi government.
1. Your friend is the one who speaks to you honestly. A rational person values the truth, regardless of who speaks it. We are speaking about the nation we love and whose future we are all equally concerned about.
2. We must preserve the gains we have made. Our shared geography should encourage us to work for reform. The alternative is chaos, disintegration, and strife.
3. People here are the same as they are everywhere else in the world. They have their ambitions, their demands, and their rights. They will not remain silent forever if some or all of these things are constantly denied to them.
4. Negative feelings have been accumulating for a long time. I draw what I am saying from numerous people hailing from all sectors and regions of our society.
5. When people cease being afraid, you can expect them to do anything, and if their anger gets to a critical point, then nothing will be able to placate them.
6. When tempers are high, religious, political, and cultural symbols lose their value. The mob in the street takes control.
7. Rising security concerns subject most of the nation’s energies to the demands of a security-centered vision.
8. Every possible suspect has been put in prison. There has been ample opportunity to release the suspects who are innocent, but this has not happened.
9. The prison system has not exhibited any strategic thinking. As a consequence, hatred, vengefulness, and militancy have become rife in our prisons.
10. I support the prisoners, though many of them are dissatisfied with me. Some who have been released have been vociferous in their attacks on me. Nevertheless, it is my duty to come to their defense. Human rights are not limited to those who agree with us.
11. Many members of the royal family are dissatisfied with how our prisons are being managed. This is clear to me from Twitter, from discussions, and from first-hand knowledge.
12. Most of those who, decades ago, were sentenced to dozens of years in prison for allegedly trying to overthrow the Saudi government were pardoned and released after only a few years.
13. There are no clear regulations and institutions to normalize how prisoners are treated. Everything is decided on a case-by-case basis on the strength of a detective’s report.
14. The recent burning of officials’ pictures is a symbolic act that should give us some pause to think. What got it started? Where is this all going?
15. The Bureau of Investigation has complete control over surveillance, arrests, searches, judicial procedures, and sentencing. This causes the denial of a lot of human rights.
16. When a police officer mistreats a prisoner, he is gambling with the nation’s future.
17. Disturbing humanitarian and health conditions have been ignored for so long that they have become complicated and difficult to resolve, and this may be what has motivated some women to act.
18. Official spokesmen express their distress at what is going on. Theirs are voices from the past. Their words have no attraction. They are unconvincing and ineffectual.
19. The security brigade on Twitter and the quasi-governmental news channels label every sincere advisor as a “provocateur” and every caller to reform as “self-serving”. Nevertheless, public awareness is growing more and more.
20. People need to hear news coverage and field reports about the prisons from those who are unaffiliated with the security apparatus. It is wrong that the security interests get to play both judge and jury.
21. Blackmailing citizens by mentioning our nation’s “martyrs” is to sell the blood of our national heroes cheaply (may God have mercy on them). We all support those men, but we also call for releasing the innocent from prison.
22. When people lose faith in their national security agencies, it is not possible for them to take those agencies as a reliable source of information.
23. Pushing for third parties is not a solution. The fact is that the opponents are trying to exploit internal conditions whose causes cannot be ignored.
24. There is smoke and dust on the horizon. We are justified in worrying about what lies beyond. If the security agencies tighten their grip, it will only worsen the quagmire we are in and cut off all hope of reform.
25. After waiting so long, tell us what will reassure us that a new era has begun. Placate our cynicism by surprising us with positive and unexpected news.
26. When the doors are locked, those who are desperate will stop weighing the pros and cons of their actions. Where will they go when those who have tried the open doors have been arrested?
27. Is the Interior Ministry working as hard to find ways to guarantee and secure the release of the detainees as it did to arrest them in the first place?
28. This file should be closed. No one should be left in detention except for those who have clear and legitimate evidence brought against them. This should be declared immediately.
29. I have been briefed on circumstances where prisoners have suffered serious injustices. These include cases of death, physical and psychological abuse, obstruction of release orders, and ignoring judicial verdicts. We have not been provided with any clarification of these matters.
30. Fearing how a prisoner will behave after being released is no excuse to dispense with the rule of law. It is not right to punish thousands of people due to the possibility that a few of them might engage in acts of violence.
31. Measures must be taken to secure the release of the detainees from the Association for Civil and Political Rights (HASM) and the Jeddah reformers. Their rights need to be upheld for the sake of social cohesion, human rights, and God’s mercy.
32. It is dangerous to restrict people to the point that they feel they have nothing more to lose.
33. A citizen’s rights are legitimate and inalienable. They are not a courtesy.
34. Transparency is needed in arrests. Investigations are needed regarding judicial proceedings, the ways judges are influenced, and interference in judicial appointments that affect the justice of the judicial system.
35. It is unreasonable to have investigations and prosecutions carried out by the Interior Ministry, whereas in other countries these procedures are carried out independently or under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice.
36. There have been real infringements of justice in the treatment of prisoners. This needs to be investigated in earnest and the perpetrators need to be punished. Procedures must be put in place to ensure that such infringements are never repeated.
37. Responding to the legitimate demands of the people is not a weakness.
38. Those who are released should have all their rights restored in full. They should be allowed to conduct their lives with dignity, so we can help them to get beyond the past.
39. Causes of societal distress include: financial and administrative corruption, unemployment, inadequate housing, poverty, substandard healthcare and education, and dim prospects for political reform.
40. It is impossible to maintain the status quo. The real question is: Where are we headed?
41. People are worried about the future. They have many questions and they are not getting answers. It should therefore be of no surprise that wealth is flowing out of the country more and more, and maybe our businessmen will soon follow.
42. Like it or not, we are all in the same boat. We must work together to keep it afloat. If the cure is accompanied by a bitter taste, then we must just learn to swallow it and get past it.
43. It is the government’s job to regulate business, not to obstruct it. Preventing opportunities for organizational activities, volunteer efforts, and charitable work will destroy civil society.
44. How can a country that relies upon personal connections instead of institutions ever hope to face real challenges?
45. The people – especially our young people – are asking: Where are the channels of communication between us and our leaders?
46. Many citizens fear anarchy and lawlessness. If their fears are to be placated, they need to see a realistic program of reform – and they need to be allowed to participate in it.
47. Rational people do not want to see a spark turn into a raging blaze that burns their country down. They do not want violence to become the mode of expression.
48. When revolutions are suppressed, they turn into armed conflicts. If they are ignored, they grow in reach and in breadth. The only solution is to take wise and timely decisions before violence is kindled.
49. The chance to do things right might not come again. Things done too late lose their effectiveness. Time is a double-edged sword. It can work for you or against you.
50. God knows that from my heart I do not intend to deceive anyone. Any abuse I may have received from any party is forgiven. I have nothing but goodwill for this country, its leaders, and its subjects.