Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Saudis Find Solace Not in Mosques, But in Seductive Soap Operas

CDHR Comment: Despite an intense campaign by Saudi authorities to re-enforce adherence to Islamic values, more Saudis are watching soap operas and other worldly dramas than going to mosque during Muslims’ most holy month of Ramadan (http://asharq-e.com/news.asp?section=7&id=26276). Spear-headed by King Abdullah and his top religious and government agents, the autocratic and theocratic Saudi regime is intensifying its customary efforts to convince the increasingly unreceptive Saudi population to follow the state’s imposed religious teaching and practice of total submission to the ruling family.

In light of the Arab Uprising, many Saudis are aspiring to a participatory political structure which their rulers argue is an unsuitable Western concept, therefore antithetical to Muslim belief. The cornerstone of this new and highly politicized anti-democracy campaign is King Abdullah’s gargantuan project (the largest to date) to enlarge Islam's holiest shrine in Mecca at a cost of 80 billion Saudi Riyals or $21 billion (http://arabnews.com/saudiarabia/article491057.ece).

The King’s top religious authority, Mufti Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Al al-Sheikh, has declared peaceful protest by democratic reformers as un-Islamic, divisive, and a threat to the state, or in this case, the theocratic and autocratic ruling dynasties (http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2011/03/07/saudi-clerics-condemn-protests-as-un-islamic/). Another top religious cleric, Sheik Saleh Al-Fawzan, is inciting religious condemnation of Saudi men and women who are opposed to child marriages. He “…issued a religious ruling to allow fathers to arrange marriages for their daughters ‘even if they are in the cradle’. (http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/world/cleric-fights-ban-on-child-marriage/story-e6frf7lf-1226104619386). Even the former intelligence chief and ambassador to the US and UK, Turki Al-Faisal (King’s nephew), has been recruited to denounce those who do not “pay allegiance” to his family as non-Muslims (http://aawsat.com/details.asp?section=4&issueno=11910&article=630097&feature).

The intense, expensive, and highly politicized religious fervor rehearsed and blasted through the Saudi state controlled media by the highest authorities in the land has been orchestrated in response to ominous external and internal developments. Externally, the Saudis are surrounded by contagious public revolutions against tyrannical and corrupt Arab regimes. Since the Saudi people suffer from the same social symptoms that sparked the unprecedented Arab Uprising, many observers are predicting that Saudi Arabia is ripe for political turmoil regardless of the Saudi royals’ massive monetary handouts and harsh reprisals against democratic reformers. However, the most deadly threat to the absolute ruling Saudi dynasty is domestic.

Internally, a fast growing number of Saudis, especially among the social media generation, are more interested in seeking tangible, worldly rewards rather than going to mosque and being told how to live their lives. A recent (link above) report indicates that more Saudis are watching soap operas and other non-religious programs at times when they are supposed to be praying and/or fasting, especially during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. In other words, Saudis are spending their time in front of their TV sets, Satellite channels, or computers tweeting each other and the rest of the world about gender mingling, women’s right to drive, freedom of expression, corruption, and job opportunities, to name a few.

Until the advent of modern technology, specifically social media and satellite channels, many of the Saudi people had been isolated from each other and from the rest of the world. This was due to the Saudi regime’s heavy-handed censorship of information and destructive use of religion to turn their subjects against each other, non-Muslims, Muslim minorities (Shi’a, Sufis, Baha’is and Ahmadis), and other Sunni Muslims who do not adhere to the austere Saudi brand of Islam, Wahhabi doctrine. The tyrannous Saudi elites do not seem to understand that the world is not flat anymore and their people, especially the Facebook generation, are affected by global progress and events. In reality, an unprecedented number of Saudi citizens are realizing through social media that Islam has been used as a tool of oppression, denial, deprivation, and exploitation by their absolute ruling dynasty.

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