On the missing custodian and a courted court jester

In Middle East on 29. November 2017 at 20:52

AN ILLUTION CAN deceive masses, what are journalists to think they can escape its spell? Except they should – and would have, had they been true to their credentials. What Thomas L. Friedman wrote in The New York Times a week ago regarding his high hopes of a Saudi reform not only promotes propaganda, but also justifies authoritarianism in its fight against liberty.


This pattern covers many a layers of developments in Middle East. Each time people demand rights, representation and progress, the authoritarians strike back – and each time, there tends to be willing ears in countries with the said rights and representation.

The Custodian gets his hands free – and the people with their legitimate demands are brushed off. Off course with mild terms as we do look at the situation gravely, but look at the vision, at least one taxi driver and another young student is amazed, and that together makes up a people, who are we to say what is right or wrong.

But the Custodian is missing – the rightful mind you. The people, those that want liberty, they are missing in the equation.

Khadim Haramayn Sharifayn – The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, is the title the Saudi King has granted himself – the crux to the monarch’s legitimacy in these recently occupied lands. Though merely a formality as to legitimize a rule, it has its consequences that has put the Muslim world a hostage to the rulers in Riyadh.

Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, the founder finalized the conquest by inviting delegates from all Muslim majority areas to discuss the future of the holy cities of Medina and Mecca, the aim to legitimize his consolidation. Many a delegates did call the bluff, but the host was interested in formalities. The summit of 1926 was a sham – as is the vision 2030 or the anti-corruption drive of today.

Since then, when faithful’s try to do their obligated duties of pilgrimage, the Saudis has exploited it to spread their propaganda. That their reign is legitimate, that their control is that of a benevolent Custodian – and that their interpretation is supreme.

The fanaticism they have spread – both pre and post 1979 debacles, has been spread with the conviction that likeminded Muslims world over would also submit as their own citizens submit to their rule.

That has not happened well enough – and cannot happen without also the use of force. The authoritarian nature Saudis have experienced cannot be replicated outside its realm, and with the revolutionary winds sweeping cross, it is only a limited and costly enterprise.

But do they learn. Saudi Arabia took a shift for even more authoritarian turn, one which eliminated the consensus that previously prevailed within the House of Saud. With recent drives, other influential family members either are in jail, or sign off a bail and total loyalty.

Same goes for the independent media houses, total control. Followed by a sweeping control over the Guard and Army – The Prince is now the sole definer of what is and is not. And the direction is to stir the region in turmoil as to make relevant his role as a King to come, and a commander of Muslims in the ongoing tussle with Iran – both of nations that quite love this confrontation as they can suppress their domestic and regional calls for rights and liberty.

At recent the toll is a costly countercoup in Egypt, the de facto control of Bahrain and persecution of its population, the tussle with Qatar and a humanitarian crisis, deliberately engineered in Yemen. These developments are part of the package when Friedman portray recent royal decrees a fresh step towards reform.

Many a voices who promote and cheer up these kinds of authoritarian leaders, also propose an Islamic reform, or complain why Islam lacks such a capability to adapt to modernity both within rights-specter but also on the scientific ground.

It is quite a feat to support those who actively fight these reforms and progresses while demanding that these things to magically happen simultaneously.

Middle East as any other region in the world is not hermetically closed – it found the influences of enlightenment and the French revolution, only to see it quashed by either the colonial overlord, or their authoritarian inheritors.

What little modernity that prevailed became the collateral damage of the cold war, and the counter-revolution managed to solidify itself – always letting some air out, but always a steady hand on the pressure cooker – a hand writers as Friedman sing odes of joy for.

The demanded reform, the literature on enlightenment, the democratic and rights based order, is not foreign to these lands. It has been fought for before – and much has been written in books long forgotten. What needs to be done is for the free part of the world to support and encourage that the thoughts lingering under the dustbin can re-emerge and again put up a fight.

Friedman noted in end of his remarks by quoting Hamilton that the Prince works as he is running out of time – that at least is true, but not because the Prince is so busy reforming, rather that the revolt is coming and tables will be turned, what court will these jesters then entertain? If Hamilton is to convince Friedman then “if you stand for nothing, Burr, what’ll you fall for?”


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