Human rights in the Kingdom: A rejoinder to Swedish minister |
Arab News - 20 August, 2012
Author: Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
WITH deep respect, I would like to write a few lines in response to your statement about human rights issues in Saudi Arabia.
Being a Saudi I was surprised to hear you say that serious human rights crimes are committed in Saudi Arabia. I thought you were talking about an outlaw state not a G-20 country, which is the most stable country in a violent surrounding.
I am not sure if you have ever been to Saudi Arabia, talked to Saudis or read Saudi newspapers. And I am not sure if you knew that Sweden is one of the most respected and admired countries among many Saudis, even to those who have never been to Sweden. I have been to Sweden once long time ago. I loved it and I enjoyed talking to many Swedish people and I admired the way the country is run. Saudis are more exposed to Sweden than Swedes are to Saudi Arabia.
Saudis were exposed for many years to Swedish products such as Ericsson, Volvo, IKEA and I like to listen to ABBA, the Swedish pop/rock group. Swedish Trade Council in Riyadh knows more than I do. Saudi Arabia is the biggest trade partner of Sweden in the region. Both countries have enjoyed continuous warm relations for a long time.
There were many English and Arabic articles that were written about Sweden in Saudi newspapers. Every single article was positive about your country, the Swedish people and the Swedish way of life. I myself wrote more than one article about Scandinavia in general, but mentioned Sweden. And everything I wrote was positive about Sweden.
Maybe you didn't know that the Saudi press has more freedom than what many people think. So, our government gives us the space to breathe. Saudi Arabia is not a dictatorship by any means.
The question many Saudis have for you is. What really prompted you to say what you have said about Saudi Arabia? I am not sure if there was any reason that made you talk about the human rights crimes. Many Saudis asked what human rights crimes you are referring to.
You assumed the office of defense minister about five months ago, and there was a mention of a Swedish company getting a deal to build a weapons' plant in Saudi Arabia. So, my question is, is the plant already built? I don't think so. Papers were signed, but as a defense minister you should know how many arms deals that are singed between countries see the light of the day. Also, as a defense minister, do you know that the main job of an arms company is to sell arms, either Swedish or non-Swedish. And wouldn't a country the size of Saudi Arabia need to protect itself from any outside aggressor? Sweden's armed forces are one of the strongest in Europe, even though your neighbors are Norway and Finland. And as far as I know, you used to be in the military. So, you must have studied about your 1809 war with Russia when you lost your western half (Finland). If you were more armed, you would have won that war. In this article, I will not talk about the Swedish Vikings wars and their love to conquer other people's lands.
You talked about our governing bodies. But, do you know it is the Saudi people not the government who oppose the fast reforms which were planned and intended by the king and the governing bodies. Saudis are religious by nature and are not in favor of any changes that are not in conformity with Islamic law. When a Saudi woman visits Sweden, she will still wear the hijab. Does any Saudi government official force her to wear it in Stockholm? No, they wear it because they believe in it. People outside the Kingdom should know that people from different places have different cultures and way of life. Life in Stockholm is different from that in Kiruna. I am not saying everything is perfect in Saudi Arabia and yes many Saudis want some social and political reforms. But, what you have said about Saudi Arabia is far-fetched.
The Arab world is undergoing an uprising called the Arab Spring, but Saudi Arabia is still the most stable country in the Middle East. And it is normal to have winds coming from a neighboring country locked in turmoil. There are violent changes taking place in countries surrounding Saudi Arabia and it is normal for some young men or women to be affected by the events. And this is true even for Europe. We saw riots from London to Athens. The police had to act to protect themselves and the properties especially if the riots had foreign fingerprints. It is the duty of every government to protect the internal security of the country.
One of the reasons why the Swedish people are admired by the Saudis is that modern-day Sweden is not a country that tries to change the lifestyle of others to conform to the lifestyle in Sweden. Look at Iraq after Saddam and Libya after Qaddafi. I will not mention Syria, because it is a sad story. We, in Saudi Arabia, are happy with what we have. We have free education, free health care, no income tax, no property tax and no military draft. And we only pay 45 cents per gallon at the pump. Now, who needs an elected official who breaks every promise he or she makes during the election's campaign. Again, there are many things that Saudis want to improve. But, social changes are very difficult to be implemented in a short time. Saudis are comfortable with the political system. And it is very difficult for a Swedish person to understand it. Finally, I don't recall Saudis giving you the authority to speak on their behalf, and I am sure there are no Saudis at your borders asking for political asylum.
Thank you your concern and would be honored to meet you if you ever visit the Kingdom.