Saudi Arabia Is Scrubbing Hate Speech from School Books. Why That’s a Win for the Trump Administration

Reality a bit more nuanced but yes, reflects progress:

Students in Saudi Arabia, like so many around the world, have traded in-person classrooms for logging onto an app during the COVID-19 pandemic. But they’re also experiencing other major shifts in Saudi Arabia’s official, country-wide curriculum, with new reforms stripping out lessons of hatred toward the “other” – whether Christian, Jewish, or gay – and dictats to defend the Islamic faith through violence.

The Kingdom’s latest batch of textbooks has for the first time removed sections calling for non-believers to be punished by death, and predicting an apocalyptic final battle in which Muslims will kill all Jews, according to a report released Tuesday by a Jerusalem-based think tank that analyzes global curricula for extremist and intolerant views.

The “trend line is cause for optimism,” says Marcus Sheff, CEO of the nonprofit Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education, or IMPACT SE. “We do see a significant change…a real institutional effort … at the highest levels to make a change to modernize the curriculum to remove offense.”

That said, the books, which are used in the public K-12 curriculum and made freely available throughout the Arab world, still characterize Jews and Christians as “enemies of Islam.” They say that infidels “do not have any good deeds” and will spend eternity in hell, according to the report, made available exclusively to TIME prior to its publication. “No question about it, there is still a way to go,” says Sheff.

It’s a potentially critical change in a country that has been widely criticized for teaching and exporting its strict interpretation of Sunni Islam across the Muslim world. Roughly two-thirds of the Saudi population is under 30, but an old guard of Saudi royals, religious scholars and long-serving government officials remains both powerful and deeply conservative. The curriculum is taught at Saudi Arabia’s some 30,000 schools inside the country, available to all its citizens, as well as at Saudi schools overseas, according to the Saudi embassy in Washington’s website. The free textbooks are also downloaded by teachers throughout the Sunni Muslim world, reaching potentially millions of students every year.

Trump Administration officials say the changes are proof that Saudi Arabia is turning a corner on extremism, thanks in part to their quiet lobbying to put textbook reform near the top of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s Vision 2030 plan to modernize the Kingdom. A former senior State Department official says President Donald Trump helped facilitate MBS’s reform drive by paying attention to the Kingdom’s fears of Iran’s regional ambitions. “By countering Iran, and engaging privately with them on human rights issues, we have expanded the space for MBS to modernize the Kingdom, and continue the reforms that he has wanted to make,” the former official says.

A State Department official tells TIME that the Trump Administration is “encouraged by the report that finds positive changes in influential textbooks used throughout Saudi Arabia,” adding that the Administration supports “textbooks free of intolerance and violence” and is also backing the development of a pilot Saudi teacher training program. Both officials spoke anonymously in order to describe sensitive and private conversations with the Saudis.

A Saudi official, asked to comment on the broad outlines of the IMPACT-SE report, tells TIME that “education reform is an ongoing process that will continue into the foreseeable future,” as part of Vision 2030, with the “development of more effective teachers and students … as one of its primary goals.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the controversial subject.

Fahad Nazer, spokesman for the Saudi embassy in Washington, told a virtual audience in November that Saudi education officials have found “some material that was deemed objectionable … offensive” in the Kingdom’s textbooks, and made “a very concerted effort to remove all of it from the entire curriculum,” and replace “this offensive material with lessons that promote moderation, toleration and peaceful coexistence.” The IMPACT-SE report did not find new material had been added for the deleted sections in the latest revisions, however.

This is the second major revision of the nation’s textbooks during the Trump Administration. Last year’s version dropped many of the worst racist and anti-Semitic references but was still “suffused with extremism,” Sheff says, spreading the kind of hateful ideology that has fueled attacks on westerners from 9/11 to the 2019 shooting of U.S. personnel at Naval Air Station Pensacola by Saudi Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, an officer of the Royal Saudi Air Force, who killed three Navy Airmen. Alshamrani, who was 21 when he carried out the attacks, would have studied the earlier, more extreme, unaltered version of the texts, in which Sheff says “the West was blamed for for every conceivable evil.”

One of the report’s peer reviewers, David Weinberg, Washington Director for International Affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, says “some of the most intolerant parts of the curriculum have now been removed, which is truly remarkable,” including the removal of passages calling for the death penalty for adultery, acts of homosexuality and perceived acts of magic. But he agrees problematic passages remain, including references to Jews who commit wrongdoing being turned into “real monkeys,” and passages that “encourage enmity and demonization toward infidels and polytheists,” a blanket term used for Jews, Christians, Shi’ite Muslims and other perceived nonbelievers, Weinberg says. “They’re not there yet.”

Ali Shihabi, a Saudi author and political analyst based in New York and Europe, says curricula reform in Saudi Arabia has been underway since 9/11, and “accelerated” under MBS, but that the effort has been “resisted by a ‘conservative deep state’” in the Saudi education ministry. “The process has been one of two steps forward, and one back, but forward nonetheless,” he says.

MBS has made landmark social reforms since taking power in 2017, advancing women’s rights in particular by allowing them to drive, get a passport and travel abroad without the permission of a male guardian. But for watchdog groups like Human Rights Watch, those reforms don’t offset acatalog of human rights abuses, including the military campaign against Houthis in Yemen that has killed scores of civilians, the jailing of women’s rights activists, and the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was dismembered and disappeared by Saudi officials at their consulate in Istanbul.

MBS had initially been feted as an agent of change, named one of TIME’s most influential people in April 2018. But Khashoggi’s brutal killing in October of that year drew widespread international condemnation and raised fundamental questions over the young Crown Prince’s commitment to basic human rights. MBS has denied knowledge of the plot, and in September, the Kingdom sentenced eight people to long prison terms for taking part in the brutal extrajudicial killing.

President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to “reassess” the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia, giving priority to “democratic values and human rights.” In a statement on the two-year anniversary of Khashoggi’s death, Biden said, “Saudi operatives, reportedly acting at the direction of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, murdered and dismembered” him, adding that the Saudi journalist and his loved ones still “deserve accountability.”

‘Words and deeds have to match.’

The MBS-blessed reforms to the 2020 textbooks include removing most references to Jihad, broadly defined as the fight against enemies of Islam and interpreted differently across the Muslim world. The previous version included an example that declared violent Jihad as the pinnacle of Islamic teaching. Just a decade ago, Sheff says, the curriculum centered around preparing students for Jihad and martyrdom.

The texts no longer include the anti-Semitic trope that “Zionist Forces” run the world and are plotting to expand Israel’s territory from the Nile to the Euphrates, according to the IMPACT-SE report. And for the first time, a key Saudi religious teaching has been deleted that describes an end-of-days battle between Muslims and Jews in which all the Jews would be killed.

Ali Al-Ahmed, a critic of the Saudi government from the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Gulf Studies, confirms the latest textbook editions no longer include references to this final battle, also called the fifth sign of Armageddon – which he said included the Jews being “annihilated” – nor the sections saying that apostasy, adultery and homosexuality are punishable by death. A chapter concerning Jihad was also removed, says Al-Ahmed, who has done his own independent review of Saudi textbooks. “The fact that the Trump Administration is in power made it easier, because they have a stronger relationship,” Al-Ahmed says. “I give them credit for it.”

But, he and others caution, simply removing the references is not enough. “If you don’t talk about Jihad, you leave it for others to interpret. You need to talk about it the right way,” and replace the hateful material with “more proactive instructions on how to deal with other faiths.” He points out that Saudi scholar Dr. Hassan Farhan al-Maliki is still jailed in Saudi Arabia and facing a possible death sentence for allegedly confessing to the crime of “calling for freedom of belief” and criticizing some of the more extreme practices of Saudi Salafi Wahhabism, the strict sect of Islam upon which Saudi Arabia was founded.

Farah Pandith, author of How We Win on how to defeat extremism, agrees the Kingdom’s “words and deeds have to match.” Pandith was part of efforts to encourage Saudi education reform during the Bush Administration and as the Obama Administration’s first Special Representative to Muslim Communities, after the attacks of 9/11, in which most of the hijackers were Saudi. Pandith says while the latest textbooks have removed “some horrifying things about homosexuality and sorcery” and altered language that called for violence against nonbelievers, the changes need to be matched by steps to counteract the “billions” the Kingdom has spent to export textbooks and clerics steeped in the uncompromising Wahhabi sect’s interpretation of Islam.

“You’ve got to be able to say it is okay for different countries…to have Muslims practice Islam the way they would like to,” Pandith says. The Saudis haven’t added anything to teach “respect for the diversity of Islam,” she says. “By omitting that, they’re already saying their way is the only way.”

Source: Saudi Arabia Is Scrubbing Hate Speech from School Books. Why That’s a Win for the Trump Administration

Blood money from Saudi Arabia arms deals casts Canada as an international sellout

Good commentary by Rita Trichur:

What’s the price of human dignity?

That’s the question that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau must ask himself as his government maintains a twisted economic relationship with Saudi Arabia, which boasts one of the world’s worst human-rights records.

As the Trudeau government pledges a feminist economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis and vows to fight systemic discrimination, Canadian arms sales to Saudi Arabia are inflaming the war in Yemen, according to a recent report published by the UN Human Rights Council. That five-year conflict, which is effectively a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, is systematically brutalizing women and children.

Marked by widespread child starvation and endemic sexual violence, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen has become so gruesome that the independent experts who penned that UN report are urging the UN Security Council to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court for possible war crimes prosecutions.

Yet, for unfathomable reasons, Canada continues to do billions of dollars worth of military business with Saudi Arabia’s repressive regime. That blood money is casting Canada as an international sellout on human rights and emboldening Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), the kingdom’s de facto ruler.

MBS’s repressive behaviour inside and outside the kingdom has plumbed new depths since the assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul two years ago. So, why is Ottawa maintaining such tainted financial ties?

Although Canada imposed a temporary ban on new military export permits after Mr. Khashoggi’s murder, that moratorium was lifted this past April.

“That sends absolutely the wrong message,” said Stephen McInerney, executive director of the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), a Washington-based non-partisan, non-profit organization that supports democratic reform in the Middle East.

“There has been no progress on any human rights issues in Saudi Arabia since the killing of Jamal Khashoggi … Unfortunately, the human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia have only proceeded to get worse.”

Much of the controversy over Canada’s military exports to Saudi Arabia have centred on Ottawa’s decision to honour a $14-billion contract to sell light armoured vehicles (LAVs) built in London, Ont., by a subsidiary of U.S. defence contractor General Dynamics Corp.

When lifting the permit moratorium in April, Canadian officials claimed their military export review had produced no evidence the Saudis were using Canadian-made machinery to commit human-rights violations.

Perhaps they weren’t looking hard enough.

Even before the recent UN Human Rights Council report named and shamed Canada for fuelling the war in Yemen with arms exports to Saudi Arabia, there were already videos of Canadian-made military vehicles being used in that conflict.

Separately, the Crown corporation that brokered the LAV deal was slammed by the Auditor-General’s office in July for failing to scrutinize export contracts for human-rights risks.

Human-rights groups are putting pressure on Canada to cancel the LAV deal, but Ottawa is reticent. Government officials have previously warned of hefty financial penalties and the loss of Canadian jobs.

In an effort to assuage Canadians last April, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said the terms of the LAV contract had been amended. Ottawa’s financial risk would be eliminated in cases “where future export permits are delayed or denied” should it be proved the kingdom is using the LAVs for non-defensive purposes.

Clearly, our federal officials need remedial lessons on mastering the art of the deal.

Make no mistake, Canada is already paying a steep price for being willfully blind to Saudi Arabia’s transgressions. As Ottawa bends over backward to fulfill the ill-conceived LAV contract, MBS is making a mockery of Canadian sovereignty.

Not only did he allegedly send a hit squad to Canada in a foiled attempt to assassinate former Saudi intelligence officer Saad Aljabri about two years ago, Mr. Aljabri is facing a new murder threat by MBS’s agents, The Globe and Mail reported in August. The very idea a Khashoggi-type killing could potentially transpire on Canadian soil is horrific.

To make matters worse, Canada is shoring up the kingdom’s flagging financial fortunes by importing billions of dollars in Saudi oil – more than $3-billion worth last year alone – even though the kingdom’s crude oil price war with Russia earlier this year made collateral damage of our energy industry.

In order to preserve what’s left of Canada’s credibility, Ottawa needs to slap a tariff on Saudi oil imports and ban military exports to the kingdom until it substantially improves its human-rights record.

Canada should also boycott next month’s virtual Group of 20 leaders summit, which will be chaired by MBS’s father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Under no circumstances should Canada give Saudi Arabia cover at that international gathering.

Doing business with a repressive regime is no doubt profitable for Canada, but that quid pro quo comes at a cost: the loss of human life. The world expects better of us.

“Up until now Canada has had a reputation of being a country that does adhere to its principles and values and does respect human rights,” Mr. McInerney said. “These kinds of moves do legitimately threaten and erode that positive reputation.”

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/commentary/article-blood-money-from-saudi-arabia-arms-deals-casts-canada-as-an/

Rich families buy second citizenship in post-Ritz Saudi Arabia

Of interest:

“I have clients who escaped the Ritz-Carlton event because they were prudent enough to secure second citizenship beforehand. … The moment you hire me you are admitting to yourself that there is a danger,” David Lesperance, a Canadian lawyer who has advised dozens of affluent Gulf families since the early 1990s, told Al-Monitor.

In November 2017, 381 prominent Saudi businessmen, royals and officials were caught up in the “anti-corruption” crackdown led by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

Saudi authorities reportedly pressured a quarter of Ritz-Carlton detainees, including through physical abuse, to hand over to the state assets worth a total of over $106 billion.

Ryan Bohl is a Middle East analyst at the US-based geopolitical-­risk firm Stratfor. He told Al-Monitor anti-corruption campaigns led by Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are now “used to seize assets of those the state sees as disloyal.”

In this context, the global trade of second citizenship — often associated with tax evasion, money laundering and corruption — is viewed by some Gulf nationals who are exposed to risks related to political oppression and regime change as a strategic way out.

Cyprus and the bin Laden family

Preferred destinations are publicly known — Cyprus, Ireland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and the Caribbean islands, among others — but firms operating in this secretive industry do not disclose how many Gulf nationals bought second citizenship.

Internal documents leaked to the Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera earlier this year revealed, however, the extent of Cyprus’ citizenship by investment program: about 2,500 individuals from 74 countries bought a Cypriot passport between 2017 and 2019.

Although Russian, Chinese and Ukrainian citizens account for the vast majority of names listed in the Cyprus Papers, applications from Saudi Arabia have “increased since the rise of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman,” Al Jazeera’s investigation reads.

In 2019, Cyprus granted citizenship to the relative of a Saudi national detained at the Ritz-Carlton and to a member of the bin Laden family — once one of the most influential in the kingdom. During the crackdown, three bin Laden brothers were detained and the family’s conglomerate effectively taken over by the state.

According to The Independent, some wealthy Saudis moved assets “out of the region” in the days following the Ritz-Carlton arrests, and Capital Economics’ senior emerging markets economist Jason Tuvey noted “a jump in Saudi residents placing banking deposits abroad.”

GCC states either prohibit dual citizenship or condition it on government approval but are not actively cracking down on second citizenships, Bohl believes. “They are, however, trying to find ways to ensure that such secondary passports do not become shields by which dissidents can attack their policies with impunity,” the analyst said.

Saudi operatives abducted three princes living in Europe between 2015 and 2017 and a year later a hit squad killed and dismembered Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, who was a US resident with three children who are US citizens.

“It is beyond having a second nationality,” said Ziad Karkaji, managing partner of a Beirut-based firm specialized in residency and citizenship programs. Speaking about Al-Waleed bin Talal, a high-profile Saudi investor who holds a Lebanese passport, Karkaji told Al-Monitor, “With all his power and connections, he still stayed in the Ritz-Carlton.”

In September 2020, a group of Saudi dissidents, most of them in exile, crossed a red line by announcing the formation of a pro-democracy political party to call for peaceful change and combat what they referred to as state “violence and repression.”

“Every society is three meals away from chaos”

Beyond political considerations, getting second citizenship is “a long-standing practice” for Gulf businessmen and investors who travel frequently and want to avoid visa processing time, Bohl recalled. According to The Henley Passport Index, a power ranking of passports, the Cypriot travel document is twice as powerful as the Saudi.

Given the complexity of navigating national and international legislation, high-end intermediaries such as private bankers and family offices often recommend wealthy individuals seeking second citizenship to hire an expert. Some jurisdictions, like Malta, publish the names of foreigners who have acquired citizenship in the island state.

Applications for second passports from GCC nationals also soared about a decade ago during the Arab Spring. Some senior officials and members of royal families fear social discontent could lead to shifts in power and their assets being frozen.

As the global economy is expected to gradually shift away from carbon-intensive energies, the ruling families in the Arab Gulf states face unprecedented economic and sociopolitical challenges to reinvent their oil-dependent model of governance. Experts warn the change could cause political instability and eventually increase demand for second citizenship.

“Well, as Lenin said, ‘Every society is three meals away from chaos.’” Things happened, you know; in Tunisia it started with a fruit seller,” Lesperance commented.

Source: Rich families buy second citizenship in post-Ritz Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is buying shares of Alberta’s oil sands companies. The ‘ethical oil’ argument is dead.

As I worked with a number of those mentioned in the article, couldn’t resist reposting this. Alykhan Velshi, a really bright guy, has of course in a further irony, ended up shilling for Huawei despite the overall Conservative suspicion of China:

When Norway’s massive pension fund announced that it had sold its positions in major Canadian energy companies like Suncor and Canadian Natural Resources, Alberta’s premier came out swinging. “To be blunt,” Kenney told reporters last week, “I find that incredibly hypocritical.” After all, he said, Norway continues to develop its own oil and gas resources, including the 2.7 billion barrels that are contained in the new Johan Sverdrup field that is already producing 430,000 barrels of oil per day.

For those of a less pugilistic orientation, Norway’s decision might be seen as a prudent act of financial diversification; one that Alberta could easily emulate if it wanted to. If Norway is already producing oil and benefitting from the tax revenue and jobs it creates, there’s no need for them to double down by also investing their one-trillion-dollar nest egg in companies that also depend on the price of oil. This isn’t a philosophy that’s particularly popular in Alberta, mind you, given Alberta Investment Management Corporation’s well-documented history of being more heavily exposed to the energy sector than other pension funds.

But while Kenney was quick to call out Norway’s alleged hypocrisy in selling their shares of oil sands companies, he has so far remained silent about the news that Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund was busy buying them. As Bloomberg reported last week, it now owns 2.6 per cent of Canadian Natural Resources, and two per cent of Suncor, which makes it the eighth and 14th largest shareholder in the two companies respectively. Ironically, it also added to its position in Equinor, the Norwegian company that’s developing the Johan Sverdrup field.

As Premier, Kenney has been at the forefront of recent efforts to paint Canadian oil and gas as more “ethical” and therefore more worthy of investment. This narrative, which was first advanced by Ezra Levant, has been deployed most visibly in the conversation about the Energy East pipeline and the decision by New Brunswick’s Irving Refinery to buy its oil from Saudi Arabia rather than Canada. But Kenney’s affiliation with it goes back much further than that. It was his former director of communications and parliamentary affairs, Alykhan Velshi, who created the “Ethical Oil Institute” in July 2011, and his former executive assistant, Jamie Ellerton, served as its executive director between January 2012 and April 2013.

Kenney is hardly alone in his fondness for Levant’s narrative, though. Its core tenets—namely, that Canada’s legal, environmental and regulatory standards make our oil more inherently virtuous—are practically articles of faith in the oil and gas industry. In an interview with the Calgary Herald, Nancy Southern, the CEO of Atco and a founding member of the Business Council of Alberta, was quick to invoke it: “I think it is time for people to stand up and demonstrate true moral leadership about the fact that the world is better because of petroleum products,” she said.

But if Saudi Arabia’s oil is a conduit for its anti-democratic and values, as ethical oilers like to argue, then what about its money? That money comes from the sale of its own ethically-challenged oil. Suncor and Canadian Natural Resources can’t prevent Mohammed bin Salman or the Saudi Public Investment Fund from buying their shares, but those who have been more than happy to bang the drum about Saudi Arabia’s moral and ethical failings could speak up here.

So far, though, they’ve been conspicuously silent. Take Eric Nuttall, a fund manager with Ninepoint Investments and a frequent purveyor of the ethical oil narrative. In a recent tweet, he sounded positively delighted by the development, and made no mention of the ethical dimensions of Saudi Arabia’s money. “So much for Canadian oil companies not being attractive to foreign investors!” He wrote. “We are 100 per cent invested in Canada given highly attractive valuations and improving takeaway capacity and it’s interesting that Saudi Arabia agrees with us.”

In fairness to the industry, it’s hardly alone in speaking out of both sides of its mouth about Saudi Arabia. The federal government recently renegotiated a $14 billion deal that will allow the sale of Canadian-made light-armoured vehicles to the kingdom (a deal that was originally struck by the Harper government back in 2014). And MBS hasn’t been shy about using Saudi Arabia’s wealth to buy its way into companies and communities throughout the west, including a recent bid to buy the English Premier League’s Newcastle United football club.

But if Canadian oil and gas companies are going to accept Saudi Arabia’s money, it’s probably time for their proxies to retire arguments about the immorality of their oil. After all, as Jason Kenney will tell you, nobody likes a hypocrite.

Source: Saudi Arabia is buying shares of Alberta’s oil sands companies. The ‘ethical oil’ argument is dead.

Saudi Arabia Rebuffs Trump Administration’s Requests to Stop Teaching Hate Speech in Schools

“Modernization” only goes so far:

In 2018, Saudi women took to the streets around the country, permitted to drive cars themselves for the first time. That same year, unrelated men and women were allowed to mix at a Formula-E car race and concert extravaganza, listening to DJ David Quetta and the Black Eyed Peas—unthinkable not long ago in a country where religious police used to enforce a strict separation of the sexes.

That’s part of the raft of highly visible social reforms that Saudi Arabia has launched in recent years as the Kingdom tries to reposition itself as a modern global economic powerhouse. But you don’t have to look far to see a very different country, where officials plotted the violent murder of The Washington Post’s Jamal Khashoggi, where a young Saudi Air Force officer studied before deploying for training in Florida where he shot three U.S. Navy Airmen last fall, and where millions of children go to school every day and read state-sanctioned hate speech in their text books.

For a White House that seems to have given Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a wide berth on the first two incidents, the Trump Administration has been pushing hard behind the scenes for the last one to change. Since 2017, when President Donald Trump marked Saudi Arabia as a key regional ally, the Administration has seen the state’s textbooks — which teach a version of fundamental Islam so extreme it was used by the Islamic State — as a security threat and a key part of its efforts to fight terrorism.

Two new reviews of Saudi government textbooks show not much has changed, despite these efforts. In 2019, Saudi students were still being instructed to keep westerners at a distance, to consider Jews “monkeys” and “assassins” bent on harming Muslim holy places, and to punish gays by death. All those sentiments are included in text books that are required reading for Muslim children in Saudi Arabia from kindergarten through high school, according to a review by Jerusalem-based Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education, or IMPACT SE, a nonprofit whose research has been cited by the UN and the Anti-Defamation League.

A second organization highlighted similar disturbing material. “Students are being taught that Christians, Jews and other Muslims are ‘enemies’ of the true believer, and to befriend and show respect only to other true believers, specifically the Wahhabis,” the strict sect of Islam upon which Saudi Arabia was founded, says Ali Al-Ahmed of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Gulf Studies, in a preview for TIME of his own meticulous review of the 2019 textbooks due out in March. The two groups have shared their results with U.S. government officials.

Both reviews acknowledge there have been some changes to the Saudi curriculum, designed to appease the Kingdom’s western critics. Al-Ahmed notes that in one passage, the phrase “Christians and Jews” has been replaced with phrase “the enemies of Islam,” but says other parts of the same textbook make clear that Christians and Jews remain in the ‘enemies’ camp. Marcus Sheff, CEO of IMPACT SE, says some of the most notable changes in the curriculum fit in the Crown Prince’s ambitious modernization plan for the country, called Vision 2030, such as depicting women as entrepreneurs. “But they are encouraged to be entrepreneurs while not befriending westerners they would do business with,” Sheff adds.

The slow pace of change and the Saudi government’s refusal to do more has been a source of disappointment to Trump, a senior administration official tells TIME. Trump joins a long line of U.S. leaders, UN bodies and human and civil rights groups that have been pressuring the Saudi government for decades to stop proselytizing its harsh version of Wahhabi Islam, spread inside and outside the Kingdom by its clerics’ sermons online or given in mosques that Saudi money built. The government freely distributes hundreds of thousands of Wahhabi Qurans around the world, and makes its school textbooks freely available on the internet. Since the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., largely by Saudi-born jihadists, every administration that has occupied the White House has asked the Saudi government to revise what it teaches its children, with only glacial change as a result.

Trump Administration officials say they’ve been working in private to point out the dangers of this kind of hateful language to Saudi officials, but they are reluctant to publicly criticize Riyadh’s foot-dragging. “We can’t just demand from a sovereign nation ally an immediate fix,” a second senior administration official told TIME. “The Saudis are crucial to our national security efforts in the region, mainly those in places like Yemen… They have provided us a lot of support in those fights that we share.”

The Bush and Obama Administrations also kept similar critiques behind closed doors, according to Farah Pandith, who served in both administrations and was appointed first-ever Special Representative to Muslim Communities. “They were our partners in the post-9/11 context in fighting al Qaeda. We wanted to do this in a way that allowed them to keep a little bit of dignity but also show leadership,” she told TIME. “It should not be others forcing them to do the right thing.” She says the Saudi government has dismissed some of the more extreme preachers and taken some of their most hate-filled sermons off the internet, but much of the material is still accessible, including in the national curriculum. “It’s a question of scale. I traveled to 80 countries as representative to Muslim communities. None has more influence than the Saudis.”

Saudi critics like say the curriculum is perpetuating extremist violence, including the actions of Saudi Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, 21, who is accused of opening fire on U.S. personnel at Naval Air Station Pensacola on December 6th, killing three Navy Airmen and injuring eight. Alshamrani, an officer of the Royal Saudi Air Force, had armed himself with a legally purchased 9mm Glock handgun, only days after reportedly showing videos of mass shootings to other Saudi students training at the base as part of a longstanding U.S. military training program.

Terrorism expert Mia Bloom says the material Alshamrani would have ingested at school back home was so extreme that the State Department found it was used by the Islamic State during its reign of terror in Iraq and Syria. “Until ISIS started publishing their own ‘Al-Harouf’ series of children’s textbooks, ISIS used Saudi textbooks in their schools to train the cubs of the caliphate,” Bloom told TIME, a subject she detailed in her 2019 book, Small Arms: Children and Terrorism. “The Saudi textbooks promoted a view of the world that was virtually indistinguishable from ISIS ideology: hatred of the west; hatred of other Muslims, that are not Sunni; hatred of Jews and antagonism towards women.” Al-Ahmed says the Saudi officer would have had to prove mastery of such malevolent material to rise in the military ranks.

None of the Trump Administration officials would go so far as to blame such lessons for the Saudi officer’s alleged actions, but they concede if the education had been reformed shortly after 9/11 in 2001, when Alshamrani would have been around two years old, it may have helped. “Unfortunately, Pensacola is a reminder — a harsh one — of work left undone,” an administration official said.

“You could go back to 2001,” a second senior official added, referring to the attacks that killed more than 3,000 Americans. “If they had changed their textbooks in 1975, we’d be in a better spot.” The administration officials interviewed for this article spoke on condition of anonymity to brief TIME on their sensitive discussions with the Saudi Kingdom over the issue.

Among the gradual changes IMPACT SE notes in the 2019 Saudi textbooks include striking several references of Christians as “pure infidels” or unbelievers, and removing the statement that “Christianity in its current state is an invalid and perverted religion.” The Christian faith is no longer defined as a “colonial religious movement that subjected Muslims to Western ideas and stopped the spread of Islam,” the report said, all of which are positive changes if your number one supporter is President Trump, whose base is largely made up of evangelical Christians.

Also deleted is the claim that the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” are “a secret Jewish plan to take over the world,” and that Jews believe the world was promised to them and that it’s their right to control it. But Zionism is still described as a racist movement that uses money, the media, drugs, and women to achieve its goals, according to IMPACT SE’s review.

A Saudi official told TIME that the Kingdom “is implementing a comprehensive program to reform and improve all its educational institutions,” which include “ongoing” reforms to the textbooks. The official declined to comment on an advance copy of IMPACT-SE’s report made available to him by TIME.

Amb. Nathan Sales, the State Department’s Acting Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, asked the Saudi government to make further changes to the textbooks, but was rebuffed, a senior administration official told TIME. The State Department declined to comment on Sales’ interaction, but a senior State Department official said that “the Saudi government has worked to modernize the educational curriculum in public schools” but that “some textbooks containing derogatory and intolerant references to Shia and non-Muslims remained in use.” Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the friction with the Kingdom.

Administration officials are still hoping for bigger reforms this summer, when the government publishes the 2020 edition of the K through 12 textbooks.

Pandith says the textbooks aren’t the only thing that needs changing, as the hundreds of thousands of Saudi Korans distributed around the world also portray Wahhabism as the only true version of Islam. “If you want to demonstrate that you see the folly of what you did before…let’s do a buyback program,” she says, an idea she outlines in her 2019 book, How We Win.

“If MBS (the Crown Prince) wanted to overhaul the viewpoint that they are the only Muslims that matter, he could do it in a minute with the kind of government they have,” she says. “The choice to do it piecemeal means their heart isn’t in this endeavor.”

Source: Saudi Arabia Rebuffs Trump Administration’s Requests to Stop Teaching Hate Speech in Schools

Saudi Arabia to grant citizenship to ‘innovative’ individuals

Will be interesting to see the results in a few years’ time:

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman ordered a royal decree on Thursday granting citizenship to foreigners in fields such as medicine and technology in a bid to diversify the kingdom’s economy.

The changes are part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s economic and social reform plans to diversify the economy and steer it away from its reliance on oil.

It aims to attract “scientists, intellectuals and innovators from around the world, to enable the kingdom to become a diverse hub… that the Arab world would be proud of,” Saudi Project, a government platform, said on Twitter.

Experts in the fields of forensic and medical science, technology, agriculture, nuclear and renewable energy, oil and gas and artificial intelligence will be considered.

Individuals in the fields of arts, sports and culture are also included in the order to “contribute and support the enhancement of Saudi competencies and knowledge that will benefit the general public.”

The current Saudi citizenship law allows the naturalisation of foreign citizens who have held permanent residency in the kingdom for at least five years.

But the requirement of a Saudi sponsor has restricted foreigners living in the country from gaining permenant residencies.

Last month, the kingdom issued its first batch of “premium” residence visas for investors, doctors, engineers or financiers who wish to live in the kingdom.

The programme offers foreign nationals and their families long-term visas and privileges that were previously not available to non-Saudis.

The kingdom also announced the launch of its new tourist visas in September that will grant individuals multiple entries to the country.

It’s expected the announcement will create one million new jobs for the country by 2030.

Source: Saudi Arabia to grant citizenship to ‘innovative’ individuals

ICYMI: Change in the Saudi Birthplace of Islam Is Eyed Warily Worldwide

Having lived in Saudi Arabia 1986-88, hard to see the country attracting many tourists, although the desert is imposing and some of the modern architecture, incorporating elements of Islamic design, is impressive:

The world’s 1.8 billion Muslims look to one country above all others.

As the birthplace of Islam, Saudi Arabia is a symbol of purity for many who direct their prayers toward Mecca wherever they are in the world.

Source: Change in the Saudi Birthplace of Islam Is Eyed Warily Worldwide

The New Saudi Diaspora Why MBS Should Worry About Asylum Seekers

Interesting article and of course, we have our examples (e.g., Ensaf Haidar, wife of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi):

At first glance, it may not seem as though Saudi university students, disgruntled princes, Islamists, and teenage girls have much in common. But members of all these groups are leaving Saudi Arabia and seeking asylum in the United States, Canada, and Europe. Their numbers may be modest compared with those of the refugees who have fled Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria in the past two decades, but these asylum seekers are a political problem for the kingdom—one that its supposedly modernizing young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), can no longer ignore.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 815 Saudi citizens applied for asylum in 2017, a 318 percent increase from 2012. And that’s not counting the unofficial asylum seekers—those living abroad in a state of self-exile, delaying their return to the country for fear of repression. The murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi was one of them.

This new, outspoken Saudi diaspora poses several problems for the kingdom. For one, Saudi Arabia spends millions of dollars on scholarships in order to lessen its dependency on foreign labor; it cannot then afford to lose its highly educated young citizens to exile abroad. The diaspora is also creating an image issue: behind every asylum seeker is a story of injustice and repression that punctures the official narrative about the new, modern Saudi Arabia, flush with economic opportunity. For this reason among others, asylum seekers strain Saudi Arabia’s relationships with their host governments, who are all allies and partners of the regime in Riyadh.

THE RUNAWAYS

MBS has trained particular resources and attention on young Saudis, promoting artistic and entrepreneurial initiatives designed to open the economy and reward youth creativity and talent. He even started an initiative, the Misk Foundation, dedicated to empowering youth to participate in the Saudi economy. But the very demographic MBS courts produces the majority of asylum seekers leaving the country. These newer exiles join the many students who obtained government scholarships to study in Europe and the United States during King Abdullah’s reign from 2005 to 2015 and failed to return to build the “new Saudi Arabia” afterward. By the time MBS had consolidated his power and become the new face of Saudi Arabia in 2017, many of those students were inclined to be skeptical of the crown prince’s promises of creativity, opportunity, and prosperity. They feared repression if they returned to Saudi Arabia—especially if they had taken advantage of freedoms abroad to criticize the regime and expose its shortcomings.

Their fears were well-grounded, as the Saudi regime isn’t hard to provoke. A tweet, a WhatsApp message, or participation in an academic or policy event deemed hostile to the regime is all it might take to wind up on a suspect list in MBS’ Saudi Arabia. The regime maintains tight control over its citizens abroad, watching their every move with developed surveillance technology. The scandal of pervasive surveillance was exposed after the Khashoggi murder, when it became public knowledge that the regime had hacked the phone of a young activist, Omar al-Zahrani, in Canada and recorded his communication with the slain journalist.

Young, educated asylum seekers undermine Saudi propaganda about the new opportunities on offer in the kingdom. And exiled princes challenge the myth of solidarity and cohesion in the royal family. The latter image has eroded since the purge of November 2017, when MBS detained high-ranking princes, including Alwaleed bin Talal and Mutaib bin Abdullah, at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh. The flight of a handful of princes who have taken up residence in Europe underlines the fact that under the new crown prince, the regime has changed its strategy from buying off problematic princes to threatening them with humiliating detention.

Young, educated asylum seekers undermine Saudi propaganda about the new opportunities on offer in the kingdom.

Prince Khalid bin Farhan al-Saud is one example of a dissident prince who has eroded the regime’s power from afar. From exile in Germany, Prince Khalid announced his defection in 2013 and started a media campaign to undermine MBS. In interviews with the BBC and other news organizations that the regime considers hostile, Prince Khalid accused the royal family of hypocrisy for enjoying prohibited pleasures such as drinking alcohol and partying while denying them to ordinary citizens, and he characterized King Salman as a “Machiavellian monarch.” After the Khashoggi murder, Prince Khalid announced that he had escaped from a kidnapping attempt in Germany, allegedly ordered by the crown prince.

Exiled princes tend not to come from the core House of Saud lineage that has ruled the kingdom since 1933. But in a family dynasty in which the king is supposed to be primus inter pares, the first among equals, even the defection of a minor prince fractures the foundation of dynastic rule. Now that it is clear that MBS is willing to punish, kidnap, and humiliate defectors, exile has become the only solution for disgruntled princes. Prince Khalid was lucky. Other princes, such as Saif al-Islam al-Saud and Sultan ibn Turki al-Saud, were kidnapped from Europe and returned to Saudi Arabia and have not been seen since.

The newest emerging category of Saudi exiles are the so-called runaway girls. More than 1,000 girls between the ages of 18 and 25 have left Saudi Arabia under MBS, fleeing the strict control—and in some cases, physical and sexual abuse—their guardians impose on them. Their difficult journeys risk bringing even more restrictions and punishments upon them if they are forced to go back to Saudi Arabia.

A recent high-profile case has drawn international attention to the runaway girls. On January 5, 2019, 18-year-old Rahaf al-Qunun was detained at the Bangkok airport while on her way to seek asylum in Australia. Qunun spent several days in a hotel room at the airport before Canada granted her asylum. Without the support of many Saudi and non-Saudi activists, she might have shared the fate of other, less fortunate runaway girls: repatriation to the kingdom against her will. The regime now acknowledges this problem to the extent that it allowed the airing of debates on the issue in state-sponsored media after Qunun fled the country. Public discussion of the problem may imply that the government is starting to take it seriously; it may also be a way for the government to deflect the crisis and shift the blame to the girls’ parents or guardians.

A UNITED FRONT

Saudi exiles are extremely diverse in their political orientations but united in their grievances against the kingdom under MBS: restricted speech, corruption, the marginalization of women and minorities, and abuses of human rights. The latter concern dominated an opposition conference, hosted by the new forum Diwan London, in December 2018. Among the participants were the Washington-based activist Hala al-Dosari, now Jamal Khashoggi fellow at The Washington Post; the feminist activists Amani al-Ahmadi and Amani al-Issa; the newly exiled Islamists Sultan al-Abdali, Muhammad al-Omari, Ahmad bin Rashid al-Said, and Mohammed al-Qahtani; and the Shiite activist Fuad Ibrahim. They were joined by exiles who had fled the kingdom in the 1990s, such as the physics professor Muhammad al-Massari. All presented their visions for a different Saudi Arabia. Some advocated practical measures to stop repression and detentions; others called for the overthrow of the regime.

The regime’s worst nightmare is a critical mass of dissidents abroad—especially high-profile, articulate ones.

So far, neither Saudi Arabia nor the host governments have taken asylum seekers seriously as a political force. But as their numbers grow and they begin to form a united front, these exiles will become an increasing embarrassment to the regime and its allies. Many are now regular commentators for the global news media, analyzing Saudi affairs in ways that are bound to shift public opinion against the regime. For example, the detained Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul has a brother, Walid, in the United States and a sister, Alya, in Belgium, both of whom campaign for her release and regularly inform the news media about the abuse and torture to which she is subjected. Vigorous reporting by human rights organizations, UN agencies, and the global news media makes it harder for host countries to deny these Saudis asylum.

In the past, Saudi Arabia depended on its allies to deport its exiles. It considers granting them asylum an act of betrayal. Take Canada, for example, whose diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia suffered owing to its criticisms of the regime’s human rights abuses and its hosting of outspoken exiles such as Ensaf Haidar, the wife of Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and several years in prison for setting up a liberal Internet forum. Zahrani is also in Canada, together with almost 200 other young asylum seekers. The regime fears that exiles who gain asylum will encourage others to flee. Its worst nightmare is a critical mass of dissidents abroad—especially high-profile, articulate ones. Khashoggi’s murder attests to the policy of zero tolerance for such critical voices abroad: they are treated not as nuisances but as national security threats. The more exiles arrive in the lands of the crown prince’s best allies and supporters, the more Riyadh will pressure the host governments to play down their numbers and deny them refuge.

Even after the global outrage following the murder of Khashoggi, Saudi repression remains fierce, and MBS continues to make enemies. He will not be able to buy off, intimidate, or eliminate all of them, and the diaspora will continue to grow. But he may try to stem the exodus, for example, by banning activists and dissidents from travel—keeping his friends close and his enemies closer.

Source: The New Saudi Diaspora

Gurski: Why Canada should not be in a hurry to re-embrace Saudi Arabia

Good piece by Gurski:

I never worked in foreign affairs or for Foreign Affairs (or Global Affairs Canada, as it is now known, having once been designated External Affairs and many other names), but I know a little about the subject. After all, you cannot work in intelligence for three decades without picking up a thing or two on how nations manage their relations with other states.

I do know that at times a country has to hold its nose when engaging with a foreign partner whose actions are seen as, at a minimum, distasteful or, at a maximum, grotesque. In this light, I cannot imagine how the current crew at the Lester B. Pearson Building in Ottawa are handling Canada-U.S. ties, given the present occupant of the White House.

There are also those who maintain that some level of relationship is better than none. A complete cut in ties removes any form of influence or dialogue, although there are other fora (the UN for example) where national representatives can grab a coffee and chitchat about all things statecraft.

On the other hand, there are times and circumstances where a government has little choice but to close doors. Sometimes a state will engage in activities that are truly heinous and no country should allow such to go unpunished.

Saudi Arabia is now in that club. Canada has chosen, at least under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to criticize the kingdom over a variety of incidents; ranging from its treatment of women activists, to its disastrous war in Yemen, which is directly causing a massive humanitarian crisis. The event that overshadows everything, however, is last year’s murder and dismemberment of a Saudi dissident, Jamal Kashoggi, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Everyone knows that he was killed on orders from the very top of the Saudi royal family, their incredulous denials, notwithstanding. In return, the Saudis have suspended relations, booted our ambassador in Riyadh out and recalled their own man from Ottawa. There has not been a lot of movement on this file in some time although Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and her Saudi counterpart have been “discussing ideas to de-escalate.”

Into this mix comes the Conservative Party, whose foreign affairs critic, Conservative MP Erin O’Toole, has said that a government led by Andrew Scheer will try to “win some trust” with the Saudis by focusing on improving business links. O’Toole acknowledges that for some Canadians re-establishing ties with Saudi Arabia will be a “tough sell.”

Ya think?

I fail to see why so many states are still fawning over Saudi Arabia, and especially over the king-in-waiting and international star Muhammad bin Salman (or MBS as he is called: some say the acronym stands for “Mister Bone Saw,” a reference to how Kashoggi was cut up). Yes, yes, it is all about oil and MBS’ plans to modernize his nation and the need to have a stalwart ally against the real menace: Iran.

Except that the crown prince’s words are probably just that: words. Saudi Arabia remains a heavily conservative Wahhabi Muslim state that has exported its hateful strain of Islam worldwide for decades and crushes any internal dissent forcefully. True, there has been some crackdown on the more egregious religious hate-mongers, but this leopard is highly unlikely to change its spots any time soon.

I find it hard to believe that many governments, including the U.S., have been giving the kingdom a pass in the post 9/11 period. Recall that 15 of the 19 hijackers that fateful day on Sept. 11, 2001, were Saudis, bred on Saudi Wahhabi Islam. And for all the noises about a mellowing of Islam in the desert kingdom, there is ample evidence that Saudi-trained imams are continuing to spread Wahhabi poison around the world. And this is what an ally does?

I realize that money trumps values a lot of the time. In this regard, there is a lot of money to be made by having a robust relationship with Saudi Arabia, particularly in the defence sector. But what is more important: trade or the values Canada stands for?

So O’Toole, if your party indeed gains power in October, have a re-think over going cap in hand to the Saudis. We really don’t need them. Their actions are antithetical to who we are. I’d like to suggest that you be a little more Canadian yourself and ditch this idea.

Source: Why Canada should not be in a hurry to re-embrace Saudi Arabia

Saudi Kingdom Tries To Prevent More Women From Fleeing

Not surprising:

After an 18-year-old Saudi woman, who said she feared death if deported to Saudi Arabia, arrived in Canada, she directed some of her first public commentsback home. Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun encouraged other women to flee family abuse and the oppressive controls imposed on them by the conservative kingdom.

She has just showed them how to do it.

Alqunun was offered asylum in Canada in January after she barricaded herself in a Bangkok hotel room, from where she mounted a sophisticated social media campaign that sparked international headlines and sympathy.

But in Saudi Arabia, Alqunun’s successful escape from a prominent family spurred harsh media attacks and a social media narrative accusing Western nations of using Saudi women to undermine the kingdom. Still, the domestic campaign is unlikely to deter other young women from fleeing the kingdom, say activists who are in touch with women planning to run.

The high-profile story is “going to set off copycat scenarios,” says Bessma Momani, a Middle East specialist at Canada’s University of Waterloo. “I think women will feel more emboldened.”

She explains that Alqunun’s story has provided a virtual road map for others and revealed a network of groups willing to work out logistics and offer escape strategies. “Rahaf’s story showed there is a quasi-organized group that is willing to help,” Momani says.

Alqunun’s asylum in Canada comes as Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, often referred to as MBS, portrays himself as the leader who is steering the country toward a more secular modernity.

Movie theaters have reopened. Saudi women can now drive cars and attend sports events. The kingdom says it has made it easier for women to enter the workplace.

“Any way you slice it, MBS has done more change than anyone in the last 50 years,” says Ali Shihabi, who heads the Arabia Foundation, a pro-Saudi think tank in Washington, D.C. Reform is “an art rather than a science,” he says, “and being an art, there are going to be mistakes. He can’t let the snowball get too big.”

The crown prince is also behind a harsh crackdown on political dissent. That includes jailing more than a dozen women’s rights activists who were vocally pushing for an end to Saudi Arabia’s guardianship system, which allows male relatives to control most aspects of a woman’s life.

“When MBS came, he made it clear: ‘You either listen to me, or you go to jail,’ ” says Yasmine Farouk, a visiting scholar in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

“He is that much of a dictator that he is able to impose measures that other kings were too scared to impose on society. We are talking about a regime that wants to do everything under its control.”

But the growing number of Saudis seeking refuge abroad undermines Prince Mohammed’s international image as a leader bringing new personal freedoms to the kingdom, says 30-year-old Samah Damanhoori. She was granted asylum in the United States last year after she accused her family of abuse and declared she was no longer a Muslim.

“OK, we are going to let you drive — happy now? Stop running away,” she says, to explain her views on reforms introduced by Prince Mohammed. “But more women are running away. We have to do that to get them full rights.”

In Saudi Arabia, men wield vast powers over women. The guardianship system gives male relatives control over women’s travel, education, medical treatment and marriage. An app called Absher allows Saudi men to specify when and where a woman can travel. The service includes a message alert when a woman uses her passport at an airport or a border crossing.

Fleeing even an abusive home is a crime. If caught, a woman can be jailed or housed in a government-run shelter until her guardian permits her release.

Alqunun’s success was a “huge shake,” Damanhoori says, because she comes from a prominent family, the daughter of a powerful governor.

“The more powerful the family, the harder for a woman to escape, because of family connections. But she made it.”

Alqunun’s family status may explain why the Saudi government has ramped up a campaign to stem the flow. In recent weeks, the General Department for Counter Extremism released an online video as a warning. The animated message compares women who flee the country to young men who join terrorist groups — and blames a vast international conspiracy that it says is aiming to damage the kingdom’s image through its youth.

“Everyone who tried to escape, they compare her with ISIS — it’s horrible,” complains Damanhoori.

“This is not going to end,” says Hala Aldosari, a Saudi activist and writer based in New York. “It will get worse.”

Aldosari says the government blames “agents of the West” and “women activists” as the culprits of the alleged global plot to destabilize Saudi Arabia, “rather than the grievance of the women.” She says the common denominator among those trying to flee is that they are “women who come from controlling or abusive families” and who believe that running is the only way to survive.

The rise of social media has opened a window for people to compare Saudi women’s rights with women’s rights in other Gulf nations. “Saudi women are now more aware of the restriction they live with, and they take higher risks to escape,” Aldosari says.

Reliable statistics in Saudi Arabia on these escapes are hard to find. Some families don’t report a missing daughter for fear of social stigma in a society where a family’s honor is tied to the behavior of women.

Figures on Saudi asylum-seekers abroad, however, are known to have increased. Saudis made 815 asylum claims worldwide in 2017, compared with 195 in 2012, according to the latest tallies published in the United Nations Refugee Agency’s database. Their destinations include the U.S., Canada, Germany, Sweden, the U.K. and Australia.

In 2011, Manal al-Sharif was jailed for nine days in Saudi Arabia for protesting driving restrictions. Her activism cost her the custody of her son, she says. Now she is living in self-imposed exile in Sydney.

“These proclaimed reforms are just refurbishing a huge cage,” al-Sharif says of the changes in Saudi Arabia. “We can’t run a country when half of it is depending on the other half.”

But inside the kingdom, the crown prince is largely viewed as trying to change that equation, says Farouk at Carnegie. “It really is a paradox. It’s the strong man who is able to impose reforms without being afraid of the consequences.”

But Saudi officials know the consequences of the continued flight of women. That undermines the international message that Saudi Arabia is modernizing and that Prince Mohammed has opened a new era of freedoms.

Alqunun’s father, who is a governor, released a statement in January saying that the family had disowned the runaway and calling her “the mentally unstable daughter who has displayed insulting and disgraceful behavior.” That prompted the 18-year-old to drop her family name, she told reporters.

Her father reportedly denied physically abusing her or trying to force her into marriage, according to The Associated Press.

So far, Farouk says, the domestic response, even among women, is to condemn Alqunun’s escape as reckless.

“They don’t care,” Farouk says. “Things have changed in their daily life: They can drive to work, they can go to concerts, play sports. As long as their daily life has been made easier, why care about politics?”

But there is still a limit to personal freedoms. “They will care when they try to contest a policy at work,” she says. “They will be jailed or interrogated, or their fathers will have to get them out of the police station. They will care, but it will take time.”

Source: Saudi Kingdom Tries To Prevent More Women From Fleeing