How liberal is Jeddah for Saudi standards

The schizophrenic state

Saudi Arabia, the paradise for Islamic extremists: 15 of the 19 attackers on September 11, 2001 were citizens of Saudi Arabia. No one knows how many terrorist cells are active in the Kingdom today. The fact is: 2,000 to 3,000 of the 50,000 clerics who preach in the mosques and supported by the state are considered uncompromising Wahhabis who poison the hearts and minds of young Saudis.

Saudi intellectuals now recognize the Wahhabi clergy as one of the sources of terrorism. Some time ago, the reform-oriented daily "Al-Watan" printed a cartoon that has become legendary, showing a moral guard as a suicide bomber, armed with an ammunition belt - but instead of dynamite sticks, the preacher carries paper rolls. They are supposed to symbolize fatwas, because in these Islamic legal opinions some Saudi hate preachers have repeatedly endorsed violence against people from the West. A particularly disgusting example was the subsequent justification of desecrating US mercenaries' corpses in Falluja in neighboring Iraq - an act that was even rejected as un-Islamic by radical imams in Iraq. The preachers of hatred prepare the ground, promise the young people paradise in the event of martyrdom - and some of their listeners then take action.

From extreme warrior of God to radical reformer Mansour al-Nogaidan used to be one of the henchmen of hate. Today he is a happy man. In front of his house in the Malass district of the Saudi capital Riyadh, a canary is chirping happily in its cage. In the corner of his study on the first floor of his small apartment there is an aquarium in which tropical ornamental fish swim in cheerful colors. The 3 3-year-old Mansour, who today writes columns for the newspaper "Al Riyadh", which appears in the capital, provides biscuits, coffee and plenty of cardamom-flavored tea and sits down in the thickly upholstered reading chair. It is said that Mansour is engaged to a 29-year-old woman from the United Arab Emirates. She fell in love with him because she admired his newspaper comments so much, and the two of them wanted to get married soon. Mansour just smiles. Talking about private matters is not acceptable in the kingdom. Mansour speaks in a soft voice, he is a short, plump man with an intense look. He has what is called charisma.

Mansour was not always happy: he used to be a young Koran student full of anger, in whose hearts Salafist preachers had sown intolerance and hatred. The Salafists demand a literal interpretation of the Koran and reject music, philosophy and literature as well as other forms of religion and cultures. Salafists do not know tolerance.

Mansour was born in 1970 in Buraida, a centuries-old caravanserai on the route between Kuwait and Mecca. Buraida is the capital of the particularly conservative Al-Qasim region and a city of extremes: the liberal writer Turki al-Hamad comes from there, as do some of the radical sheikhs who inspired bin Laden. Mansour grew up in a time of Islamic revival: when he was nine years old, young extremists stormed the great mosque in Mecca around the fundamentalist preacher Juhaiman al-Oteibi and held it occupied for days. The message of the mosque occupiers: "The Saud dynasty is making common cause with the infidels", it "imports Western values, secularism and allows women to appear on television". In addition, the royal family, especially the many princes, traveled around in their private jets, investing their money in whiskey, women and gambling. The accusations of Juhhaiman struck the marrow of the royal family, the guardian of the holy places of Islam in Mecca and Medina. After two weeks, the police stormed the mosque, 200 police officers and terrorists were killed. Two months later, 63 of the prisoners, including Juhaiman, were publicly beheaded.

But Juhuhaiman's world of thought lived on. The royal family was forced to give the Wahhabi clergy power and extensive powers to prevent a coup. Mansour grew up in this political climate. Koran schools were springing up like mushrooms, cassettes with radical sermons were being sold in the bazaars, and money was being raised all over the country for the mujahideen who fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Saudi volunteers who perished in Afghanistan were revered like heroes at home - martyrs fighting the wicked. When Mansour was around 15 years old, he began to occupy himself more and more with religious questions: he studied the Koran, prayed and withdrew from his friends. Things went badly at school because he neglected the secular subjects. Mansour met an ultra-conservative preacher named Abdul Karim Ibn Saleh al-Hamid, who took him under his wing. Al-Hamid prophesied Mansour a future as a preacher: In order to get to paradise, he should leave the public school and devote himself entirely to the faith. Mansour became a Salafist, left his family and moved to a Salafist commune. He grew the beard typical of Salafists and renounced all ownership - he became a purist Islamist.

In 1991, Osama bin Laden, known at the time as a hero in the Afghanistan war, called Mansour to Jeddah. He followed the call of his hero at the time, but when he came to the port city on the west coast of the country, bin Laden had already left the country - he had fled to Sudan. Disappointed, Mansour went back to Buraida, where he developed into a charismatic preacher.

But at some point, preaching seemed too little to him. Mansour wanted to become a jihadi and go to holy war for true Islam: in 1992 he and his fellow combatants set fire to the largest video library in Riyadh - the tapes with their dissolute content were supposed to go up in flames. After this first act of terrorism in the kingdom's recent history, a women's welfare center was on the list: "We thought they were striving for the liberation of women. We thought that was un-Islamic," he says. Mansour was caught, confessed to the arson attacks and sentenced to 16 years in prison, but released after two years because of his youth and good conduct.

His sister, a modern woman, brought into his cell books that introduced him to liberal Islamic philosophers. Mansour could not believe it: It discovered a kind, understanding Islam that went beyond the strict, intolerant interpretation of the Koran by the Wahhabi sect that was dominant in Saudi Arabia. Gradually he began to rethink his previous positions. Mansour put off his militant past, went on to study and broke with Wahhabism.

For liberal, progressive Saudis, Mansour has become a symbol of hope: he, who used to throw incendiary bombs, is now campaigning for far-reaching reforms in his country in Saudi and international newspapers. In his internationally acclaimed comment in the New York Times last year, he wrote: "What Saudi Arabia needs is rebirth. We need patience and the ability to face the consequences of our crimes over the past two decades. Only if we do begin to see us as the rest of the world sees us - as a nation that spawns one terrorist at a time - and begin to think about why, we will be able to correct that image and to uproot the root of the evil. " Mansour has gone through a dramatic process of change: from extremist jihadi to radical reformer.

The separation of palace and mosque Adel al-Toraifi, a friend of Mansour and a sharp critic of the government, is skeptical of whether the House of Sauds can fight terrorism effectively. The young political analyst al-Toraifi names the root of the evil: Wahhabism. Mohammad bin Saud, ancestor of today's ruling family of Sauds, concluded a pact with Imam Mohammad bin Abdul Wahhab in 1744: The Sauds sought secular supremacy on the Arabian Peninsula, Wahhab the spiritual one - it was decided from then on to pursue this goal with united forces. A marriage sealed the community of convenience: The son of Mohammad bin Saud, Abdul Aziz, married the daughter of Imam Mohammad. Wahhabism, which emerged from Salafism, became the dominant Islamic sect on the Arabian Peninsula - to this day, every other religion in the country is discriminated against. Even in other Islamic countries, Wahhabism is considered particularly strict and intolerant.

Aristocracy, who can be found in chic cafes like the "Scoler" or the "Y-Cafe" in Riyadh, was also an ardent believer in his youth, not militant and violent like Mansour, but "very, very pious" like him himself says. After a serious car accident in the hospital, he had plenty of time to read: like Mansour, he studied liberal Islamic authors and Western philosophers. Today, nobility calls themselves an atheist, a dangerous term in the God of God. He often sits in long conversations with intellectuals and journalists in the city's cafes, with iced tea or Saudi Champaign (an apple spritzer mixed with mint, which with a good will is reminiscent of champagne) and likes to play with his tesbih (prayer beads). He listens carefully and argues precisely.

Aristocracy demands the separation of "palace and mosque": "We finally need far-reaching reforms. Reforms in schools, reforms in the judiciary, reforms in society. Reforms, reforms, reforms." In school, the children learn about jihad, the judges deal with legal matters strictly according to Sharia, Islamic law. "You are writing the year 2004, here is still 1425" - the Islamic calendar begins with the Hejra, the long-prepared emigration of the Prophet Mohammed and the first Muslims from Mecca to Medina in the year 622, and the Islamic calendar is not a solar, but a lunar calendar. Adel's positions are considered radical in Saudi Arabia. If the government wants, they can throw him in jail at any time, because by questioning Wahhabism he is endangering the Sauds' power base. So far, nothing has happened - the reformers in the royal family are giving the opposition more space for debate.

Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz himself has made the first tentative attempts at reform: local elections are to be held soon. He initiated the first dialogue between Shiites and Sunnis. Another round of the so-called National Dialogue in Medina deals with women's rights. "But everything is slow and barely moving," says Adel al-Toraifi. There is also great resistance from the conservatives to the reform course. The clergy fear for their influence. You are trying to reinterpret the word reform: In an interview with the English-language "Saudi Gazette", the chairman of the Judicial Council, Sheikh Saleh Bin Muhammed Al-Lehaidan, defined reforms in his own way: "Reform means to honor the principles and laws of Islamic Sharia and to hold up the banner to promote goodness and combat sin. Reform means punishing the corrupt and depraved to repent of their wrongdoings. " Reform? For the sheikh, that is when everything stays as it is or the clock is even turned back.

The rift between reformers and conservatives even runs right through the royal family. Crown Prince Abdullah, Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Defense Minister Prince Sultan are seen as more pro-Western reformers; Prince Turki (he resigned as Saudi intelligence chief a few days before September 11) and Prince Naif (Minister of the Interior) are considered conservative. In fact, King Fahd, who succeeded King Khalid in 1975, has hardly played a role since he was severely disabled following a stroke in November 1995. At the beginning of the year, the usually well-informed US newspaper "Foreign Affairs" described the relationship between Crown Prince Abdullah and Interior Minister Naif in an article on "Schizophrenic Saudi Arabia": "Crown Prince Abdullah is close to the liberal reformers and seeks closeness to them USA, while Interior Secretary Naif sided with anti-American clerics who shared many goals with al-Qaeda. " The interior minister's name is Naif, and you can't get rid of him Since the escalation of terror in the kingdom, the interior minister has come under increasing pressure.The tenor of the comments in the Guardian and other international newspapers: In a normal country, the interior minister would be ready to resign whether he failed in the fight against terrorism. It was he who claimed after September 11, 2001 that there were no Saudi Arabians involved in the attack on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. involved, the attack was rather the work of Israeli Zionists. There was particular criticism that his security guards recently let three of the four murderers and hostage-takers who killed 22 people in an attack in Al-Khobar in late May escape.

The fact is: Naif bin Abdulaziz is always on the side of those Wahhabi clerics who promote militant Islam. Naif's Ministry, a heavily guarded upside-down pyramid, looks like a UFO has landed in the middle of Riyadh. A lot of power is concentrated there, and that is what the idiosyncratic architecture is supposed to convey. The ministers and officials in the pyramid building are responsible for ensuring that often after terrorist attacks the perpetrators are not found, but critical journalists and dissidents are arrested.

The Minister of the Interior imprisoned them, the relatives of those arrested turn to Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who then called for their release. Abdullah is considered to be the one who balances the complicated balance of power in the country and in the royal family. He is a representative of the Taqarub doctrine, which focuses on the peaceful coexistence of religions. He strives to improve relations with Israel, published a Middle East peace plan in the New York Times in 2002 and tried to modernize Saudi Arabia. "The country woke up on September 11," says the editor-in-chief of the Jeddah-based English-language daily Arab News, Khaled al-Maeena. "Arab News" is a reform-oriented Saudi newspaper that would not be unsympathetic if it weren't for anti-Semitic cartoons in the nasty "Striker" style hanging in the stairwell.

Editor-in-chief Al-Maeena, glasses, gray hair, trimmed mustache and mustache, describes himself as liberal conservatives, whatever that may mean in the Saudi coordinate system. Al-Maeena, who wears the traditional thawb, an airy traditional white man's robe, places his hopes on the crown prince. , Everyone understood that it couldn't go on like this any longer. But Crown Prince Abdullah initiated the reform process. "Incidentally, Al-Maeena is a great admirer of the iron Chancellor Otto von Bismarck." Time is of the essence, "he continues." The world around Saudi Arabia is changing - I say only Iraq! We need change, and we need it quickly. Not because Rumsfeld, Cheney or Bush want that, but because we, the Saudis, need these reforms for our further development. "Is it perhaps already too late for perestroika in the kingdom? Unemployment is around 25 percent, at the same time, in a Saudi population of a good 20 million, more than 5.5 million guest workers in the country who do the jobs that most Saudis are a shame for. The population is growing at a record 2.4 percent, 38 percent of the population is under the age of 14. The Cake to be distributed does not get significantly larger and has to be cut into more and more, smaller and smaller pieces.

Dissatisfaction is growing, especially in the underdeveloped regions such as the agricultural province of Qasim northwest of Riyadh, where highly subsidized wheat is still grown. Many of the extremists come from Qasim or the equally underdeveloped province of Asir. The country is culturally disintegrating: into the conservative Nedsch region (Central Arabia) on the one hand and the more cosmopolitan western coastal strip of the country (Hejaz) and the modern eastern province, which is influenced by oil production, on the other. What is allowed in the Hejaz appears to the more morally strict residents of the Nedsch like the devil's stuff. In Jeddah, for example, people go to beach hubs that look like a well-behaved western holiday beach. Sun, sand, freedom. This is unthinkable in Riyadh, not only because there is no sea and therefore no beach.

The contradictions are astonishing: While two sheikhs are talking shop on an English-language Saudi broadcaster about the circumstances under which one can finish one's meal at prayer time instead of rushing to the mosque, which is haram (prohibited) and halal (permitted), they chat Boys with the girls with their Bluetooth cell phones in the shopping centers in the Al-Faisaliah-Center or in the Kingdom-Center, the two landmarks of riad. Or they hold notes with their phone numbers on the windshield in the car when a woman is being driven through town by her driver alone. If you are unlucky you will be caught by the Muttawa, the dreaded religious police - there are 5000 guards. In this case, the flirting evildoers have to listen to a humiliating lecture.

Women's rights are important, but human rights are more important.While in Riyadh you are regularly thrown out of the internet cafe at prayer time, in Jeddah - also at prayer time - you meet in chic bars, just like in Manhattan, only without martini, scotch and gin. While the women walk the streets completely wrapped in black abayas and hejabs - most of them only leave a narrow slit open, some cover their face completely - those women who come into people's homes via satellite dishes and TV wear skin-tight, low-textile clothes in candy colors. Such Mediterranean TV starlets, who are in front of the camera in Beirut for MBC (Middle East Broadcasting) or LBC (Lebanese Broadcasting), can only be seen in Europe at the Rai Uno game shows. A confusing image of women.

Somayya A. Jabarti, a Saudi journalist with a US university degree from Arab News, was housed in a separate building with her other colleagues at her previous place of work, the English-language Saudi Gazette in Jeddah. If she had to talk to male colleagues, it was usually done on the phone, or they met secretly in a cafe. In the USA she got her driver's license and of course drives her own car - in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, women are still prohibited from driving.

"I am a feminist," she proudly admits, "we women in Saudi Arabia demand nothing less than equality between men and women." There is still a long way to go, however: it is much easier to divorce a woman than to separate from a man. A woman needs a travel authorization signed by her husband or father so that she can move freely around the country. In universities, women can only see a male professor on screens; if the female students have a question, they have to call him.

Maha al-Muneef, a doctor at the King Fahad National Guard Hospital in Riyadh, said that she once tried to provide first aid after a car accident and the policeman sent her away with the words, "At this time a woman belongs home." Badryia, she is married to a well-known actor, writes in "Al Riyadh" again and again about the discrimination against women and complains that a large part of the negative letters to the editor are from women - "Depressing, isn't it?" Faiza Saleh Ambah, correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, sits with her teenage daughter at Cafe Latte in Starbucks on Tahaliya Street in Jeddah. The Tahaliya is reminiscent of a main street in the USA: a wide, multi-lane route with Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King and McDonald's. In Jeddah, reasonable traditional urban development with narrow, shady streets can only be found in the old Balad district, otherwise wide, multi-lane city highways dominate. The Saudi cities are extensive, car-oriented growths with drive-in snack bars and drive-in banks. Faizah is drinking her coffee, her daughter has ordered hot chocolate. But then the guests are asked to leave.

Dhuhr, noon prayer. Bad luck, bad timing. Change of location. A few streets further, past the headquarters of the Saudi-Bin-Ladin-Group, it goes to the restaurant, Java Lounge. "Faiza is a modern woman: boarding school in Lausanne, studied in the USA, divorced twice, attractive. I ask her about it her opinion on the subject of women's rights in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: "In Europe, women had to fight for rights that men had long had. We are all without rights here. First we need human rights, the right to vote, the right to freedom of expression, then feminism comes for me. "Incidentally, Faiza recently wrote a bizarre story for her newspaper on the subject of freedom of expression: The Saudi Minister for Water and Electricity, Ghazi al-Gosaibi has written an acclaimed novel - "The Insane Asylum". Although he is a minister, his novel is not available in Saudi Arabia - his book was published in Beirut. Whoever violates the sacrosanct trio of Arab taboos - sex, politics, religion, has no chance of publication in the country, says Faiza, although the autobiography of minister al-Gosaibi can be found everywhere in the bookstores of Saudi Arabia, but one looks in vain for his novels. Another proof of the schizophrenia of Saudi Arabia: The Saudis were able to see the film adaptation of the banned novel by al-Gosaibi on television, because the series ran on the Saudi satellite channel MBC, which broadcasts from London.

A schizophrenic country indeed, where a Saudi minister is writing a book banned in Saudi Arabia, filmed by a Saudi TV station in London and broadcast in Saudi Arabia.