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Democratize Saudi Arabia

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The United States and Europe Should Pressure Saudi Arabia to Become a Democratic State

By Joel D. Joseph

Saudi Arabia is a feudal, monarchal state ruthlessly ruled by the Saudi royal family. The United States intelligence community recently concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the heir to the throne and de-facto absolute ruler of the Kingdom, ordered the brutal murder and dismemberment of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi. The Western world cannot tolerate a murderous thug as the leader of a major country.

Saudi Arabia is much more dependent on the United States than the U.S. is dependent on Saudi Arabia. We don't need its oil because the United States is now the largest producer of oil in the world. Saudi Arabia needs our weaponry and might to protect the Saudi Kingdom from Iran.

We can't expect the Saudis to form a democracy overnight. It took the United Kingdom hundreds of years to evolve from a monarchy into a democracy. The British throne has been controlled by its royal family since 1066. However, the power of the monarchy, as well as the place of Parliament, the government of the United Kingdom as chosen by the people, have both changed dramatically throughout its nearly one-thousand-year history.

British nobles assembled at Runnymead and forced King John to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. The Magna Carta, or great charter, was the first guarantee of rights from a king in English history, guaranteeing due process of law, an independent judiciary, liberty and religious freedom.

Great Britain is now a constitutional monarchy where the royal family serves as figureheads and Parliament controls the government. King Charles I governed without Parliament for over a decade, setting into motion events that would end with his beheading and the abolition of the monarchy in 1649. Parliament then ruled without a king until the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. The British monarchy has retained one power: the Royal Assent. To this day, the monarch has the ability to veto any piece of legislation if he or she does not agree to the passage of a law. The British monarch has rarely used this power--the last time it was invoked was in 1708.

We don't want it to take hundreds of years to turn Saudi Arabia into a constitutional monarchy. Twenty years would be acceptable. The Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia has proposed a blueprint for instituting a democratic structure into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Center for Democracy proposed holding full and fair, internationally verified municipal elections as a first step towards the complete democratization of the Saudi political system. Male-only municipal elections were held in September, 2011. King Abdullah allowed women to vote and be elected in the 2015 municipal elections, and also to be nominated to the Shura Council,the Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia.

The Consultative Shura Assembly has neither legislative nor executive powers. It has the power to propose laws to the King of Saudi Arabia and his cabinet. It cannot pass or enforce laws, as these powers are reserved for the King. The Shura has 150 members, all of whom are appointed by the King. Since 2013, the Shura Assembly has included 30 women members and is based in al-Yamamah Palace, in Riyadh.

The Center for Democracy has also proposed that regional and national elections take place in the future. All citizens of voting age should have the right to vote, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or religious orientation, at all levels of the democratic process (locally, regionally, and nationally). Representation at all levels of government is to be directly proportional to the percentage of the vote obtained in the elections by any candidate or party. To ensure fair political representation of both individuals and regions, the number of seats available for each body of government should be prescribed by a Constitution and directly related to the results of a regularly and independently held national census. The Center for Democracy has proposed that the new political structure should be designed so that each of the five main regions enjoys equal representation at the national level in a legislative body.

The United States and Europe should pressure the Saudi Royal Family to give away its power over the next twenty or twenty-five years and expand the voting rights of its citizens. We can withhold weaponry, boycott Saudi oil and take other steps, if necessary. The West cannot tolerate a feudal system where the Royal family has the right to kill its citizens with impunity and to control a nation of 35 million second-class citizens.

 

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Chairman, Made in the USA Foundation, economist and lawyer, author of ten books and hundreds of articles.
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