June 4, 2009 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 519

Reforms in Saudi Arabia Under King 'Abdallah

June 4, 2009 | By Yigal Carmon, Y. Admon
Saudi Arabia | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 519


Since he took the throne on August 1, 2005, Saudi King 'Abdallah bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz has instituted far-reaching reforms that have changed the face of the Kingdom. The reforms included:

  • Establishing a body to elect the king and crown prince from among the sons and grandsons of King 'Abd Al-'Aziz Aal Saud, the founder of the Saudi kingdom;
  • Launching an interfaith dialogue initiative, begun with the king's November 2007 visit to the Vatican, and continued in the July 2008 Madrid conference and the November 2008 New York conference;
  • Introducing a series of bureaucratic changes of a reformist nature;
  • Firing the conservative chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council, as well as the hardline director of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (i.e. the religious police);
  • Appointing a woman as deputy education minster for girls' education;
  • Introducing changes in the makeup of the Senior Clerics Council, the official Saudi religious institution;
  • Introducing additional changes of a reformist nature in areas such as human rights, particularly women's rights; in the struggle against extremism and terrorism; in education and culture; and more.

King 'Abdallah's reformist tendencies were mentioned as early as 2002, when he was still crown prince. In January 2002, liberal Saudi columnist Turki Al-Hamad wrote in the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "In all the conferences in which Prince ['Abdallah] participates, and in all the speeches he gives, it can be sensed that this man is interested in doing things, and that he yearns for the freedom to do them - but that circumstances are holding him back. This can be sensed in his manner of speech, in his tone of voice, and in the tension in every part of his body when he speaks of what he sees and what he wants [to do in the kingdom] - but cannot because he cannot overcome the circumstances."

Al-Hamad based his statements on 'Abdallah's speeches on the need to correct the Arab and Islamic nation using self-criticism. In a speech at the 22nd Gulf Summit in Muscat in December 2001, 'Abdallah said: "The trials and disasters that we are undergoing are actually opportunities and challenges that demand that all of us do some introspection, reexamine our positions, and correct the flaws - so as to emerge from [the crises] stronger than we were when we encountered them. The [most] lethal disaster is to face crises while doing nothing and without making decisions, while accusing others [instead of] dedicating ourselves to our role, taking full responsibility. Changing the unfortunate reality will happen only if we first change ourselves..." [1]

This paper will present reports on reformist measures undertaken since King 'Abdallah's began his reign, as well as reactions to them. It should be stressed that all the facts mentioned in this report do not constitute a revolutionary democratization of Saudi Arabia, nor do they detract from the severity of the authoritarian restrictions on human rights, women's rights, freedom of religion, and many other democratic freedoms, which MEMRI regularly monitors. However, they represent a departure from the policies of previous Saudi kings, towards gradual change in the character of the Wahhabi Saudi kingdom.

Instituting a New System for Electing the Country's King and Crown Prince

In December 2007, 'Abdallah issued a royal decree establishing a body consisting of 34 royal family members for electing the king and the crown prince from among all the sons and grandsons of King 'Abd Al-'Aziz Aal Saud, the founder of the Saudi kingdom. He also issued statutes setting out how the king and the crown prince are to be elected from within this group. Under the traditional system, the eldest son became king, with the second son as crown prince; under the new system, the king's other sons are also eligible to wear the crown. [2]

Promoting Interfaith Dialogue

One of 'Abdallah's most important initiatives was promoting dialogue among the world's three monotheistic religions. During a November 2007 visit to Italy, 'Abdallah met, for the first time, with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican; the two discussed preserving the values of religion and morality, the Middle East conflict, the importance of interfaith dialogue, and how to help members of different religions arrive at mutual understanding. [3]

In a March 24, 2008 speech at the seminar on Dialogue Among Civilizations Between Japan and the Islamic World, held in Riyadh, 'Abdallah said that he had obtained the agreement of Saudi clerics to call on the three religions to convene conferences at which participants would agree on protecting humanity from harm to moral values and on preserving the institution of the family. [4]

'Abdallah's initiative to bring together the three religions was officially launched at the June 4, 2008 Global Islamic Conference for Dialogue in Mecca. The conference, organized by the Muslim World League and sponsored by 'Abdallah, set the goals for the interfaith dialogue. [5] On July 16, 2008, the conference convened again in Madrid, with the participation of clerics from all three monotheistic religions, including rabbis from Israel. [6] This conference issued the Madrid Declaration, which champions values of tolerance and dialogue among religions and peoples. On November 12, 2008, another conference was held in New York under U.N. sponsorship; in accordance with the Madrid Declaration; Israeli rabbis participated in this conference as well. [7]

Administrative Changes in the Country

On February 14, 2009, King 'Abdallah issued a royal decree for new appointments in the Saudi government and in the country's religious institutions - appointments in a reformist direction:

1. Firing of Saudi Supreme Judicial Council Chairman

The conservative Sheikh Saleh Al-Luhaidan was fired from his post as chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council. Al-Luhaidan had recently issued a fatwa permitting the killing of the owners of satellite television channels, claiming that they were "causing corruption of morality and internal disputes." [8] The fatwa was met with harsh criticism from Saudi columnists and officials. Liberal Saudi columnist Turki Al-Hamad wrote that Al-Luhaidan's firing could be the most important change 'Abdallah made, because his fatwas aroused serious controversy in Saudi Arabia and destroyed its efforts to improve its image following 9/11. [9]

2. Firing of Religious Police Director-General

'Abdallah also fired Sheikh Ibrahim Al-'Ghaith, director-general of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice - i.e. the religious police - against a backdrop of harsh criticism of the organization because of the many reports in the Saudi media on human rights violations by religious police personnel. In his stead the King appointed Sheikh 'Abd Al-'Aziz bin Humayn Al-Humayn. [10]

The firing of Sheikhs Al-Luhaidan and Al-Ghaith won support from Saudi columnists. Liberal Saudi author and columnist Halima Muzaffar wrote that this change constituted an opportunity for the religious police to retrain its personnel to be more open with the public. [11] Columnist 'Abdallah bin Bajjad Al-'Uteibi wrote that the Saudi religious establishment urgently needed changes, and that the Saudi judicial system had suffered for a long time from stifling bureaucracy and immobility. He said that the religious police and the judicial system were the two institutions that received the most complaints from the public - with the religious police receiving more, as it had begun to seriously overstep the bounds of its authority. [12]

3. A First in Saudi Arabia: Woman Appointed Deputy Minister

Another significant appointment was that of Dr. Noura Al-Fayez as deputy minister for girls' education - the first woman to hold a ministerial appointment. [13] Prince Talal 'Abd Al-'Aziz, chairman of the Arab Gulf Project for U.N. Development Organizations, said that the new appointments were being thought of as part of a lengthy process of change, launched by the Saudi king even prior to his coronation, when he was still crown prince. He added that the decision to appoint a woman as a deputy minister was good news for men even more than women, and prepared women to take their natural place in society. [14]

Education Minister Prince Faisal bin 'Abdallah bin Muhammad Aal Saud said following Ms. Al-Fayez's appointment that the Saudi Education Ministry was proud to be the first to have a woman in a ministry post, and that Ms. Al-Fayez was playing a pioneering role. He said that women help men in numerous areas, including in education. [15]

Saudi women activists said that the appointment was a good beginning for Saudi women, because the obstacles preventing women from taking part in the country's national development were being removed. [16]

Liberal Saudi Author and columnist Halima Muzaffar said that Ms. Al-Fayez's appointment by King 'Abdallah was brilliant, and showed that he believes women to be partners in society and stresses that women will be integrated into society. Ms. Muzaffar added that women will soon be members in the Shura Council, not merely advisors [as was recently decided]. [17]

4. Legitimizing the Shafi'i, Hanafi and MalikiReligiousSchools of Jurisprudence in addition to the Wahhabi-HanbaliSchool

Another highly significant change, on the religious level, is the legitimizing of the Shafi'i, Hanafi and Maliki schools of jurisprudence - in addition to the Wahhabi-Hanbali school - by appointing members of these schools to the Senior Clerics Council, the country's supreme religious institution. [18]

Sheikh 'Abdallah bin Muni', advisor to the king and member of the Senior Clerics Council, praised 'Abdallah's change to the council, saying that he hoped that its new makeup would lead to more positive positions on all things connected to affairs of state. He said that the change would have comprehensive ramifications that will stop the negative phenomena that can be found today in all public services. [19] Sheikh 'Abd Al-Muhsin Al-'Obikan, advisor to the king and Shura Council member, said that the new makeup of the council expressed 'Abdallah's wish to give expression to religious diversity, based on the four Sunni schools, without cultish piety or monolithic views. Also, council members said that the diversity of opinion that would emerge from the new membership would advance and develop religious commentary. [20]

Establishing a Center for Assessing the Functioning of Government Apparatuses

The Saudi government has decided to set up a Center for Assessing the Functioning of Government Apparatuses. Crown Prince Sultan bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz, who announced the decision to set up the center, said that the center would release annual reports on the function and management of the Saudi government. [21]

Recent Reforms in Saudi Arabia under King 'Abdallah - A General Overview

The following is a list of reforms and campaigns in Saudi Arabia in areas such as combating extremist ideology and jihad, advancing women's status, human rights, education, and culture, as well as moderate statements by Saudi clerics and officials that reflect the current reformist trend in the country, all of which were reported on the MEMRI Blog ( ).

Terrorism and Extremism

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has been making intense efforts to combat terrorism by drafting and enforcing laws against terrorist activities, and by fighting the religious and ideological underpinnings of this activity with the aim of achieving "ideological security."

1. The legal and security level

  • In November 2008, it was reported that a Saudi cabinet panel was looking at a draft law to punish those involved in terrorism. The discussion on the draft law comes at a time when a security court in Riyadh is looking into the files of 991 suspects who were involved in terrorist operations across the country since May 2003. [22]
  • In January 2008, the Saudi Interior Ministry issued a statute under which anyone setting up terrorist websites and/or communicating with the leaders of terrorist organizations via those websites will be sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined five million Saudi riyals (about $1.3 million). [23]
  • In August 2008, it was reported that the Saudi border patrol had built a six-km-long fence in the Jazan region of Saudi Arabia along the border with Yemen. [24] Previously, in October 2006, Saudi Arabia had announced a plan to build an 814-kilometer security fence along its border with Iraq. Also, in 2004, Saudi Arabia began the construction of a separation barrier along its border with Yemen. [25]
  • In the past year, Saudi authorities broke up terror cells, including one connected to Al-Qaeda and one that aimed to bomb Hajj pilgrims; [26] thwarted 180 attempts to carry out attacks within Saudi Arabia; [27] arrested over 500 Al-Qaeda operatives; [28] and made progress in eliminating sources of funding for terrorism. [29]
  • In December 2007, the Information Technology and National Security conference in Saudi Arabia called for an international ban on the use of the Internet and other technological means for disseminating terrorism. [30]
  • In a communiqué in late 2007, the Saudi government called on Saudi youths, in the kingdom and outside it, who were planning to wage jihad in regions of conflict to turn themselves in as soon as possible to Saudi security authorities. [31]
  • In April 2008, Saudi authorities banned Bahrainis accused of belonging to extremist groups from entering the country. [32]

2. The education and ideology level:

Reeducation and de-radicalization of extremists

  • In its efforts against domestic terrorism, the Saudi regime attempts to fight Islamist ideas such as takfir (accusing other Muslims of apostasy) against the regime and its clerics. One method being used is "reeducation" of extremists; two projects using this approach are underway. They are: a counseling program, supported by the Saudi Interior Ministry, and the Al-Sakinah Campaign for online dialogue with extremists, supported by the Saudi Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs. [33]
  • Saudi authorities have called on preachers to refrain from using their pulpits to incite young people to jihad and to curse the Jews and Christians, and the Education Ministry has developed a program to fight terrorist ideology in the schools. Also, a new law imposes harsh penalties for anyone convicted of setting up a website supporting terrorism. [34]
  • In October 2006, the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs announced the upcoming launch of a website aimed at fighting extremism and reforming individuals with extremist views. The website, in Arabic and in English, is aimed at Muslim audiences worldwide, and will include forums for debating controversial issues. The website is to be operated by the Al-Sakinah Campaign. [35]
  • In April 2008, the Saudi Interior Ministry has announced a new program in which 1,800 retired Saudi security forces personnel will provide extremist detainees with "fatherly patronage" to help them become more moderate in their views. [36]
  • Saudi Minister for Islamic Affairs Salah Aal Al-Sheikh has said that his office plans to use the Internet and satellite television channels to protect youth against extremist ideologies that target young people via propaganda. [37]

Criticism of the religious establishment and calls to regulate the issuance of fatwas

  • At the opening of an October 2008 conference on ideological security in Saudi Arabia, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Naif bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz said that the mosques in the country were not doing enough in educating towards moderate views. [38]
  • In July 2008, Saudi Minister for Islamic Affairs Sheikh Saleh bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz Aal Al-Sheikh said that mosque preachers should do more to fight extremism, and that they had a responsibility to protect the youth from extremism. [39]
  • In September 2008, Sheikh Ahmad bin Baz, director of the Sheikh 'Abd Al-'Aziz bin Baz Charity Association, told the Saudi daily Al-Watan that religious law must be adapted to changes in circumstances, and that fatwas must be reexamined in the light of the demands of reality. [40]
  • In October 2008, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Naif bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz called on Saudi clerics and intellectuals to help eradicate extremism in the country. [41]
  • In March 2009, it was reported that Saudi Arabia had fired 3,200 extremist preachers. [42]
  • At the World Fatwa Conference in Mecca in January 2009, conferees signed a 41-article charter that banned clerics from issuing extremist fatwas, such as fatwas accusing other Muslims of heresy and permitting their killing. [43]
  • In September 2008, Saudi Shura Council member and advisor to the Saudi Justice Ministry Sheikh 'Abd Al-Muhsin Al-'Obikan said that a religious body should be established to oversee the issuance of fatwas. [44]

Fatwas against jihad and takfir

  • In a September 2008 interview, Saudi Mufti 'Abdallah bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz Aal Al-Sheikh told Muslim youth not to leave the homeland to wage jihad, and that youths who do so must beware of being exploited and of becoming cannon fodder for the enemy. [45]
  • In October 2007, the Saudi Mufti issued a fatwa prohibiting Saudi youth from engaging in jihad abroad, [46] and in a December 2007 speech marking the Hajj, he called terrorism a germ that aspires to anarchy and destruction, and stated that it must be acted against. He also called on young people to be careful not to become a tool in the hands of terrorism, and to be wary of extremist propagandists. [47]
  • In January 2008, Sheikh Dr. Salah bin Fawzan Al-Fawzan, member of the Senior Ulema Council and of the Saudi Fatwa Committee, said that anyone who carries out a suicide attack and calls it jihad in the path of Allah while hoping to die as a martyr will suffer eternal torment in hell. [48]
  • Saudi Mufti Sheikh 'Abd Al-'Aziz Aal Al-Sheikh has warned against accusing Saudi columnists of heresy, saying that "accusing intellectuals of heresy is not one of the principles of the religion." [49]

Statements condemning Al-Qaeda

  • In a September 2008 interview with the Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Saudi Mufti Sheikh 'Abd Al-'Aziz Aal Al-Sheikh criticized Al-Qaeda, saying that it was sowing anarchy in the Muslim ummah and was serving the enemies of the ummah. [50]
  • In October 2008, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Naif bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz warned that the Al-Qaeda ideology still threatened Saudi security, and that the Saudi Justice Ministry had appointed a chairman to take charge of the trials of extremists involved in terrorist activities in the country. [51]
  • Saudi Supreme Judiciary Council chairman Sheikh Saleh bin Muhammad Al-Luhaidan said, in a reaction to the June 2008 arrest of 520 terrorists who planned to strike Saudi oil facilities, that Al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri was a deviant and his leader Osama bin Laden was a propagandist for evil. [52]
  • In March 2008, the Saudi Interior Ministry demanded that all residents who had received voicemail messages on their cellphones from Al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri inform the authorities. In the message, Al-Zawahiri calls for "contributing to the prisoners and martyrs in Pakistan and Afghanistan." [53]

Campaigns against extremism in educational institutions

  • In November 2008, the Saudi Education Ministry ordered extremist books removed from schools; the books included one by Muslim Brotherhood thinker Sayyid Qutb, and one on jihad. [54]
  • In May 2008, a week-long program was held in King Saud University to increase awareness of terrorism. [55]

Calls to fight extremism and promote moderateness

  • In his address to the 63rd session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal said that the nations of the world needed to work together to combat extremists who seek to "propagate notions of intolerance, exclusion, racism and hatred." [56]
  • In October 2008, Mecca governor Prince Khaled Al-Faisal urged Muslims to project the moderate Islamic values of justice and tolerance and promote harmonious relations with other people. [57]

Women's Status

In addition to the appointment of Dr. Noura Al-Fayez as deputy minister for girls' education, Saudi Arabia has taken further steps to promote the status of women in the country, and Saudi clerics and officials have made statements in support of women's rights and freedoms:

Women appointed to official institutions

  • In March 2009, the Saudi Shura Council appointed 12 women advisors on women's issues, who would have observer status in council and committee sessions, but not the right to vote. [58]
  • In December 2008, journalist Noura Al-Hawiti was the first Saudi woman selected for membership on the 12-person board of directors of the Saudi journalists union. [59]

Expanding and protecting women's rights

  • In August 2008, Saudi Ulema Council member Sheikh 'Abdallah Al-Muni' said that women can be members of the council. He added that a woman is equal to a man in all things connected to religious ceremonies, and that women are entitled to participate in the religious ruling process. [60]
  • In December 2008, the Saudi Human Rights Council launched its first campaign to support women, with the aim of giving them more rights and expanding aid to them. [61]
  • In December 2008, Saudi Justice Ministry advisor 'Abd Al-Muhsin Al-'Obikan said that women who wish to travel abroad and who feel confident enough do not need a male relative to accompany them. [62]
  • As of January 2008, The Saudi government permitted women to stay at hotels in the country without being accompanied by a relative who is not marriageable to them. However, the women must present their ID cards to the hotel management, which sends their information and photos to police. [63]
  • On March 17, 2008, reported that the Saudi Shura Council has recommended allowing women to drive. The recommendation follows recent efforts by Saudi women rights activists headed by Wajeha Al-Huwaidar and Fawziya Al-Uyouni. [64]
  • · In a program aired April 4, 2008 on the Saudi network MBC, Sheikh Salman Al-'Odah, who supervises the website, called for divorce contracts that guarantee women's rights to alimony, housing, child-rearing, and recreation. [65]
  • In January 2008, following two years of negotiations, Saudi authorities agreed to approve in principle the establishment of a union for the protection of women's rights. [66]
  • In April 2008, the chairman of the Administrative Council of the Office of Trade and Industry in the Al-Qasim region in Saudi Arabia reported on the establishment of an industrial city run by women. [67]
  • In March 2009, Saudi Shura Council deputy chairman Dr. Bandar bin Mohammad Hamza Assad Hajar said that the Saudi National Council for Human Rights would issue a statute protecting the rights of the woman and the child in the country. [68]

Gender equality

  • On February 24, 2008, the Saudi Shura Council approved the International Labor Organization recommendation that includes a section demanding the implementation of absolute equality between men and women and condemning discrimination against women. [69]
  • In November 2008, the Saudi government decided that the Employment Ministry would implement the June 2006 recommendation of the International Labor Organization regarding the institution of the principle of workplace gender equality. [70]
  • In February 2008, the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce included, in a proposal to request the training of college graduates as salespeople at the country's 3,000 estimated commercial pharmacies, demands for equal treatment for Saudi women pharmacists. [71]

Women and education

  • King 'Abdallah University of Sciences and Technology is scheduled to open in Thuwal in September 2009. The university will be coed, and will be open to students of different religions from around the world. [72]
  • In April 2009, Saudi Prince Nawwaf bin Faisal bin Fahd bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz, who is the country's Vice President of Youth Welfare, said that starting next year, girls' schools will be permitted to offer physical education classes. [73]
  • In October 2008, Saudi King 'Abdallah bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz laid the cornerstone for the country's first university for women. [74]
  • Also in January 2008, the Administration of Boys' Culture and Education in the Taif region of Saudi Arabia, in an unprecedented step, allowed mothers of outstanding pupils to attend a ceremony honoring their sons. [75]

Women and culture

  • In March 2009, Saudi Arabia's first women's fashion show was held in Jeddah, for an all-female audience. [76]
  • Also in March 2009, male and female family members were permitted to mingle at the Al-Janaderia Festival, for the first time in the festival's 25 year history, and for the first time in the country. [77]
  • In September 2008, the Academy of Arts in Jeddah offered a course on filmmaking for women. [78]

Women and sports

  • In March 2009, Saudi Arabia's first all-women soccer match was held in the city of Al-Dammam, in front of 400 female spectators. [79]
  • In April 2008, female Saudi jockey 'Arwa Mutabagani was nominated to the executive board of the Saudi Horse Riding Union, making her the first woman on the board of a Saudi sports association. [80]
  • Shura Council members have called on the Youth Sponsorship organization, which is in charge of organzing sports events in Saudi Arabia, to establish sports clubs for women and have them supervised by women. They stated that the Shura Council has already passed a decision to establish women's sports clubs, but the decision has not been implemented. [81]

Child Marriages

Amid harsh criticism in the Saudi media of the phenomenon of child marriages, the Saudi National Human Rights Association called to combat this practice, and the Saudi authorities took steps in this direction:

Setting a minimum age for marriage

  • In November 2008, the Saudi Shura Council passed legislation raising the age of majority from 15 to 18, amid strong opposition from the council’s president and some members. [82]
  • In September 2008, the Saudi Association for the Defense of Women's Rights issued a communiqué demanding that a minimum age for marriage be set for girls, and that individuals be able to choose their spouses without family interference. [83]
  • In January 2009, it was reported that the Saudi Human Rights Commission would submit a recommendation to senior Saudi authorities to set the minimum age of marriage at 15 for girls. [84]
  • In February 2009, marriage officials in Saudi Arabia refused to perform marriage ceremonies for three 13-year-old girls, amid an outcry by rights activists in the kingdom over child marriages. [85]

Saudi Mufti against child marriages

  • In August 2008, Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh 'Abd Al-'Aziz Aal Al-Sheikh warned Saudi parents against marrying off their underage daughters to men aged 50 and over. He said that such marriages harmed the girls' modesty and caused them to live in suffering while their parents benefited from the bride price. [86]
  • Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh 'Abd Al-'Aziz Aal Al-Sheikh said, "Islam has stipulated that both parties agree to the marriage contract...The woman must express real consent to the suitor, and a guardian must not impose his choice of husband on her...or force his son to marry someone he doesn't want." [87]

Human Rights

The following are steps recently taken in the Kingdom to increase public awareness of human rights:

  • Saudi Arabia has increased its cooperation with U.N. human rights mechanisms. In January a government delegation appeared for the first time before the U.N. committee considering Saudi Arabia’s first-ever report on its implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). In February, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on violence against women carried out a first-ever visit to Saudi Arabia. [88]
  • In December 2008, Saudi Human Rights Association director Turki Al-Sudairi reported that the association had submitted to the Saudi King a comprehensive program for increasing awareness of human rights in the country. [89]
  • In November 2008, the Human Rights Association in Saudi Arabia posted signs in streets and public places in the country, to increase public awareness of human rights. [90]
  • In November 2008, it was reported that several Saudi lawyers intend to provide legal representation to young Saudi men who want to change their sex. The young men also asked the lawyers to launch a campaign to increase social awareness of their existence and of their right to a normal life. [91]
  • In April 2008, it was reported that the National Association for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia had launched an introductory campaign to inform people of their 39 legal rights in cases of arrest, investigation, inspection and trial, in a booklet titled "Know Your Rights." [92]
  • In December 2007, the Saudi Ministry for Girls' Education ordered Riyadh schools and educational centers to hold special activity to mark International Human Rights Day. [93]

Saudi Religious Police

Saudi Arabia has recently introduced some reforms in the religious police, in attempt to make it friendlier to the public:

  • In April 2009, Saudi Arabia's religious police got a new spokesman, replacing one who was removed after he published a statement in a local newspaper about a man reportedly beaten by members of the religious police at a shopping mall in Riyadh for "kissing and hugging" his wife. [94]
  • In April 2009, members of Saudi Arabia's Shura Council accused Saudi religious police personnel of violating individual freedoms, and have demanded that the body be reorganized and its authority cut back. [95]
  • In February 2009, the new director of the Saudi religious police said that the organization would turn over a new leaf with all the media, and would cooperate with them, in order to convey proper information to the public. [96]
  • In September 2008, Mecca governor Khaled Al-Faisal banned religious police personnel from entering restaurants and places of family entertainment in Jeddah without direct permission. [97]


  • In March 2009, Saudi Arabia officially marked its first International Theater Day, with the participation of the deputy minister of culture and several actors. In the past several decades, there has been little theater activity in the country. [98]
  • A new Saudi film, released January 2009, Menahi, stars new comedy sensation Fayez Al-Maliki as a naive Bedouin entangled in a get-rich-quick scheme in Dubai. [99]
  • In December 2008, the director in charge of the screening of the first Arab movie permitted for viewing in Saudi Arabia in 30 years has said that following the film's success in the cities of Jeddah and Al-Taif, it would be screened in the rest of the country. [100]
  • It was announced in April 2008 that the Culture Club of Eastern Saudi Arabia would, in cooperation with the Saudi Association for Culture and Art, be holding a film contest, the first of its kind, under government oversight. [101]

*Y. Admon is a Research Fellow at MEMRI; Y. Carmon is the President of MEMRI.


[1] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), January 6, 2002.

[2] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), December 11, 2008.

[3] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), November 6, 2007.

[4] Al-Hayat (London), March 25, 2008.

[5], June 2, 2008.

[6] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), July 16, 2008.

[7] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), November 12, 2008.

[8] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), February 15, 2009. See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 473, "Extremist Sheikhs, Liberals Clash in Saudi Arabia over Freedom of Expression on Satellite Television Channels," November 10, 2008, Extremist Sheikhs, Liberals Clash in Saudi Arabia over Freedom of Expression on Satellite Television Channels.

[9] Al-Qabas (Kuwait), February 18, 2009.

[10] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), February 25, 2009. Following his appointment, Sheikh 'Abd Al-'Aziz bin Humayn Al-Humayn, in turn, fired the religious police spokesman, who had insulted a Saudi citizen and his wife in the press, and apologized for the spokesman's statements. Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), April 7, 2009. He also instituted administrative changes in the organization, according to development plans for it. Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), April 28, 2009.

[11] , March 15, 2009.

[12] , February 15, 2009.

[13] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), February 15, 2009.

[14] Al-Yawm (Saudi Arabia), February 16, 2009.

[15] Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), February 19, 2009.

[16] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), February 15, 2009.

[17], March 15, 2009.

[18] , February 16, 2009.

[19] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), February 16, 2009.

[20] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), February 17, 2009.

[21] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 8, 2008.

[22] Arab News (Saudi Arabia), November 24, 2008.

[23] Al-Watan, Al-Madina, Saudi Arabia, January 25, 2008,

[24] 'Okaz, Saudi Arabia, August 21, 2008,

[25] MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1318, "Saudi Arabia to Build Security Fence along Iraqi Border," October 12, 2006, Saudi Arabia to Build Security Fence along Iraqi Border.

[26] 'Okaz, Saudi Arabia, December 2, 2007, ; Al-Watan, Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, March 4, 2008, ; Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, December 23, 2007,

[27] 'Okaz, Saudi Arabia, May 12, 2008,

[28] Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, June 26, 2008;

[29] 'Okaz, Saudi Arabia, May 12, 2008,

[30] 'Okaz, Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, December 5, 2007,

[31] Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, December 1, 2007,

[32] Al-Ayyam, Bahrain, April 14, 2008,

[33] On this campaign, see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 425, "Saudi Arabia's Anti-Terror Campaign," February 28, 2008, Saudi Arabia's Anti-Terror Campaign ; MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 260, " Reeducation of Extremists in Saudi Arabia," January 18, 2006, Reeducation of Extremists in Saudi Arabia.

[34] MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 425, "Saudi Arabia's Anti-Terror Campaign," February 28, 2009, Saudi Arabia's Anti-Terror Campaign.

[35] MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1320, " Saudi Arabia Ministry of Islamic Affairs Launches Arabic-English Website to Fight Extremism," October 13, 2006, Saudi Arabia Ministry of Islamic Affairs Launches Arabic-English Website to Fight Extremism.

[36] Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, April 29, 2008,

[37] Al-Hayat, London, May 20, 2009,

[38] 'Okaz, Saudi Arabia, October 16, 2008,

[39] Al-Hayat, London, July 5, 2008, .

[40] Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, September 12, 2008,

[41] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), October 3, 2008,

[42] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), March 25, 2009, .

[43] Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, January 21, 2009,

[44] Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, September 25, 2008, .

[45] Al-Madina, Saudi Arabia, September 2, 2008,

[46] MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1731, "Saudi Mufti Issues Fatwa Prohibiting Saudi Youth From Engaging In Jihad Abroad," October 3, 2007, Saudi Mufti Issues Fatwa Prohibiting Saudi Youth From Engaging In Jihad Abroad.

[47] Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, December 19, 2007,

[48] Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, January 12, 2008,

[49] Al-Hayat, London, July 14, 2008,

[50] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, September 29, 2008,

[51] 'Okaz, Saudi Arabia, October 13, 2008,

[52] 'Okaz, Saudi Arabia, July 9, 2008,

[53] Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, March 9, 2008,

[54] Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, November 25, 2008,

[55] Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 12, 2008,

[56] Saudi Gazette (Saudi Arabia), September 28, 2008, .

[57] Arab News (Saudi Arabia). October 20, 2008,

[58] Al-Madina, Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, March 25, 2009,

[59] Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, December 23, 2008 .

[60] Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, August 1, 2008,

[61] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, December 24, 2008, .

[62] Al-Hayat, London, December 22, 2008

[63] Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, January 21, 2008,

[64] Saudi Shura Council Recommends Allowing Saudi Women to Drive With Limitations.

[65], April 5, 2008,

[66], January 29, 2008,

[67] Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, April 30, 2008,

[68] Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, March 28, 2009.

[69] Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, February 25, 26, 2008,

[70] Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, November 25, 2008, .

[71] Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, February 7, 2008,


[73] Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, April 20, 2009.

[74] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, October 30, 2008,

[75] Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, January 9, 2008

[76], March 25, 2009,

[77] Al-Hayat, London, March 2, 2009

[78] Al-Madina (Saudi Arabia), September 18, 2008;, September 17, 2008 .

[79] Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, March 21, 2009,

[80] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), April 6, 2008,

[81] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), May 5, 2009.

[82] Arab News (Saudi Arabia), November 26, 2008, .

[83], September 9, 2008,

[84] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), January 1, 2009,

[85] (Saudi Arabia), February 25, 2009,

[86] Arab News, August 23, 2008,



[89] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, December 14, 2008,

[90] Al-Madina, Saudi Arabia, November 26, 2008, .

[91] Shams, Saudi Arabia, November 1, 2008, .

[92] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, April 14, 2008,

[93] Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, December 10, 2007,

[94] Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, April 7, 2009; Saudi Gazette, Saudi Arabia, April 8, 2009,

[95] Al-Hayat, London, April 13, 2009,

[96] 'Okaz, Saudi Arabia, February 25, 2009,

[97] 'Okaz, Saudi Arabia, September 20, 2008,

[98], March 28, 2009, .


[100], December 24, 2008, ;,

[101], April 15, 2008,

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