May 13, 2010 Special Dispatch No. 2952

Saudi Journalist: Saudi Liberals Fear to Openly Declare Their Views

May 13, 2010
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 2952

In an article in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai, Saudi journalist Nadine Al-Budair, a presenter on the Arabic-language American TV channel Al-Hurra, attacked Saudi liberals for hiding or obscuring their liberal views out of fear of the authorities and the extremists. She also wrote that many of those who do claim to be liberals in Saudi Arabia do so for their own personal benefit, not out of real conviction.

The following are excerpts from her article: [1]

Ask a Saudi Liberal about His Views, and His Face Will Turn Red

"In Kuwait or Bahrain, many liberals openly proclaim their secular or liberal orientation and proudly declare their support for liberty and change. Conversely, in Saudi Arabia, most of the liberals are afraid to proclaim [views that are] different from the ideology dominant [in the country] or from the extremist ideology. This fear harms the [Saudi] liberal movement, which has become a clandestine group whose goals are obscure to the public.

"Ask [a Saudi liberal in public] 'what is your [ideological] orientation? Are you a liberal?" and his face will turn red. He will emphasize that his views are completely in keeping with tradition and heritage, and with the need for reform that the state is carrying out gradually and wisely, and that he is partner to the existing order. Ask him again, 'Are you a liberal?' and he will answer your question with a question: 'What do you mean by liberalism? What is liberalism? Everyone has his own personal definition [of the concept].' [At this point,] you grow weary and try again, [still] hoping to get something out of the conversation. 'I am not interested in the definition of liberalism,' [you say]. Just tell me – are you a liberal or not?' He will reply: 'I am a man who calls for progress, pluralism and freedom of opinion, for combating extremism [while] preserving tradition,' etc. He will never fall into the trap of admitting membership in the liberal movement, because this means exposing himself to the flames of criticism. Everyone will condemn him and call him an infidel who has abandoned his religion and his people. [So] instead of acknowledging his ideological affiliation and thereby casting himself into the desert... he joins the herd."

In a Private Conversation, the Liberal Will Suddenly Begin to Spout Darwin, Rousseau and Nietzsche

"However, speak privately with him and you will get different answers. [Suddenly,] his statements are full of references to Darwin, Rousseau or Nietzsche, and he parrots words he does not understand. He pauses briefly... and then starts to talk about a level of freedom that the world has never known...

This discrepancy between what happens in private forums and [what the Saudi liberals] say on the press and media is why Saudi liberalism has so little impact, and why the extremist stream dominates all arenas of life... Believing in your ideology means fighting for it and striving to realize it. Talking about it in secret is effective for a limited time, but doing this over time – as is happening today – means that nobody will take it seriously. If even the most fervent advocates of an ideology are afraid [to proclaim it openly], how are others supposed to regard it?

"The extremists... have everyone thinking that liberalism is heresy, though this ideology [actually] has nothing to do with whether one is religious or not. Liberalism is the right to choose and think freely, without anyone dictating your lifestyle. Only few in Saudi Arabia dare to declare their liberalism openly, to defend [this ideology] and its supporters, to explain its significance, and to clarify that it has nothing to do with the rejection of faith, as the detractors [of liberalism] claim."

Then There Are Those Who Profess Liberal [Values] out of Hypocrisy

"Then there are those who profess liberalism out of hypocrisy, now that the general atmosphere in the country is leaning towards pluralism and the political climate [favors] recognizing others and their [right to] freedom. [But] if some politician gives a speech rejecting innovation and the advocates of freedom, [you do not hear these hypocrites protesting. Instead,] you find that the same person who [previously presented himself as a liberal and] quoted Darwin [now starts] to talk about the Companions of the Prophet and their successors. His affiliation with a certain organization or ideological stream is merely temporary, and ends when he loses the personal incentive that prompted him to join [in the first place]. He lives in a state of immobility and suspension, waiting to determine the prevailing political climate, in order to adapt himself to it. His views are fuzzy and he parrots the opinions of others, concerned about nobody but himself.

"The Islamist movements are not the only ones trying to abort the Saudi liberal movement when it has barely begun. The liberals [themselves] are also [to blame], for they suffer from two new disgraceful flaws...: the disgrace of shame and the disgrace of fear."


[1] Al-Rai (Kuwait), April 19, 2010.

For another article by Nadine Al-Budair, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 2773, "Saudi Journalist: Why Is Polygamy Only for Men?," January 27, 2010, Saudi Journalist: Why Is Polygamy Only for Men?.

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