In a TV interview, Saudi author Zuhair Kutbi criticized the Saudi regime’s efforts at national dialogue with the public, saying: "It was nothing but hot air, a waste of public funds." Recounting that he had been imprisoned and committed to an asylum for his reformist beliefs, Kutbi said: "Regionalism and racism are part of Saudi Arabia's identity."
Following are excerpts from the interview, which was broadcast on Rotana Khalijiyya TV on June 22, 2015.
Interviewer: How successful was the National Dialogue in reforming Saudi society form within?
Zuheir Kutbi: Frankly speaking, it was about zero percent.
Interviewer: Zero percent?!
Zuheir Kutbi: Yes.
Interviewer: Despite all those sessions?
Zuheir Kutbi: It was nothing but hot air, a waste of public funds, eating, drinking… I was there…
Interviewer: What? Don't you believe in dialogue?
Zuheir Kutbi: I do, but you have to distinguish between National Dialogue as an institution and dialogue itself.
Interviewer: But the National Dialogue was founded for the purpose of dialogue…
Zuheir Kutbi: If only they had implemented even 10% of what was discussed in the 100 or so National Dialogue sessions. The National Dialogue institution has gained nothing positive for Saudi society. Give me one example… For instance, we all demanded to change the religious discourse. It has not changed, and it will not change either.
Interviewer: But dialogue is part of reform. When an institution on the scale of the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue gathers the entire Saudi elite from throughout the kingdom for dialogue… But then you tell me that the outcome was zero percent? So what is the solution?
Zuheir Kutbi: Did you attend this dialogue?
Zuheir Kutbi: Do you know that they turned off our microphones? They turned mine off twice.
Interviewer: When your three minutes were up…
Zuheir Kutbi: No. It was due to the content, not time. They cut me off. And when the session aired on TV, I was surprised to find out that my remarks had been omitted.
It's not a dialogue if you cut off [the microphone]…
Interviewer: Perhaps they cut you off because you spoke for too long…
Zuheir Kutbi: No, don't defend them. No. They told me that it was because of what I had said. I'm telling you…
Interviewer: There was a lot of freedom, and people could say whatever they wanted.
Zuheir Kutbi: No. There wasn't much freedom, with all due respect. I was talking about the incident with the Prophet [cartoons] in Europe. I said to them: How do you expect the West to respect the Prophet, when in our own country, in the Great Mosque of Mecca, we say: "Oh Allah, destroy the Jews, and turn their women into widows, and their children into orphans"?
Let me be frank with you, although I know that I am being harsh: Most Saudi intellectuals are cowards. They are cowards and do not speak the truth.
The issue of the intellectuals is a very serious one. The struggle between the authorities and the intellectuals is an eternal one, but in Saudi Arabia, it was completely contained. There is no such struggle.
My beliefs have cost me my youth, my health, and my future. I have been forbidden to travel. I have been in prison six times.
Interviewer: Six times?
Zuheir Kutbi: Yes, six times. I have been in the majority of Saudi prisons. They put me in an insane asylum in Ta'if. Two people in the Arab world were thrown into insane asylums: me and [Lebanese poet] May Ziade – May in Beirut and me in Ta'if.
Interviewer: Why were you committed to an insane asylum?
Zuheir Kutbi: They said: This crazy man wrote a letter to the king demanding reforms. I was the first Saudi citizen to demand a constitutional monarchy. I wrote this to King Fahd in 1989-90.
Let me tell you, regionalism and racism are part of Saudi Arabia's identity, and of the identity of Saudi people. Racism and regionalism are within us. We should not lie to ourselves and pretend that we are perfect angels. We are racist, racist, racist!