?What makes Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani different from most of Saudi Arabia’s opposition figures

Dr. Al-Qahtani, Co-Founder & Board Member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), was sentenced to ten years in prison.

Holding a PhD in economics, he has a civil academic background, not a religious one. Thus he cannot be readily accused of extremism. His reform activism stems from understanding and awareness of the Saudi reality, not from class antagonism or nostalgia for past glory days.

In December 2012, on his Twitter account, he wrote about how his human rights awareness had been formed and how he entered the reform ?activism arena. These events deserve to be re-published while talking about Dr. Al-Qahtani.

His story began in the early nineties when he was sent to study in the USA where he got acquainted with important documents about the history of KSA.

After the second Gulf War, the newspapers were full of news about the situation in Saudi Arabia: most of what was published showed the rampant corruption and the monopoly of money and power in there. All what Al-Qahtani had read, had raised questions about the reason behind the dire reality that the country was living in despite of the key ingredients for success.

After September 2001 attacks, the talk about the democratic project and building people’s participation in Politics has increased. Then Dr. Al-Qahtani had felt optimist about the councils held by King Abdullah with people. But he was shocked when he returned to the KSA in 2002 and became employed as economics assistant professor at the Institute of Diplomatic Affairs of the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Through his work, he noticed that the majority of students rely on memorisation and do not want to make effort to learn, he was disappointed. Then he disputed with the Institute Administration on certain issues and had to meet the undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Prince Khaled Bin Saud Bin Khaled). During the meeting, the Prince spoke loftily with Dr. Al-Qahtani and repeated the phrase “You are an employee and you have to obey your manager!”

Al-Qahtani responded: “My dignity is above all else, do not think I would waive a part of my dignity for a job. If I am discharged, please give me the dismissal letter; if not, I will send my resignation to the Minister and demand my rights”.

Once he finished this sentence, the prince jumped from his seat, and apologised to him for what happened, and the meeting ended.

But the attempts of betray did not end.  After two years, the prince tried to put pressure on Dr. Al-Qahtani to let a student pass undeservingly and threatened and extorted him. The issue had been resolved in the Office of the Ombudsman after holding three sessions. Then, Dr. Al-Qahtani had been summoned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but he refused to attend especially since the issue was resolved in the Office of the Ombudsman. After insistence, he met another undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who informed him that the Minister was totally convinced that he was right and offered him the post of deputy ambassador to Washington. Dr. Al-Qahtani refused the offer and explained the reason of his refusal: the Ministry had made a mistake and wanted to satisfy him or exclude him from teaching at the Institute.

Khaled Bin Saud kept on sending threatening letters to Dr. Al-Qahtani and did not stop until Dr. Al-Qahtani sent a complaint again to the Minister (Bin Saud’s uncle). Hither, he was convinced that the issue was not individual but institutional breach of rights. In the summer of 2006, he had the opportunity to host the program of “Qad’aya Iqtissadya” (Economic Issues) which was a unique experience and through which he made an effort to raise people’s awareness about their (political) rights. But the program had been finished under pressure, from the Ministry of Interior, seemingly, for his human rights activism. Then he started, with other activists, thinking about organisational work that has resulted in ACPRA’s foundation so he had been banned from teaching later.

Al-Qahtani and ACPRA represent a different case of Saudi Arabia’s opposition: All the Association’s members remained inside the kingdom, chose to emphasise the reform option from the inside and did not try to enjoy sympathy of foreign countries or media like The Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (MIRA).

Dr. Al-Qahtani kept, while talking about the corruption and the royal family, using “SOME Princes” and all the matters that he talked about were not fabrications or defamations but clear evidences of corruption; he called a spade a spade away from generalities and vague slogans.  For example, in his lectures “Who are the real persons obstructing development?” and “Are we facing a proxy war in the region?”, he talked about the waste of public money in external conflicts mentioned in international newspapers. There were talks about the money provided by Saudi Arabia to overthrow the communist parties in legislative elections in European countries; in addition to fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan for the USA and sending hundreds of its people for Jihad (who became later terrorists in the eyes of the KSA and USA) and it opened its land, airspace and territorial waters to the USA’ troops, plus buying weapons from America at a rate of 20 billion dollars annually.

Al-Qahtani shed light on the involvement of some princes in arms deals which was published with evidence in newspapers and in foreign intelligence archives, e.g. Prince Bandar’s involvement in the arms deal signed in London between Yemen and the Soviet Union and the millions of dollars he got; Prince Bandar himself admitted on September 9th, 2001 that authority parties in the country unlawfully overcharged more than 50 billion dollars of oil revenues. Everybody knows and hears that news but the difference is that Dr. Al-Qahtani had the courage to speak about it publicly in order to reform.

This difference stems from reading and studying books, research and what the Western media publish about the Saudi Arabia and the Middle East and he does not repeat what is published, automatically but he reads carefully, speaks accurately and can distinguish the wheat from the chaff.

Also, he differs from others with speaking clearly about the Saudi international role and criticising its turning to ATM to serve American interests; others human rights and reform activists do not focus on the international role while criticising the state agencies, they only talk about few internal matters. We also note in his speech, the linkage between corruption and the waste of public money, and the external role.

The majority of opponents and human rights and reform activists, especially those with Islamic background, are known with their marginalisation of certain issues such as women rights and women driving , either because they are not convinced of these rights which constitutes a crisis in their speech and a problematic aspect of their belief in civil rights and the extent of their contradiction with their backgrounds, which opens a problem about their understanding of democracy and human rights; or out of fear of their crowd or desire to move away from what arouse the masses. But Al-Qahtani had not seen the women’ issues –even the simplest- as marginal matters: he helps his wife, Ms. Maha Al-Qahtani, to achieve her demand to drive; he accompanied her while driving on June 17th, 2011 and told newspapers that his wife drove and got a traffic ticket. Here, he exceeded the statement of his belief in women’s rights to practically participating in claiming them.

Also, he did not deceive the crowd and did not fall into the trap of discrimination among detainees; he defends the citizen regardless of their affiliation: he stood by detainees of liberal trends and from the Shiite community although he had been subject to criticism from conservatives that he defended a lot.  For him, rights are indivisible between Shiite and Sunnite or Liberal and Islamic. This indicates that Dr. Al-Qahtani has sought to overcome the traditional divisions in society and create a national reform speech disdaining sectarianism and partisan conflicts that obstruct reform efforts.

Simple things were made by Al-Qahtani but they have great meanings. For example, he always called on young people to claim their rights and to attend political trials and was accompanied by his sons to Court to indicate that he was addressing his children before the public.

People close to Dr. Al-Qahtani know the horror of the war that was launched by the Ministry of Interior against him and the ongoing smear campaigns. But at the height of the attack and despite the means of intimidation, his speech remained respectable and sophisticated to build bridges with the state.

What makes Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani different? It is the fact that he abandoned the post and huge offers to distract him from continuing to demand political rights and chose the rough road for the future of his country, used his culture and knowledge to raise people’s awareness about their rights and demanded them for all citizens without discrimination on the basis of sectarian and ideological affiliations.

?What makes Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani different

.Many thing.

.I wrote some of them and some others will be written later


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