August Issue 2015
Zaid Hamid, a political commentator and self-proclaimed security analyst, was arrested in early June in Saudi Arabia. The news of his arrest didn’t surface till the last week of June. It was claimed that Hamid was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and eight years in prison.
The claim, however, remains unsubstantiated at the time of writing, with neither the Foreign Office, nor the Pakistani embassy in Riyadh confirming the exact status of Hamid’s sentence. A team from the Pakistani Consulate General Jeddah has not been given access to Hamid as of mid-July. Nor have any details of the charge-sheet against him been provided.
While Hamid’s crime hasn’t been revealed, and so far even the sentence is mere speculation, it has been reported that he was charged with “speaking against the Saudi government” while in the Kingdom of al-Saud. It is rumoured that his harsh criticism of the Saudi attacks on Yemen is what has landed him behind bars.
Hamid isn’t the first person — or Pakistani — to fall victim to Saudi laws, and he won’t be the last. He is actually one of around 1,800 Pakistanis currently imprisoned in Saudi Arabia, with a significant percentage of them falling prey to the multitude of draconian laws prevalent in the kingdom. Zaid Hamid’s case is being touted as a manifestation of the Saudi clampdown against ‘freedom of speech’ — an issue which has reverberated around the globe since the secular, liberal blogger Raif Badawi was awarded a harsh prison sentence which included 1,000 lashes.
Even so, unlike Badawi, who was sentenced for the vague charges of “liberal thought” and “disobedience,” which was deemed synonymous with “insulting Islam,” Hamid’s case is more than just an assault on the freedom of expression. When an “anti-war activist,” who has made his views about the state’s foreign policy and war strategies pretty clear, is found in the aforementioned state, countries significantly less paranoid and punitive than Saudi Arabia would also have, in all probability, taken action, especially when they’re at war.
Hamid, who has a massive following in Pakistan and beyond, has pulled no punches in his condemnation of Saudi endeavours in Yemen and Syria. He has thus become a prime suspect for espionage, or orchestrating rebellion, which, according to some reports, is what he has been accused of. His case could be similar to Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, who was sentenced to death in May 2013 for “inciting violence and supporting unrest” in Qatif, which is home to many of the kingdom’s minority sects.
While it is important for Pakistan, and the Muslim world, to condemn Saudi barbarity, which is a major roadblock to Muslim reform that has become an existential question for many states, Zaid Hamid’s case is not the only launch-pad that one could use for this purpose.
The kingdom has upped the ante on beheadings in the recent past, with capital punishment being served out for ‘sorcery’ and ‘liberal thinking,’ which is deemed synonymous with apostasy or atheism. According to a law passed last year in Saudi Arabia, those of the latter bent of thinking are defined as ‘terrorists.’
On June 15, Saudi Arabia carried out its hundredth beheading of 2015 when a Syrian man, Ismael al-Tawm, was killed for transporting “a large amount of banned amphetamine pills into the kingdom.” Like the Pakistani Rahman Mohammed Asghar, who was among the 87 people, and nine Pakistanis, beheaded in Saudi Arabia last year, Ismael al-Tawm’s crime was a non-violent drug smuggling offence. With already 100 judicial executions in the first half of 2015, the kingdom looks set to break its record of 192 executions that it set in 1995.
The Saudi refusal to codify its interpretation of Shariah law, as urged by the UN Human Rights Council, owes to the kingdom’s reliance on ‘swift justice’ to silence dissent by basing verdicts on the judge’s interpretation of canonical law. Saudi Arabia’s infatuation with harsh penalties is the corollary of the kingdom’s need for Islamism which, it believes, is pivotal for the al-Saud family’s ideological monopoly over its realm.
The Saudi desire to keep its puppet, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, on the presidential throne in Yemen and attempts to dislodge him by the Houthis rebels, led to Saudi-led coalitions attacks in Yemen — another clear manifestation of the aforementioned ideological monopoly in the region. The Saudi funding of Islamist madrassahs all over the world, including Pakistan, is another example of the same cause.
Saudi paranoia fuels violent foreign policy decisions like bombarding Yemen or financing Islamist terrorist outfits to counter every other version of Islam that might eventually end up challenging the authority of the al-Saud family vis-Ã -vis the Harmain Sharifain — an invaluable source of revenue for the monarchs. Saudi insecurity has been further fuelled by Iran’s nuclear deal with the western powers, to a point where the long covert Saudi-Israeli alliance against the Shia Crescent is becoming more overt.
The al-Saud family’s obsession with using Islamic heritage as its personal property can be traced back to the early 19th century, when Abdul Aziz ibn Muhammad ibn Saud attacked Karbala and Najaf, destroying many holy sites. It has been over two centuries of cultural vandalism by the Saudis, which has destroyed 95 per cent of Makkah’s historical buildings. As things stand, the world’s largest hotel, the 45-storey, 10,000 bedroom, Abraj Kudai is under construction, and is scheduled to tower above the Masjid al-Haram by 2017.
Saudi insecurity has increased in synchrony with its Islamic-capitalistic endeavours, which means that the Kingdom has more to lose than ever before should its authority be challenged by a significant number of Muslim states. Zaid Hamid’s arrest, Badawi’s punishment, the acceleration in decapitation, the diplomatic manoeuvres to counter Iranian influence, and the reconstruction of Makkah into a posh commercial hub that sells a capitalistic — and simultaneously intolerant — brand of Islam, is all part of the grand scheme as Saudi Arabia prepares for life after 2017, when the US is scheduled to overtake its oil production.
Whether one supports Zaid Hamid’s condemnation of the Yemen war, Badawi’s right to free thought or the Muslim world’s say in decisions affecting Islamic heritage, targeting the Saudis’ ideological hegemony is the logical starting point. The fact that al-Saud’s gaudy superstructure rests on precisely that, is what is making them increasingly jittery and paranoid.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s August 2015 issue.
Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a journalist and writer based in Lahore.