Saudi Arabia’s Unpredictable Future
(Dr. Ali Alyami, January 8, 2020)
About the speaker
Dr. Ali Alyami is the founder and Executive Director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, based in Washington, D. C. He is a native of Saudi Arabia and has been an avid advocate for political reforms in Saudi Arabia.
The Center for Democracy & Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (CDHR) focuses on Saudi domestic and foreign policies and their impact on, and implications for, the Saudi people and the international community, especially U.S. economic and national security interests. Due to its centrality to Islam and possession of large quantities of fossil fuel energy sources, Saudi Arabia plays a major religious and economic role in the lives of Muslims and non-Muslims worldwide. CDHR was established in 2004 to promote institutionalized democratic and human rights reforms as the best way of achieving long term stability in Saudi Arabia.
Previously, Dr. Alyami was a Senior Fellow at the Saudi Institute in Washington, D.C., Director of an educational peace program for the American Friends Service Committee in San Francisco, and a Representative for the Arab Organization for Human Rights (a Cairo-based group) in North America. He holds a Ph.D. in Government from the Claremont Graduate University in Southern California, and a Master’s Degree from California State University in Los Angeles. His Ph.D. doctoral thesis was: “The Impact of Modernization on the Stability of the Saudi Monarchy.”
Dr. Alyami provided expert testimony regarding human rights in Saudi Arabia before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. He also organized and participated in many conferences and discussions about Saudi Arabia, its policies and their impact on the Saudi people, the Middle East, and the international community. Alyami has spoken at conferences in the United States, London, Egypt, Sudan, and Israel, and is a frequent media presence.
Robert R. Reilly:
Our speaker tonight is Dr. Ali Alyami and he is the founder of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, which means he will never work his way out of a job, but I will leave the talk to him. He is based in Washington, D.C. He is a native of Saudi Arabia. His educational foundation examines Saudi domestic and foreign policies and particularly how they impact the United States and its interests.
Previously, Dr. Alyami was a Senior Fellow at the Saudi Institute in Washington, D.C. He’s held other positions; a Representative for the Arab Organization for Human Rights (a Cairo-based group) and he holds a Ph.D. in Government from Claremont Graduate University. He studied at a time in which we discovered we were both there.
Dr. Alyami was very hard to pin down. Every time I thought I was closing in on a date, poof, he was gone to Brussels or somewhere else in Europe, the Middle East, California, and the reason is because he is in such high demand obviously due to his expertise and also the positions he holds on the issues that we address. Of course, among those audiences are various congressional committees that have called upon him. So please join me in welcoming Dr. Ali Alyami.
Dr. Ali Alyami:
Thank you Dr. Reilly. We were at the same school at the same time. It is a very small school, so I am sure we spoke to each other forty years ago. That tells you how young we are. First, I want to thank all of you for coming here. Thank you Robert for insisting and persisting that I should come and share with this distinguished group of people my expertise, the information I know.
First of all, I am a human rights activist. I do not promote policies. I am not against policies. I am only against totalitarianism, dictatorship, violators of human rights, oppression of women and religious minorities – those people are the ones, not individually or personally, but their policies.
First of all, I want to also say that when I took my oath of citizenship forty years ago, I put my hand here and I swore my allegiance to the flag of the United States. I did not swear allegiance to a party, to an individual, to a congressman or congresswoman, to a CEO of a big, multinational. Frankly speaking, I did not care about any of these people.
I only swore allegiance to the flag and to the country, and there is no more time when we need more Americans to say the country first, not the party, not the congressman and woman because frankly speaking I deal with them all the time and so has my friend here, Clare Lopez, who I have known for many years. We deal with them a lot and most of them are corrupt to the bones, not all of them, but most. So we know we are in the belly of the beast.
I am told that you are all experienced people, knowledgeable people, informed people, so I will keep my remarks very short. Then you will have a chance to ask questions because I might be repeating something that you all have regurgitated for many years. The title of this talk is the “Unpredictable Future of Saudi Arabia.” It has never been more unpredictable than it is now for many different reasons; domestic, external, lack of money, youth.
Saudi Arabia Today
Most of the country’s 26 million people are below 25 years of age, so they grew up with smartphones, computers, satellite televisions. So frankly speaking, the overwhelming majority of the Saudi people spend more time googling information from all of the world, including pornography, than they do in the mosque praying.
So religion for most Saudis is of no relevance at all even though they may go to prayer or listen to their fathers, unlike me when I was growing up in Saudi Arabia. There was absolutely nothing for me except praying, fasting, and obeying authority. Most of the Saudi population today does not do any of that stuff. They are afraid, of course, they have to praise the king and his son and everything else.
The Reality of Prince Mohammad bin Salman
They have to do that especially since Prince Mohammad came to power, the oppression, and suppression, and terrorism against the Saudi people have never been higher than they are right now. Even though our media – not all of it, but a lot of our media especially prior to the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, he was a hero to them. He was a modernizer and he was ‘going to recreate a new state’.
Well, he is not, frankly speaking. Prince Mohammad is the least educated person of King Salman’s sons. He has a bunch of them. He is the least educated, especially secularly. He went to a Saudi school and he studied Shariah law, which is one of the most backward systems in the world. Everybody knows that. Nobody knows more than Clare Lopez because she has studied it more than I have.
So the thing here is the country’s unpredictable future is the result of a breaking of the old Saudi tradition, the Saudi royal family tradition where things get arranged in the family; compromise, bargaining, and then the senior son of the King will probably become the King. They have to divide the pieces of cake, who is going to get what. So they agree to all of this before a king even needed to be king, long before that. So when the current king dies, then the second one is already known to everybody. Well, when King Salman took over in January 2015 when King Abdullah died, he eliminated that traditional process and he actually marginalized all of the princes. Some of them are very powerful. You have 2,000 active princes and maybe 10,000 children, grandchildren, and relatives like that. So the royal family is a tribe by itself.
So he eliminated the traditional transition and put all of the power in his son’s hands, his son’s, not like the old tradition. And now the Saudi people, with whom I am in touch all the time, discretely, indirectly, cheatingly, but I am in touch with them, a lot of people, intellectuals, media people, women, Saudi women. Now many of them are being tortured and raped in prison. You did not hear much about it in our media. Human rights is not in our current government agenda at all.
The Danger from Within
The biggest danger to the current system and the stability of the country is not actually from abroad. It is not from Iran, it is not from Israel. It is not from anybody. It is from within. You have a large group of princes who have been marginalized in prison and actually their property has been confiscated by this Prince Mohammad and his father. So now it becomes – the Saudis call it – the Kingdoms of Salman’s, Salman’s Kingdom, because all the power now is in Salman’s son’s hands. The security, the military, the economy, the heritage, everything is in their hands. Everybody else is gone.
The religious establishment have been curtailed because King Salman himself is an extremely reactionary Islamist. He is an Islamist himself actually. He said Wahhabism and the Shariah law are the only hope for humanity. So if you guys do not become Shariah followers and if you do not become Qur’an readers, you all go to hell as far as he is concerned. This is documented. One thing about me: I will not tell you anything that I cannot substantiate because that is all I have to offer, my credibility actually.
A Nation Under House Arrest
The royal family has been fragmented, marginalized, and they are mad as hell. Most of them actually are under house arrest. They cannot leave the country. One of the people you probably have heard about or know about is Prince Al Waleed, the multi-billionaire guy. He was among the people who were incarcerated in the Ritz Hotel in Riyadh. He has an empire all over the world actually. That has been taken away from him. It is managed now by somebody other than him. He cannot leave the country.
One of the biggest punishments – this is interesting, something for you to know – one of the biggest punishments the Saudi government uses it not to let you leave the country. That tells you the punishment is to live in the country. That is exactly what it is. That is the biggest punishment.
So imagine Prince Al Waleed who has about ten airplanes, including a 747, gold-plated plane. All you have to do is Google him and it will show you his airplanes, his mansions, and stuff like that. He cannot leave the country. For him that is a death sentence.
So you have this fragmentation of the ruling family and the religious establishment, and the overwhelming majority of the Saudi population, especially the youth, the 75% between the ages of 25 or below, despite the initiative, despite Prince Mohammad allowing women to drive or go to sport arenas or introducing movies – these things are not revolutionary. These things are not innovative steps. Everybody has been doing this for the last 400 years. Since movies came, people were going to movies. Since cars came, women have been driving cars.
So what he did is actually rubbish, but for a country like Saudi Arabia, it is a divergence from focusing on the root cause of the problem, which [is] now [treating] the Saudi people as a whole, not as groups. Everybody now identifies the royal family as the source of their problem thanks to social media.
Social media transformed Saudi Arabia. Prior to social media, even though it is illegal in some ways, the government tried to control it and they still try but they cannot because the young generation know how to bust the security systems. But for the first time the Saudi people are communicating with each other. They are starting to talk to each other; the Shia, Sunnis, men and women, dating, romanticizing, and all of these things.
Saudis’ Common Enemy is the Royal Family
And now they are identifying the common enemy, and the common enemy they see is the royal family because they are the ones controlling their money, they are controlling the army, they are controlling the security, including the religion. They are controlling everything, so everybody knows that is the source of their problems, not the Shias, not the Sunnis, not the women, not the minorities, not the Christians, not the Jews, not the Israelis, not the Palestinians, nobody. It is within. That is the biggest problem for the system.
That is the biggest factor that makes the future of the country unpredictable because there is no substitute or there is nothing that people can say ‘this is ours’. Saudis are the only people on the planet who are actually identified by the regime that rules them. I am Saudi. That means you are property of the Saudi ruling family. That is exactly what it translates to.
You should support my work because it is the right thing to do. I am doing what I do for America, not for me, for our values, for our democracy, for our human rights, not for me personally. This is all volunteer work I do and I sleep in basements and stuff like that. Do not get fooled by the suit and this thing. My daughter buys it for me when she feels ‘dad, you look so grumpy, so let me spiff you up’. I said okay. She does that. She is a lawyer working for abused women, [victims of] domestic violence.
I have a son here in Washington, DC. He volunteered to go to Iraq after 9/11. He went to Iraq, he came back, he worked for Homeland Security. Now he works for the Veteran’s Administration. He is pursuing a PhD in Psychology to help veterans with problems. That is what he is doing actually. My spouse is a physician who used to work for poor people in San Francisco, Haight-Ashbury, people who are affected by AIDS and that kind of thing. So our family does our share. That is what every American citizen should do.
The reason this country is the greatest or became the greatest in human history is because of its people, because of the American ingenuity, because of the American inventiveness, because of the American hard work. It is not because of Trump or Bush or Obama, all these creeps who come and tell you I am going to save you. Rubbish! It is the American people. It is you.
You know my heroes in America? I took the train because I did not have a car. When Bush was president I used to go to the White House before meetings. I like the guy. He is smart, but he is a good guy. So the people who I respect in this country or any country actually are the people I meet in the train at five or four o’clock in the morning. They are sleepy but they go to open shops, to open coffee shops, to get things ready for the rest of us when we go to get coffee. Those are the people who make this country great. The police [officers], the fire [fighters], these are the Americans who make America great. The scientists, everybody contributes.
America’s greatest success is because of its people. And the reason we are all successful – I came from a nomadic background to this country. No English, no money, no nothing, but we have opportunities and we are free to make mistakes and we are free to lose. We are free to give up and move on. That is what is so great about democracy. That is why I am obsessed with our values. That is why I promote the American way of life and American freedom, American values, and we should be focusing on that instead of fighting among ourselves.
‘I am Republican’, ‘I am Democrat’, ‘I am Independent’, ‘I am a Trumpite’, ‘I am Obamite’, this and that. This is not going to make this country any better. What would make this country better is to work together, and look at the flag, and that is what we should be supporting. The other believes in tribalism, tribalism with ties. This is not going to take us any place folks.
Buying People, Invading Countries
So Saudi Arabia is unpredictable because of its role in family disintegration [and] lack of income because the government expenses have increased and the income has hit bottom because the oil price was cut in half. That is a big problem because when they used to have money, they used to buy a lot of people.
Now instead of buying people, this Prince Mohammad and his father are invading people. They are invading Yemen, they are blockading Qatar, they are occupying Bahrain, they are raising the tension within the region itself in the Gulf among Arab states, small ones. They are fiefdoms ruled by tribal chiefs. [They are raising tension] with Iran. Saudis are doing us more harm than good, more harm than good when it comes to our national interest.
The Nature of Saudi-American Relations
Saudi ideology, you all know that Trump himself said they are the biggest funders of terrorism, and their ideology is the biggest threat to our democracy. This is when he was running in the presidential election. Now Saudi Arabia is the first country that he visited in May of 2017. His son-in-law, Kushner, is in bed with Prince Mohammad, he and his wife, Ivanka Trump.
The point I am trying to draw is in terms of the unpredictability of Saudi Arabia. We put so much stake, so much value into the relationship with Saudi Arabia when in fact, the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia has never been people-to-people, it has never been government-to-government, it has been between multinationals and the ruling family. I let you have access to oil, you protect me. And how do you protect me? You tell your government to protect me because you also control your government because you pay a lot of money to get them elected, whether they are congressmen or congresswomen or president or anything.
Most of these people get money from the Gulf states, from Saudi Arabia, from Qatar, from Kuwait, from all of them. They get money. You know one of the things we could do… All of your representatives come and they have these town hall meetings with you and they tell you what you want to hear.
If you really want to know what they do, where their money comes from, you go to the Congressional Quarterly. Every congressman and congresswoman’s name is there and where their money comes from. You have representatives in the House of Representatives, in the Senate, and everywhere else. You go ahead and find out where the money comes from. The man or woman who represents you, most of their money may come from different states and foreign governments, not your state.
There is a woman in Florida, somebody investigated her, and that was a smart thing to do. They found out actually 60% of her income comes from outside of the country and 20% comes from outside of the state, and only 20% comes from her income from the constituents. So who is she going to be loyal to? To the people who pay 20% of her expenses or the other 80%? It does not take a genius.
But you could find out and when these congressional representatives come, say look, your money comes from here, so how are you going to be loyal to us? You are loyal to the people who pay your way around. I did this to a liberal congressman from California, George Miller. I do not know if you have heard of George Miller. So he came to a town in California, so I had my list of where the money comes from, so I confronted him with it. His aide followed me to the parking lot and said, “Raise that question again, I will kill you,” literally, that is his language. So there is a risk, of course, in everything, right? But life without risk is not worth living, and I am talking about for values.
If we do not have democracy, we are nothing, we are going to be another rogue state like many states. So I still have faith in the American people. Maybe I am the only one who does, actually. I still have faith in the American people, but the American people have to know the truth. They are not getting it from our government, they are not getting it from our press, they are getting it from people like myself and other people who are actually sacrificing a lot to promote American values.
The Saudi government has no money to bribe its people anymore. They have no money to bribe anybody like they used to anymore, that is a problem. The youth have high expectations that are not being met. Most Saudi youth are unemployed.
Now they are busy going to movies and chasing women and doing these kinds of things, but that is going to get old very quickly. They want something else and there is nothing to substitute for what they expect to happen, which is their rights.
They need to have families. The biggest complaint I hear in Saudi chatrooms is I cannot buy a house, I do not have a home, I do not have a job, these are the problems. These are some of the problems.
Saudi Foreign Policy
The other thing that is destabilizing the country is its current foreign policy, its regional foreign policy. Saudi Arabia is more isolated today than at any time in the history of the country, especially after the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi. They are isolated within their immediate region. The integration of the GCC, the Gulf Cooperation Council is disintegrated because of Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s blockading of Qatar, invasion of Yemen, and trying to marginalize Oman and Kuwait.
The GCC is no more anything like it used to be, which actually started in 1980 to deter the Islamic Revolution in Tehran, which is a stupid thing. The whole gulf states are no match for Iran, 80 million Iranians who believe in martyrdom. You have a bunch of nomadic people who have very little history. Iran has a history, the Persian civilization.
Two Towers of Evil
Look, for me I have a name for the Saudi Wahhabi and the Mullahs in Tehran. I call them the two towers of evil. As long as those two regimes survive in the region, you will have no peace in the region, you will have no stability in the region, and you will have more terrorism and extremism, so both to me are the same. They are dangerous systems. They are no good for their people. They are no good for us.
But they still have money to be made in contracts, whether it is arms sales, whether it is construction, whether it is security, all of these things pay a lot of money for this. Regardless, the state itself today is isolated from the region. Its international image is tarnished. When everybody sees Saudi Arabia, they see Crown Prince Mohammad with a saw on the map, globally. Middle Eastern people see the same thing.
The Future of Saudi-American Relations
The question we have to ask is why should we continue, especially since we have become energy independent. We are an exporter of oil and we have the upper-hand economically-speaking. I am talking about the United States. Why should we continue to support a system, any system, like Russia or Saudi Arabia or wherever, support a system that is actually bent on destroying our democracy? And now they are united.
Trump is empowering Putin, the Chinese, emboldening the Saudis, emboldening North Korea, emboldening everybody who actually want to destroy America. We have trouble, folks, at home, so we cannot just keep pointing fingers outside unless we correct the inside.
Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia
My goal, my work, I started our center sixteen years ago, because after 9/11 there was so much demand on me from people all over the world to know more about Saudi Arabia, about Islam, about Sharia law. So I started the Center. It has been run by mostly volunteers, like 99% volunteers, and because of the work we do, the way I talk as you hear tonight and what I write in my analysis – you should read my website, I have cards, you can look at our website.
We are always underfunded. We can barely pay for a small office and government licenses because we have government licenses, but I did not care about that. I care about the message. As long as I can get the message out, that is what I care about and I am trying my very best. I was not joking when I said any of you folks who are capable of supporting the work we do, I think it is worth it for you, worth it for our country, and the work we do is actually foremost for the United States of America, for our democratic values, not for a party, not for a president, for our democratic values without which, not only us but the whole world will keep moving toward totalitarianism.
I would recommend an article that was published in The Wall Street Journal, which is not exactly liberal or a human rights activist group, and I do not like the writer of the article either, but it is called The Cost of American Retreat. The writer is Robert Kagan, whom I have never liked and we have never got along, but frankly speaking, that is an article worth reading. He did an amazing job in writing that article, and it is true. We have a lot of work cut out for us, we have a lot to do, and we can do it. Have faith in the American people. There is nothing the American people cannot do if they know the truth.
Robert R. Reilly?
What has happened to Prince Bandar?
Ali H. Alyami:
What has happened to Prince Bandar, that is a good question. He is under house arrest, actually. He cannot leave the country. His daughter is the Ambassador now. His daughter is the Saudi Ambassador to Washington, DC, but he is under house arrest. And he was one of the people who was very mad, so that is a problem. He is not the only one; there are many powerful princes like him that are under house arrest. He is very sick, you know he is an alcoholic. His health is bad, he is under house arrest, but his daughter represents the government.
What is it going to take for meaningful reforms to take hold in Saudi Arabia?
Ali H. Alyami:
That is actually a good question and this is what we have been promoting, sharing power, sharing power with the people. The Saudi government – all of them for the last 300 years – have relied and depended and formed powers to protect them. They have never tried to give the Saudi people incentives to participate in policy decision-making, to protect their country.
Any people are not going to be protective or loyal unless you have a stake in something. If you work for a company that abuses you, you are not going to be loyal to that company, you will be looking for a job everywhere else. So share power with people. You can still be the King, but be a nice King, if such a thing exists. Share power. First of all, there is a Consultative Council, a national consultative council. The King appoints people from the frontier regions. It is appointed and they call it the Consultative Council. It has no power at all. They take the order from the King, they stamp [what] he passes to them. That council should be elected [like] a national assembly, elected, okay.
That will be a very good start right there, but Saudi Arabia is made up many different regions. There should be local councils that are responsible for their own local people’s problems and issues, but they have to have some independence. They have to have some budgets, which they do not [have today]. There are councils, local councils, but they have no money, they have no authority, and there was an election, actually, in 2011 or something, but the people who got elected were sent home because they had no assignment. Share power with people, especially now because you need them now more than before, especially Prince Muhammad [bin Salman], who will probably be King. It is not a sure [thing], but he will probably be the next King. He needs support from the young people.
Look, he, Prince Muhammad, has an opportunity, [a] golden opportunity to do the reform that we are talking about, to transform society. Saudi Arabia, I do not want to transform that country or to change it, it is one of the most difficult places to do [that], and some of what he did has to be done like putting these princes in prison, like curtailing the power of the religious [police], but he did not substitute it with anything. He took all of the power. He took all the power from the other royals, and he took all of the power from the religious establishment, and put it under his control, so he is the only guy in town. There were many guys before, and sometimes it is better to have many guys in case one of them goes mad, you go to the other one. But he is the only guy in town now. He took all their powers, and he is now in control of it all, so that is not very good in terms of the future of the country. It is very destabilizing from within, from within.
What would it take to reduce the animosity between Iran and Saudi Arabia?
Ali H. Alyami:
That is a very good question. Those two people have more in common than they have differences. Frankly speaking, they need each other. They need each other to fool their people. The [Shia] clerics say Sunni Muslims want to kill you, which is probably true. The government in Iran is as extremist and terrorist-funding [a] system as the Saudis. They are both the same, so they need each other for domestic consumption. They need each other to control their own people. They need each other to get favorable foreign policies from Russia or China, America, or somewhere else, so if you think those two governments are actually going to kill each other, that is nonsense. They need each other.
And we will be stupid people to make one of them better than the other because the other one disappears, if the clerics go, you will have Saudi clerics and they will have no competition. But I do not [believe in] what you hear, the pronouncements made by these regimes. I think it is for international public consumption, especially for us. ‘Iran is going to destroy American interests.’ But those two governments need each other. They do not want to see one disappear.
One example, just to give you an example, both of them, the Iranians and the Saudis, when we went into Iraq in 2003, which could have been actually a very successful move if the plan was good, but the plan was stupid, but still, Iraq today is freer than any Arab government because of that invasion, actually. There are more TV stations in Iraq today, more free media, more free radio stations than at any time in Iraqi history, and that is the result of that invasion. It could have been a whole lot better and successful through the whole region. But the plan was messy, nobody was thinking ahead of the game.
The people were planning to ask me a question, actually. What is the best way to succeed? And this is exactly what I told them. Make sure the Iranians and the Saudis never touch them. And interestingly enough, after the war, that did not happen actually because the Saudis and the Iranians, that is my point, they were both from both ends trying to kill the Iraqi democratization process, which we introduced [through] that invasion, actually, so that tells you why they need each other, because neither of them wants to see a democratic system on their borders. They do not [want to see it], and these people are not stupid, they are clever. They are cunning people. They know what they are doing. If anybody is stupid, it is not them, it is some other people. They do not want democracy in Iran. They do not want democracy in Saudi Arabia. They are still trying to destroy whatever democracy is in Iraq as you all know. Let us not listen to this demagoguery telling you this is better than the other guys. They are not, they are the same.
First, I have been extensively through Iran, and I find the Mullahs to very responsive and available to people, ordinary people, whether it is getting a loan or a judicial [issue]. To me that shows the strength of the Mullahs’ power across Iran. That is my comment. My question is: is the war in Yemen going to be the undoing of Prince Muhammad bin Salman?
Ali H. Alyami:
I agree with you about the Iranian people. I mean the Iranian people are actually the closest ally to the American system, especially when the Shah was in power. He was not good, but he was a whole lot better than the creeps that run the country now. The Iranian people, most of them are twenty-five years [old] and younger. They do not consider themselves Arabs. They do not like Islam because Islam is an Arab religion. Islam is an Arab religion. It is not Asian. It is nobody else’s. Arabs took Islam and shoved it in everybody’s throats, whether you like it or not. Iranians actually until today – I know lots of Iranians. I work with several of them. They consider the Sunni Muslims or Islam in general as a backward religion, and they are right in terms of democracy, women’s rights, human rights. The Sharia law is a bad system. Interestingly enough, many Arabs now and many Muslims – actually, there is a survey by a global organization. I forget the name, and the title of [the survey] is “Arabs are losing faith in religious parties and leaders.”
And I do not blame them because I have seen it coming. I have always told people [while doing] our work, our educational work, [these things]. I do not tell people what to do most of the time, but I ask questions. I ask the Saudi people, for example, do you need somebody to tell you how to pray, to tell you how to get married, to tell you how to fast? Can you judge for yourself, or do you need somebody to tell you? And this is the question that seems at the beginning [to spark accusations] that I was atheist or Zionist or Christian, this or that. People always express themselves the way they can. So, now they are actually doing and saying the same thing I was saying twenty, thirty years ago because it is sticking in their minds.
Of course, I get a lot of very angry emails from Saudis. [This is] expected for one reason, they have to prove to their government they do not like what I say, and I know that, but most of them actually today are asking [about] the legality of the Sharia law. They do not ask [about] it out loud, but they do [ask about it]. They question Islam, they question the Sharia and its application, they question the government policies, that is party of why the regime in Saudi Arabia, or the future of the country, is unpredictable because there are so many different questions, so many different angles, different [expressions of] anger, different expectations that the system can never by itself meet them. That is why it is very important to share power with the people because when you are responsible, when you feel you are part of the system, you share responsibility. Today, every [points their] finger at the King and his son because all of the power is in their hands.
When you go to our website, and I strongly recommend you do that, go to our token points. There is a menu. It says About Us. Click that. It will tell you what we promote. We are promoting something actually that will benefit the royal family, that will benefit the people, and it will benefit our values [of] the United States of America. We are the only ones who have our agenda set in our system. This is what we promote, nothing hidden.
The war in Yemen is a travesty, I know, I was born on the border of Saudi Arabia and Yemen. I live here, and there is a mountain. I climb the mountain, [and] I am on the Yemeni side [of the border], and the Houthi side, actually, the Houthi region. The Yemenis are the most poverty-stricken people in the Middle East, twenty-six million of them. They are the fiercest people in the Middle East. They are a mountain people. They might be poor, but do not touch their property, do not touch their region. They are the least practicing Muslims. They pray when they want, and they do not pray [if they do not want to]. Actually, Yemen is the only country where Shiites and Sunni pray in the same mosque, the only [country in] the whole Arab world and Muslim world. The Saudis should have known that nobody has ever won a war in Yemen, nobody, not the Crusaders, not the Ethiopians, not the Ottomans, not the British, nobody, so why go to war with a neighbor that you could gain [as a friend] by being nice to them?
In 1996, the Saudi government approached me, said we know you have a connection with the Yemenis, and they like you because you are against us. I tell this story. [I told them], I am not against you, I am against your policies. We cannot go for dinner and have a glass of wine, and party. That is not the issue, [the issue] is not you, it is what you do. But they approached me to write a survey or proposal [answering the question], what is the best way to get Yemen [to] be nice to us. I went and visited all of Yemen. I [have] known Yemen since I was a child.
I wrote it, and I gave it to two people. One of them was a childhood friend of mine who became Special Adviser to King Fahd before he died. The other one is the Emir from Najran, my region, a Sudairy guy from the Sudairy family, which is a powerful family in Saudi Arabia, and I gave it to them. The Emir from Najran said this is rubbish. He dropped it.
What I told them [was] build roads, build hospitals, build schools. People have to have something to hold on to, employment, [a] good health system, [a] good water system. Most Yemenis do not have running water. [They need] electricity, simple things. You will get a good neighbor. They said no, this is not going to work. The other guy, my childhood friend, handed it to King Fahd. King Fahd said this is so expensive. When I did the survey and the proposal, I brought it to California. I contacted contractors of all the people, Backtar company, which is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Saudi money. It is in San Francisco.
I [asked] how much will this cost? Twenty billion dollars. This was in 1996. [This] was actually a very cheap price for doing those things I suggested; electricity, water pipes, roads, hospitals, these things that people need. And it would give them employment, and it will give them something to feel good about because if you have something to protect, you are not going to destroy it. See? And I asked the guy – I went to them again, and I asked what happened to that proposal you guys asked me to give to you? He said I gave it to the King, and I do not know what happened, so he probably trashed it too.
So, the war in Yemen is a mistake. It is not going to stop. The Saudis have created twenty-six million Yemenis as enemies. The Yemenis at this point have nothing to lose. They had nothing before the war, but now they have absolutely nothing to lose. Their country is destroyed. Their people are uprooted. Diseases are all over the country, and it is because of this invasion that could have been avoided. It could have been avoided because the argument, which I know is not correct, the argument is to make sure Iran does not have a proxy on our border. Yemenis do not care about Iran. I have never in my experiences in Yemen heard one Yemeni say anything good about Iran, nothing. They are Arabs, smoking ghat, which is a drug that Yemenis smoke. [They] get drugged, but they are a very nationalist people.
No government in Yemen, including the Imam, has been able to rule the country. In fact, the Imam family who ruled Yemen for one thousand years were not able to rule more than Sana’a, the capital. Every region is running itself, and the reason the Imam was able to control the country was he went to the tribal chiefs, and took their sons, brought them to Sana’a, [and] put them in prison. And if the chiefs did anything that might undermine the Imam’s authority, he killed their sons, so he held them hostage too. Yemen is not a place you play games with, and I do not know why this guy, King Salman and Prince Muhammad, want to do this stupid war that has no end to it at all.
The social causes, particularly the youth, that constitutes the majority or nearly the majority in many Arab countries and in Iran as well have erupted over the years in street manifestations, some of them very, very serious, in rebellion against the prevailing corruption in their capital cities. Why have the Saudi youth, who suffer from the same disadvantages vis-á-vis their ruling authority, why have they not gone to the street?
That is a very good question. People ask me that question all the time, actually, and I do not know exactly why, but the Saudi [youth] have been religiously indoctrinated to obey authority, obey the King, obey what the King pushes out. That is part of it. The other part of it is sheer fear. The Saudis are among probably the most terrorized people in the world today. The suppression in Saudi Arabia is inclusive. North Korea is a totalitarian system. Iran is a totalitarian system. Many Arab countries and Muslim countries [are totalitarian systems], but [they are] not as inclusive as in Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia, it is oppression. Alcohol is not allowed. Until recently movies were not allowed. The government [gives] handouts, giving people money, they depend on the government for food and everything else.[There is] no political freedom of any kind, so people are frightened for good reason, because they chop chop their heads in public squares, flogging them, and so on. When this Khashoggi was killed, Prince Muhammad had to establish his authority because he is youngish, nobody knows him. Most of the people before him are older, senior princes, they go and sit with people in tents and drink coffee, sing, and that kind of thing, play with the sword.
He came from nowhere, so he had to establish a name for himself: fear, a name by fear.
That is why they chopped what-is-his-name’s head, Khashoggi, and it worked for him, actually, not only in Saudi Arabia, but outside Saudi Arabia. The murder of Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey in October 2018 sent a chilling feeling among Western liberal journalists, investigative journalists, and other people. I spoke with many people like that. We are afraid to go to the Middle East. We are afraid to speak out freely, so it is affecting us as well. He does not really have to do it. In order for him to be [a] feared King because the Saudis believe in Machiavellian theory, the prince should be feared, not loved, and that is exactly what Prince Muhammad has done and what he is doing.
And this is the whole system.
In order for Saudi Arabia to be reformed – the gentleman asked about what it takes to reform the country – is to change the system. The system is the problem. Individuals are practicing the system they inherited from their history, and their culture, and their religion, and stuff like that. Look, the only way any society can succeed in all things, [including] human rights, is when you have democracy. You have to be free to think freely, to talk freely without being killed, and produce, and make mistakes. Mistakes are the portals of discovery.
Saudis are terrorized, especially after this Khashoggi guy [was killed].
I know a group of Saudi women, actually, and men who came to ask [for] asylum in this country. I used to communicate with them, and they have visited me in my home, and we tried to build a group, [a] Saudi community here. And when Khashoggi was murdered, that [group] was over. Interestingly enough, all the Saudis who sought immigration to the West are denouncing Islam, men and women, all of them. Yes. At the end of the day, the Sharia law, the dictate of Islam, and the teaching of Islam is the problem. If it does not fit somebody, it is infidel’s creation to destroy Islam. Do you see?
Religion has to be transformed, that is number one. It has to be reinterpreted. Separate the mosque from the state. Christianity was in the dumps before they separated the Bible from [the state]. Some of you are Catholics and some of you are historians. You know about Christianity. Only the Age of Enlightenment changed that. But the church is free to do whatever it wants to do under the rule of law. In Arab and Muslim countries, there is no rule of law. There is rule of Kings and Princes and Sharia law, and those are losers, all of that. I have been saying this all my life. This work I do now, I have done it since I was a little boy, actually.
What do you see as the role of the Saudi government in the 9/11 attacks?
I have heard what you have heard and read, but some of the people who are connected to the terrorists at least were Saudi employees. They were getting their money from the Saudi Embassy. They were visiting the Saudi Embassy. They got checks from Prince Bandar’s wife. And there is no way that any Saudi who is still living in Saudi Arabia or outside Saudi Arabia will ever do anything without at least a nod from the King, it has to be the King or the Crown Prince or somebody big in the Saudi royal family, so I believe they [had] their role to play.
The other thing that is more dangerous than [unintelligible] is the ideology. Those people killed because they really believe they will go to heaven. This is what God wants them to do, kill the infidel, destroy the infidel. That is part of it, but part of it is they want to hurt the people that support their oppressor or who support the regimes who they are accusing of being less [authentic] Muslims, like Bin Laden, his biggest problem with the Saudi royal family – Laden is the biggest, richest family next to the royal family in Saudi Arabia. They still are [the richest], you know. His biggest problem with the United States is their support for the Saudi government because they consider the Saudi government corrupt, which is very true, but it becomes less Islamic, so Islam has played the ideology, Wahhabism.
I talk to some princes and princesses I meet at conferences. One of the people I know is in jail now, one of the princes, actually. Many of them have told me indirectly. I asked them the same question you asked me, but I am not a blonde American woman, I am one of them. I said look, just tell me – you know, the Americans always accuse the Saudis of doing this or that, and how about the role in 9/11? One of them told me exactly this: There is no way in hell those people who are connected to the terrorists would have done it without the royal approval.
It is interesting, actually. I should be also defending the Saudi princes and princesses who have stick their heads out. Some of them I really like a lot and some of them became friends of mine at a personal level. And I know their first and [highest] priority is the survival of the family, their family. And the reason for that is the money because they know if the royal family does not control everything, their big, free checks are not going to come in, so they want to maintain that, but they also became educated in Europe and some of them got educated in Arab countries, like in Lebanon, for example. I know a bunch of Saudi princes who went to Jesuit schools in Lebanon, for example.
Their consciences began to nag them. This is not right, but they wanted the family to be transformed in some ways. Actually, a lot of what I just told you tonight – not in this blunt language, but a lot of it has been said by the father of Prince Al Waleed [bin Talal Al Saud]. The father, his name is Talal, Talal bin Abdulaziz. [He was the] half-brother of King Salman, who died recently, but he had been calling for a constitution, which I have if anybody wants to see it. He even wrote an article in The Washington Post, saying that in this country, like in Saudi Arabia, we are the rulers and the masters. He said it that [bluntly], so some of them have spoken out, but they do not have the power to change the big picture in the country.
My issue is I know a lot of people in Saudi Arabia who have sacrificed and still do, but if I mention their names, me, it is a death sentence, so I try to stay away from it. I have worked with some of them. People ask me when I apply for a grant or anything, what have you done in Saudi Arabia? I said if I tell you, I will be betraying what I am promising and what I am doing because I know if I mention names, those people will be hanged because they will say they and I are conspiring with – they used to call it Zionists, but now the Zionists and the Saudis are sleeping together because the Saudis need the protection since Trump and his group are not protecting them as much as Obama and Bush and the others. Now they are accusing me of being paid by Iran. Iran is the big [verbal] punch now. You have to have [a verbal] punch. It was Israel for sixty years, but when that outlived its effectiveness, they went to Iran. If Iran goes, [they will accuse] somebody else [of funding my work]. They will find somebody. They will find somebody.
Is there a problem in terms of there being enough money for the vast number of members of the royal family? I read somewhere that it is becoming a real problem.
It is a problem, not just for the royal princes, [because] the first blood-related group in the family is probably about two or three thousand [people]. They are the ones who get a lot of money. But they have extended relatives, so their monthly income, monthly income of free checks, ranges from $275,000 for the top ones to $8,000 to the little ones, so that is a lot of money for ten [to] twenty thousand people. But the money is shrinking, actually. The deficit, the Saudi deficit for the last three years [was] $60-70 billion dollars a year. That is a lot of money.
And there is no light at the end of the tunnel because the oil prices will never go to $120 [per barrel] again thanks to our fracking here in this country, busting the rocks. Busting the rocks humbled the Saudis and the Russians and everybody. But the expenditures on these wars and these invasions is costing a lot of money, and there is no money incoming. Prince Muhammad has this vision 2030, and he was hoping that the Western investors, the big banks, would put their money [in Saudi Arabia] to bail him out and to resuscitate the Saudi economy.
Well, nobody is coming. Nobody is coming, even by selling some shares in Aramco. They stay away because the country is very unstable, especially after the attacks by Iran, or at least everybody says that it is Iran, on the Saudi oil refineries. There is no stability, there is no security, and investors are becoming smarter. Why should we put our money that is not going to pay big money for the long haul? And nobody has [an] interest in the long haul; I mean faith in the long haul.
If I may, Saudi Arabia, if it breaks up – everybody talks about Iraq breaking up, Iran breaking into its ethnic compositions and so forth. I have not read or heard about Saudi Arabia breaking up into its regional and/or tribal constituents. Would you address the possibilities of the Najranis, for example, splitting off and joining Yemen or going it alone? Is that a possibility? Thank you.
That is a good question, the fragmentation of the country. That has been haunting the royal family for decades. Yeah. The one that really wants to split from the Saudi state is the Hejaz region, Jeddah, where you have been, Mecca, the Hejaz region. Most of the people in that region are not originally nomadic people. They are people who came from different countries of the world to go to Mecca and Medina to perform their Islamic duties, but they stayed so it is a multicultural area. Most of them are more educated secularly because they have not been exposed to this Wahhabi indoctrination. Even when the Wahhabis invaded Hejaz in 1926, they did not go to Wahhabi schools they stuck with their own schools. But there is potential that there will be defection by some regions.
The northern region, which is close to Iraq, and to Jordan, and to Syria is also very unhappy, actually, with the government in Riyadh because they have been accused of being less [authentic] Muslims because of their exposure to less religious Arab countries and Arab communities, so there is resentment by the government toward them, and they do not like the central government because the central government is not paying a lot of money [to] them because they are accusing them of being loyal to other countries, or they are afraid they may actually go to Iraq, and Syria, and Jordan, stuff like that. There is a fear that actually the Hashemite Kingdom might claim the Hejaz region, King Abdullah and his relatives, because they used to rule Hejaz before the Saudis took it from them in the ’20s with the help of Great Britain.
Eastern Saudi Arabia is mostly the Shias who have been oppressed, but that is where the oil industry is [located]. There is potential that they may actually join other Shiites in the other Gulf states, and likely form a Shiite community in these states, and become a state of their own or join Iran or something. Saudi Arabia, the unpredictability of the country is multifaceted from different areas, different regions, different groups. And the only way to really unite that country, stabilize that country, and make it a more moderate, tolerant community, a member of the international community, is to give local councils, local governors some power to build their own regions.
Everything now has to go through Riyadh, through Prince Muhammad, and that is not going to work anymore because people know better. People are not nomadic people anymore. As I said. they spend more time [using their] TV, phone, internet, satellite TV, and all of these things. The mentality of the people has changed. The mentality of the ruling family remains the same. The country is ours, that is what King Salman always [has believed]. His lifelong philosophy [has been] we took the country by the sword, [and] we will keep it by the sword. That is exactly what his full brother, Prince Nayef, when he was alive, before he got killed, [believed].
Some [members of the] royal family told me that he was poisoned by King Abdullah in Geneva [in] 2012 I believe, but he said that. He met with Saudi reformers. He met with them, and he said I do not want to – if you open your mouths, I will cut your tongue. And he showed the knife. [It is on] YouTube. I will cut your tongues if you talk about [becoming] a participant in the congress process. We took the country by the sword, and we will keep it by the swords, and that is exactly the mentality of King Salman. And King Salman, of all the royal princes, he believes in that more than anybody. He has said it. He has had interviews with many Westerners, and he told them that. King Fahd told President Carter that democracy is not our bag of beans. We do not believe in this stuff. That is heathen. That is your philosophy. The King is the one who should be ruling, not others. They have made it clear to everybody.
But I am concerned. Saudi Arabia is my motherland. I love the country. I love the people. I am [an] American citizen. The only passport I think I would consider carrying today is the American passport. Otherwise, I would be a passport-less person, but the thing is we still have a huge role. This country is very powerful. We still have the most powerful economy. We have the most powerful military. Look, I travel the world for the work I do. I get invited by people, and I give talks like I do here tonight, and they pay for it because we cannot afford to do any of this stuff.
People in the past, before Trump came to power, they used to look up to America, because the conferences I go to are human rights conferences, for help, for guidance, for support, for pressure on their governments. Since this administration came in, all of the people that used to look up to America now look down on America, and frankly speaking, this is no good. This is no good because America is the beacon of liberty for all oppressed people, and for oppressed women, and that is what makes this country the greatest in human history, its democratic values, its way of life, dress codes, all of this stuff.
We cannot do without that, so nobody thinks that the gun is not going to do it for us. The gun is not going to do it. What is going to do it for us is American values, and there are millions and millions and millions of people all around the world who die for our values, who die, literally die or go to jail, like the Saudi women. There is a group of Saudi women who were arrested by Prince Muhammad, mostly because they talked to Western journalists and communicated with Western human rights groups like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, us, and other people. And they beat them, they burned them, they raped them, and they are still suffering (some of them) in prison. That is because they want our values. They want to be free to speak. They want to have a voice. These are our true allies, folks. These are the people we want to embolden.
Okay. I will stop. I told you, I can talk until we all die.