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Monday, May 23, 2005

"Allies"

Winds of change blow in the Middle East. Aggressive policies have the ability to bring great changes and reforms. Now that the women of Kuwait have the right to vote it's time to take a look at some of the US allies and see what they're up to at the moment. While many regions are going through significant times there are still those who seek to conserve old and weak policies.

Freedom House released a survey about three days ago which has a focus on women's freedom in the Middle East. It reveals that Saudi Arabia - a strong ally of the US - is the worst violator of women's rights.
Saudi Arabia's system is based on Wahhabism - The Saudi version of Sunni Islam. The Islamic laws in Saudi Arabia do not recognize men & women as equal beings. Men are in charge of their women but are also responsible for their "wrong doings" (can't think of a worse crime than dressing the way you like):
"...such as eating in a restaurant with an unrelated male, it is usually the woman's male guardian or her mahran (her husband or closest male family relative) and not the women herself, who is likely to be punished by the court with either fines or imprisonment."
A Saudi woman does not want to end up in a court. The judges are men, the lawyers are men and a woman can't even pursue a legal case if she can't get a man to do that:
"A woman is not considered a full person before the court. In accordance with the Saudi interpretation of Shari'a, the testimony of one man is equivalent to that of two women."
Sounds fair? Wait - there's more:
"Women of many nationalities were detained for what is considered inappropriate behavior, such as dining in restaurants with unrelated males, riding in a taxi with a male who is not their relative, or appearing in public with their heads uncovered."
Remember that fire a few years back in a girls' public school where the Saudi religious police didn't let some of the little girls to escape the fire because they weren't properly dressed? And that's just a small part of it. There's tons more. Check Freedom House for the study and cry:
http://www.freedomhouse.org/research/menasurvey/

The Saudi oil makes the situation even worse. The Saudis have invested a lot in the US and the Royal Family has a full control over the oil. If the Saudis wanted they could do some serious damage to the US economy. It seems that the Royal Family are Islamic fanatics (or at least enjoying the benefits of it) but they're not anti-USA (one reason why the Family is not very popular among Saudis) and therefore they have been a key allie of the war on terror. They have bought time but if you ask me that time should be over already. The fact of course is that the US could also do some serious damage to Saudi economy and that's the key here - more international pressure and sanctions - but carefully.

Uzbekistan - once a necessary partner to fight the war on terror but now it's nothing more than a potential and corrupt dictatorship. A few weeks back public unrest rose and anti-government demonstrations were held. Karimov sent the army to take care of these protests - 500 civilians were shot.
"The United States and European Union should support the U.N. request for an independent investigation into the killings in Andijan." said Holly Cartner of the Human Rights Watch
Also check the fantastic "The Weekly Standard" for an article by William Kristol (one of the brightest political people in the US) titled "Our Uzbek Problem"
Of course there's always the danger of Islamic radicals taking over the government which would only worsen the situation. But that doesn't justify Karimov's war on progress.

As you should know there's more but Saudi Arabia remains maybe the most significant problem and Uzbekistan has received some headlines during the past few weeks.
There's some hope (a lot of it actually) - if things in Israel/Palestine improve and if democracy and freedom in Iraq succeeds the Saudi problem might get solved without any direct US involvement.
By no means this means that the US is in any way responsible for what these countries do - and by all means these countries have benefitted the US war on terror (the Saudis have chased radicals aggressively ever since the acts of terror in Riyadh in 2003). However - the US should use its power and authority to put more pressure on its allies. Thanks to the war in Iraq the US now has more authority in the Middle East than ever before. And while there are reasons to treat the Saudis carefully there's absolutely no reason to support countries like Uzbekistan anymore.

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