What Is Happening with Saudi Arabia? (A Personal Perspective)
I wrote this article in 2018 here in Bahasa Indonesia and translated it to English to post my writings on LinkedIn. 2018 is the year when Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. As of this year (2020), I don’t really found any significant updates about this case. In the meantime, I decided to move my article from LinkedIn to this website.
I’ve been visiting Saudi Arabia ever since 2004 when I was a five years old boy. It has been six visits since then, all of them were for a pilgrimage (Umrah). Every time visiting the country, I always found something new for the pilgrims. In 2011, I already saw the Clock Tower, or Abraj Al Bait, despite its undergoing construction. The major change I got there is in early 2018, The New Year’s Eve. That biggest country in the Arab Gulf is getting more modern, starts from its people to the infrastructures. I’ve seen myself the high-speed rail bridge to Jeddah and Madinah. The Two Holy Mosque services, Masjid Al Haram and Masjid Al Nabawi is getting better as well. From my personal perspective as a tourist and a pilgrim, I feel like this is the most appropriate time for the Haramain (a term for the Two Holy Cities) to be like that to support and embrace every single Muslim who doing their prayers and rites there.
From the evidence that I’ve gotten in the field, I guess the Custodian of The Two Holy Mosque, King Salman of Saudi Arabia, has already done his job. It was getting better by the achievements done by the Crown Prince, Mohammad Bin Salman, or known in the mainstream media as MBS. In my late 2017/early 2018 visit, it was reported by international media that Bin Salman did various social reformations inside the Kingdom. I started to highlight some things done by him when the Kingdom decided to lift the women-driving ban which has been implemented this year (2018). As a piece of information, per 2017, Saudi Arabia was the last country to impose a ban on women to drive. Then, Bin Salman started an annual economic and investment summit in Saudi Arabia or known as the Future Investment Initiative. He organizes this particular summit to realize the economic reformation in the Kingdom, as they decided to reduce their dependence on oil. It was planned on Saudi Vision 2030. The service improvement in Makkah & Madinah is included in that planning, as well. This means, there is a big change in the Kingdom. As a person who loves the Middle Eastern culture and tourism, especially Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, I am pretty impressed and happy with so-and-so-much improvements happening in the Country with date palm and two swords as its emblem.
But this year (2018) is not so a good year for Saudi Arabia. The peak was on 2 October 2018, when a notable Saudi Journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, went missing at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. With big changes across the Kingdom, this particular case made people wondering about the real thing inside. In the past, Jamal Khashoggi was pretty vocal towards the Kingdom, but in a good way. As I read some sources, the word “Vocal” in this context is criticizing the bad thing and promote the good thing. On of the quote that the deceased wrote on The Washington Post was:
“We are not opposed to our government and care deeply about Saudi Arabia. It is the only home we know or want.”
For me, this is a strong quote. I’ve had seen enough critics towards the Indonesian Government. It’s not even often that opposition behaves annoyingly. But until now, in Saudi Arabia, I think (the activist’s voices) are still in a good line. As far as I know, the Arab society (especially GCC) is pretty loyal to their leader, just like what Khashoggi wrote, even after the Arab Spring. I, as a foreigner, sometimes feel envy with their loyalty towards the country. It has been proven when I was on the road in Saudi Arabia. On the right and left, I saw a lot of billboards, posters, as well as advertisements with the King picture and Saudi Flag. From those things, I guess, can be concluded about their loyalty. But I don’t know why, since 2017, I feel that something weird is happening there. It was started after the Kingdom cut the diplomatic ties with Qatar, the neighboring country, and fellow GCC members. I guessed this was just a small-fry conflict, like back then in 2014. But still, I can not believe what Saudi Arabia has done. The list keeps going, starting with The Ritz-Carlton Crackdown, the human rights activists arrest (some of them are the member of Women To Drive Movement), until its peak when Jamal Khashoggi was murdered. After that, there was another case with Indonesia, the domestic worker execution, named Tuti Tursilawati.
From news about Saudi Arabia (except for Hajj and Umrah) that I’ve got since 2017 made me raised the eyebrows. I mean…what on earth is happening with the country where the Two Holy Cities inside? I have seen their economic development here and there, but there’s still storage of human rights problems that remain unsolved. Once passed the head of me about the Kingdom’s seriousness to modernize themselves. It’s not that I hate them. To be very honest, I even fall in love with Saudi Arabia. Well…maybe it was because of Makkah & Madinah, where I use to vent all of my life problems with God while refreshen my spiritual and leave my worldly problem. I repeat all my words, even the Mosque Service is getting better every day. In other words, I think King Salman has done his job as the Custodian Of The Two Holy Mosque impressively. But with a lot of bad news, human rights activist cases, Jamal Khashoggi’s Murder, and Tuti Tursilawati’s execution, what is happening with Saudi Arabia?
For a country with the Holy Quran and the Prophet’s Sunnah (legal custom), all of those are not supposed to happen. Regarding the death penalty, I can’t protest it. First, I’m a foreigner. Second, I’ve heard about the death penalty in Islam and yes, it’s there. But in this world, there is something called diplomacy, discussion, court, etc. This is the real question, why all of those seems not happening? The three things I’ve mentioned before can be applied to Jamal Khashoggi’s case. It would be there if the Saudi Government wants to express its objections about what Khashoggi has voiced all that time back then. But premeditated murder? I feel there’s something wrong with Saudi Arabia.
Apart from those problems, I’m gonna continue to visit Saudi Arabia for Umrah or Hajj in the future. As I’ve mentioned before, the only place where I can vent all of my life problems with God, as well as spiritual refreshment, is Makkah & Madinah. I also hope that all problems solved immediately so light of truth can be exposed, and all parties get a good lesson of life from it.
Note: As I translate the article from Bahasa Indonesia, Jamal Khashoggi had been given a funeral prayer in absentia at both Masjid Al Haram in Makkah and Masjid Al Nabawi in Madinah.