Every week, I am host to several dozen people at my home, most of them politically engaged Saudi youth. I started the salon after government and religious authorities clamped down on gatherings of liberal youth in cafes and bookstores in the wake of Hamza’s arrest, severely constricting the space for free expression in this city. The oppressive trend has accelerated as religious hard-liners have mounted a vicious campaign to cleanse society of what they deem “unbelief” and “deviant thought”: in reality, any ideology different from their own.
At one of the salon gatherings, I had the pleasing epiphany that religious hard-liners have begun to lose control of a young generation that is hungry for freedom. A brave young man responded passionately to clerics whom I had naively invited to participate in the salon and who had threatened him for supporting freedom of expression and belief, saying: “Who are you? Who are you to inflict your religious guardianship upon us? We are free, free to say what we like. You are just like us, not better. The era of religious guardianship is over.”
There was a stunned silence.
Rapt in admiration, I thought about how only 10 years ago I was expected to blindly obey the dictates of an Islamist organization — and how, then, I never would have dared to engage in a debate with its disciples. Those of us born in the 1970s, when extremist religious thought was at its apogee in Saudi Arabia, had a single choice if we wished to serve our communities: Join an Islamist organization.
This op-ed is couragerous in two ways: first in challenging the religious establishment in defending freedom of belief, but also in calling for a constitutional monarchy. Abu Alkhair is unable to travel from Saudi — let's hope it doesn't get him into more trouble, as I can't recall ever reading such a powerful liberal indictment of the Saudi system.