Human rights and freedom of speech once again, brings the largest economy in the GCC into the spotlight. With oil reserves of 260 billion barrels and daily output of 11.75million barrels, the worlds top oil-producing nation Saudi Arabia seems to be maintaining its harsh stance against anyone breaking the rules.
The founder of the website “Free Saudi Liberals” Raif Badawi was fined SAR1millon ($266k) and sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes. This was increased from an initial sentence of 7 years in prison and 600 lashes as an appeals court ordered a retrial.
Following the Arab springs the cultural sentiment in the Saudi regime is to clamp down hard on anyone that challenges the rules and Badawi who was arrested in 2012 was close to being tried for apostasy, which carries the death penalty.
Badawi was originally charged with disobeying his father and cybercrime, where his website included articles critical of religious leaders in Saudi Arabia. Alongside Badawi many others have been sentenced to prison for their role in allowing and encouraging demonstrations and hostilities against the Saudi regime.
The cultural makeup of the GCC is very different with the liberal accepting stance of the UAE, in particularly Dubai and Saudi Arabia where women are not allowed to drive. One of the main reasons behind this is the hardline Wahhabi sect of Islam that rules Saudi Arabia. Wahhabism or salafism as it is otherwise known has a literal understanding of Islamic jurisprudence and as a result, decisions and laws are passed on the understanding of the Judge rather than on a precedent.
With the confusion in religion and culture and the interpretation of the two, one thing is for sure the true Islamic understanding of tolerance and equality are a long way of and in the meantime Islam will continue to be challenged.
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