Insulting Royalty- Saudi Arabia and Beyond

Many countries with royal families tend to be extremely protective about defending their honor. Thailand was recently in the news because of the jailing of an Australian writer for insulting the monarchy and his subsequent pardon. A few weeks later a British professor ran from Thailand with similar charges against him. Several years ago Spanish magazines were pulled off the shelves for depicting insulting images of the royalty.

Saudi Arabia is similar to many of these countries regarding the high regard for the royal family, with an additional aspect- the Saudi monarchy are the ACTUAL rulers of the country, not just figureheads! This seems to elevate them to an even higher standard where criticism is not allowed at all and makes people very sensitive about the topic. Blogs that criticize the Saudi royals are blocked in the country as are several human rights web-sites.  Defacing the currency is a big no-no as it has images of the royalty on it. People discuss issues like corruption off the record in “safe” settings with trusted friends only. 

These cultural sensitivities were highlighted last week when the coach of the Al-Hilal football (soccer) team was fired and told to leave the country because he threw down his shirt that had the picture of Crown Prince Sultan on it. This happened right after his team won at the Crown Prince Cup. The organizers of the match did not allow the whole team to come to the podium; in anger the coach did not go to the podium and threw his shirt. The next day he was fired. His apology was not accepted.

Religious Tolerance in Saudi Arabia

Disclaimer: this post includes references to the following two news articles.  I do not know the veracity of the articles nor the legitimacy of the web-sites.

Saudi Arabia arrests Christian blogger

Pastor flees death threats

Churches, synagogues, temples are banned in Saudi Arabia however people are allowed to practice their religion in private. They are not permitted to practice in public or in large gatherings. Proselytizing is definitely banned, whether direct or indirect.

Last year was one of change. There was talk of negotiations between the Vatican and Saudi Arabia to open the first Roman Catholic church in KSA. Saudi Arabia hosted an interfaith dialogue conference in June, sponsored a 2-day UN conference to promote interfaith dialogue and is actually leading the same UN Faith Forum!

In light of these happenings in 2008 it is surprising that at the beginning of 2009 there would be reports of arresting a blogger talking about how he converted from Islam to Christianity, and death threats against the ex-pastor of a 300 person church (~ 150 members would congregate at his house, not all 300).

It would appear that the tension between the “Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice” and the rest of the administration and population is heating up again. There are constant reminders of the different directions the country is being pulled in. Sometimes it is stories about probes into Vice cops raid of British universities fair and sometimes stories about arrests of Christian bloggers.

The situation is not going to get better anytime soon but at least the indicators of change are starting to appear.