The Lesson Of Saudi Arabia's Silent Revolution

In Saudi Arabia, a discrete metamorphosis
In Saudi Arabia, a discrete metamorphosis
Edouard Tétreau


PARIS - A lot of people in Europe, especially the French, cheered heedlessly when the Arab Spring took off in 2011.

But then came the 70,000 dead from the Syrian war; the proliferation of terrorism in Libya and Mali; the assassination of the main Tunisian opposition leader Chokri Belaid in a country where there is actually less freedom than before; and of course, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, knee deep in economic and social chaos.

The Arab Spring of these secular republics wasn’t as positive and peaceful as many had expected.

Another Arab Spring, more discreet and more promising, is happening in Saudi Arabia. In the past two years, King Abdullah has taken many revolutionary measures. In 2011, he granted women the right to vote – and to run as candidates in the municipal elections from 2015. Earlier this year, he announced that 30 women would be given a seat in the Saudi parliament – 20% of the assembly – a ratio comparable to the French parliament.

How far will this revolution go? It is a fragile revolution – protests are multiplying against the king’s audacity to make such huge leaps forward. It might not be notable from the point of view of a republic like France but in the past two years, something has come to light in the Arab world.

Aside from Algeria, the worst setbacks have happened in secular republics and democracies: Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Iraq and Syria. And meanwhile, the cornerstones of political and economical stability and – albeit slow – social progress are to be found in monarchies and so-called feudal societies: Mohammed VI’s Morocco, King Abdullah’s Saudi Arabia, Sheikha Mozah and Emir Al-Thani’s Qatar.

Time to act before China steps in

There are two things two take away from this. First, humility and patience. A few months are not enough to change traditional societies that were living under tents only a few decades ago.

Second, we should bet on a partnership with the Arab world. We share the same difficult challenges: high youth unemployment rates, which for the West is an embarrassing cancer and for the Arab world is a ticking time bomb. Each year, 700,000 young Egyptians and 300,000 Saudi youths enter the job market. There are also the issues of water, environment, energy, education and of course – and mostly – security. Whether it is civil or military, the challenge of security is paramount in this part of the world where the Americans have planned their disengagement, to the benefit of Russia, Iran and Asian powers.

It is time for France to step in, to help create an economic community between Europe and the Arab world. But it has to be done with haste. The other thing we recently learned about Saudi Arabia is that China and the other Asian powers are already very present in the minds and the speeches of those who make the big decisions.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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