by Hakim Khatib
Atheism remains one of the most extreme taboos in Saudi Arabia. It is a red line that no one can cross. Atheists in Saudi Arabia have been suffering from imprisonment, maginalisation, slander, ostracisation and even execution. Indeed, atheists in Saudi are considered terrorists. Efforts for normalisation between those who believe and those who don’t remain bleak in the kingdom.
Despite constant warnings of Saudi religious authorities of “the danger of atheism”, which is, according to them, “equal to disbelieving in God”, many citizens in the kingdom are turning their back on Islam. Perhaps inter alia the Saudi dehumanising strict laws in the name of Islam, easy access to information and mass communication are the primary driving forces pushing Saudis to leave religion. Unfortunately, those who explicitly do, find themselves harshly punished or forced to live dual lives.
by Hakim Khatib
Religion in the Middle East seems to define allies and enemies inside and outside the political borders. On the one hand, Shiite Iran is allies with the Iraqi government, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, revolutionary forces in Bahrain and the Syrian regime. On the other hand, Sunni Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States, Egypt, Turkey and Sunni elements in the region form an alliance against what they call the expansion of the Iranian influence. There is an unmistaken pattern of alliance in the Middle East, in which states, monarchies and forces seem to define their allies and enemies based on sectarian dimensions, and by which we witness a minority oppressing a majority when it is possible and vice versa across the Middle East including Israel.
Devisions in the Middle East are relatively based on sectarian dimensions, yet the political rifts among contesting actors are not quite religious. What fuels the sectarian divide in the Middle East is not per se religion, it is rather the prevalent authoritarian form of governance and the concentration of power in the hands of a few in each Middle Eastern country. Ideology, a transcendent religion in this case, proves to be useful for the already contesting parties to mobilise the people, legitimate and consolidate power and influence and eliminate any political opponents.
by Hakim Khatib
Practicing politics within religious frameworks is more likely to increase states‘ fragility. While employing religious references in political discourses could foster positive outcomes such as avoiding dangerous eruptions of violence under authoritarian regimes, it could also increase the space for political and religious elites to instrumentalise religion for their own interests. Such patterns of instrumentalisation are more common in the Middle East; especially the dominant religion in the region is Islam, which enjoys a decentralised mode of function.
Political Instrumentalisation of Islam means ‚Islam‘ serves as a means of pursuing a political aim or relating to Islam’s function as a means to a political end. Like the Marxist theory views the state and social organisations as tools taken advantage of by the ruling class or by individuals in their own interests, Islam seems to function as a tool exploited by the powerful elites or individuals in their own interests.