Perhaps in comparison to the Taliban King Abdullah could be considered reformist, but not by any standards in the west. Digital Journal
reported the Saudi monarch has been acclaimed as topping the list of the 500 most influential personalities in the Muslim world by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center (RISSC). The RISSC proclaimed the King's assurance of women’s rights and his efforts in combating religious fascists.
Certainly King Abdullah made history by giving Saudi women the right to vote
in Sept. 2011. As yet no woman has voted in the Kingdom and the ruling could be revoked by a subsequent successor to the Saudi throne. He has hardly championed women's right to drive: the Kingdom remains the only country in the world that imposes a ban on women driving, in spite of a campaign by Saudi women to overturn the diktat.
Saudi women are forced to wear the all encompassing black abaya: are currently electronically monitored
; and have less rights than a male child. Although their job opportunities are increasing with the ban on males selling women's lingerie, they are routinely subjected to harsh discipline imposed by the all important male members of their family.
The Kingdom also denies basic rights to the huge influx of foreign workers, cancelling work contracts with several countries which complained their citizens should have the right not to be abused. Saudi citizens are perfectly within their rights to keep the passports of foreign workers, leaving women in particular in a vulnerable position if they happen to work for a sex-crazed Saudi or a household that routinely fails to pay wages and delights in a spot of physical torture.
Regarding King Abdullah's combating religious fascists, there are less terror attacks within the Kingdom now. However, Saudi funds the spread of Salafism throughout the world. Salafists like to impose the Saudi version of strict sharia law on unwilling populations; happily destroy ancient statues which clash with their sense of culture; allow women no freedom in their choice of dress; enjoy a spot of stoning, beheading and hand lopping: and ban homosexuality and alcohol. Reminiscent of England's Cromwell years, the Salafists want everyone to be as miserable as they are by outlawing fun.
The notion of King Abdullah curtailing the activities of religious fascists hardly holds up as he allows complete leeway to the great representative of Islam, Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh. In recent months the Grand Mufti has been quick to issue fatwas and opinions, including a fatwa against Saudis' speaking to foreign media and another that decreed
it "necessary to destroy all the churches" in the Arabian Peninsula.
The Kingdom has shown itself to be a great supporter of the so-called "Arab Spring", supporting the overthrow of the current Syrian regime and the ousting of Colonel Gaddafi. Saudi openly supports the overthrow of Iran, as Sunni ruled Saudi Arabia has no truck with those pesky Shiites. However, no protests are allowed in Saudi itself and the Kingdom was quick to send troops and tanks to defend the regime of the neighbouring Bahrain monarch that believes in silencing his opponents. Bahrain is home to America's 5th fleet of course so Saudi Arabia was free to get on with suppressing the protesters objecting to the al-Khalifa regime.
The Saudi monarchy has a reputation for turning a blind eye to the nefarious activities of members of the extended royal clan. While drugs, booze and homosexuality are banned for the common folk, many Saudi royals are known for their indulgence, highlighting the hypocrisy of oil-rich elite. Witness the antics of Saud Abdulaziz bin Nasser al Saud, who murdered his servant lover in a London hotel; Saudi Prince Nayef bin Sultan bin Fawwaz al-Shaalan and his role in drug smuggling
; and the excesses of younger royals reported by WikiLeaks
The Saudi monarch presumably supports the silencing of his own population as he has absolute power in the Kingdom. Not only are protests suppressed and protesters thrown in dank prison cells without trial, Internet blasphemers also get room and board in Saudi jails. Hamza Kashgari
is still languishing in jail after airing his doubts about Prophet Mohammed on Twitter. His Saudi supporters have been threatened.
King Abdullah may give the impression of being a benign senior citizen who has earned the respect of President's and the powerful, but Saudi Arabia remains mired in the dark ages as far as personal freedoms are concerned. If the need for oil and weapons sales dried up tomorrow, who would applaud King Abdullah as a great reformer?