State Within the State

Madawi Al-Rasheed on the all-powerful Ministry of Interior:

Today, Mohammed bin Nayef controls the most important state within the Saudi state, namely that imposing structure in the heart of Riyadh, built to intimidate a restless youthful population. With thousands of employees, the Ministry of Interior is a total institution that controls even the air that Saudis breathe. From local government, morality police, intelligence services, security forces, the judiciary, and municipalities, the Ministry has the upper hand. It can undermine the king’s rhetoric about reform by arresting reformers, which it did in 2004. The Ministry of Interior can arrest citizens, cancel cultural events, ban people from travel, confiscate passports, and send its security forces to quash demonstrations and even shoot protestors. The heavy hand of this total institution was strengthened as the War on Terror became a carte blanche to rule without accountability, arrest without warrant and detain indefinitely. The Ministry of Interior makes the laws and breaks them without the pressure to explain, justify or apologize.

She later adds:

There is no doubt that Saudis are beginning to not only resent the Ministry of Interior’s total control and heavy-handedness, but also openly defy it in unexpected places such as Riyadh and Qasim, which al-Saud had always imagined to be their solid, loyal base. So far, society remains oblivious to the plight of political prisoners and prefers to adhere to the Ministry’s propaganda, which depicts those prisoners as terrorists. Saudi press and intellectuals congratulate the leadership on its effort to secure peace and eliminate terrorists. This position is upheld by a wide sector of Saudi society until one finds oneself a victim of the Ministry’s excessive policing. Until then, society has remained a spectator, with only a minority calling for serious restrictions on the Ministry’s powers and lifting its interference in the judiciary.