No compulsion in religion: Perceptions of freedom and legal rights amongst Saudi Arabian citizens
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This thesis was written to enable academics and policy makers to better understand the nuances of Saudi State religio-political rhetoric by introducing a focus on the voice and perspectives of Saudi Arabian society that is hitherto lacking, particularly in the context of socio-legal realities on the ground. This project subsequently serves to archive both perspectives held, and legal realities faced by Saudi Arabian citizens in Saudi Arabia at a time when expression is actively being silenced, deleted, and countered with damaging misinformation and propaganda on a global scale. Saudi Arabian state rhetoric has long used an abstruse definition of “Islam” as a legitimizing factor for social repression and authoritarian rule. State suppression in combination with lack of access to Saudi Arabia has resulted in a problematic regurgitation of aspects of Saudi State rhetoric which exaggerate the role of Islam & undermine society perspectives. Through extensive ethnographic work collected on the ground in Saudi Arabia, this work analyzes the merit of Saudi State rhetoric on Islam, law, reform, history, nationalism and especially Saudi Arabian society on both a global and domestic scale. This is accomplished through analyzing the data to see if State rhetoric has either been absorbed or rejected by Saudi society. The data draws upon long-term observation, dozens of semi-structured interviews with Saudi activists, dozens of case studies from Saudi courts, and in-depth survey of hundreds Saudi Arabian citizens from varying backgrounds. The results procured demonstrate a largely diverse and dissatisfied Saudi Arabian population, the majority of whom are neither persuaded by Saudi State rhetoric nor content with the status quo. The data demonstrates the overwhelming majority of Saudi citizens are frustrated and feel long overdue for not slow, but dramatic social, legal and political reform. It also shows the majority of Saudi citizens view the State as actively violating both their “Islamic rights” and “human rights” alongside a growing sentiment for faith be understood as a personal experience segregated from enforcement in the public sphere. In asking Saudi Arabian citizens to define the governance and legal system ideal to them, the result procured was more closely aligned with the international human rights project than that of the current Saudi State’s status quo.