This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Saudi Arabia's Sea-Change

"We are returning to what we were before - a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world."
"We will not spend the next 30 years of our lives dealing with destructive ideas. We will destroy them today. We will end extremism very soon."
"We want to lead normal lives, lives where our religion and our traditions translate into tolerance, so that we coexist with the world and become part of the development of the world."
"Seventy percent of the Saudi population is under the age of 30. In all honesty, we will not spend 30 years of our lives dealing with extremist ideologies. We will destroy them today and immediately."
"Saudi was not like this before '79. Saudi Arabia and the entire region went through a revival after '79. ... All we're doing is going back to what we were: a moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world and to all traditions and people."  
"Some clear steps were taken recently and I believe we will obliterate the remnants of extremism very soon. I don't think this is a challenge. It reflects our values of forgiveness, righteousness and moderation. Righteousness is on our side."
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
The prince made the announcement at an investor conference in Riyadh
The prince made the announcement at an investor conference in Riyadh Credit: AFP PHOTO / FAYEZ NURELDINEFAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images
"[I'm not optimistic about the reforms but would] still like to be optimistic … since everyone will suffer if they fail."
"[The reforms are] not engaging Saudi society, enough."
"We wish Mohammed bin Salman well, and we need economic [and social] reform but we also need to discuss [these issues. The change] is being done in very narrow circles. [Ordinary] people are not feeling engaged."
"Conservatives have already lashed out. They’ve been lashing out since 2003. Al-Qaida, or ISIS, or the radical Wahhabis … these are the extremists in Saudi Arabia … and they don’t want change. They have resisted, and will continue to resist. ... The only thing stopping them is [government] security."
Saudi commentator Jamal Kashoggi

"By weakening the clerical establishment and making clerics simple government workers [Mohammed bin Salman] will be able to give women more rights, as he is proposing."
"If 10 million women are given the right to drive in Saudi Arabia and if just a fraction of those women buy cars, take driving lessons or buy insurance, that would contribute to stimulating Saudi Arabia’s stagnant economy."
"Whenever the state clashes with the [conservative] clerical establishment, the state emerges victorious and there’s no reason to believe that things will not be the same, this time."
Hilal Khashan,  political science professor, American University of Beirut
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmon's promise to his countrymen that the strict, uncompromising version of Islam known as Wahhabism will be diluted, and that it did not always represent the norm in Saudi Arabia, is somewhat surprising since Saudi Arabia morphed out of Arabia in an agreement with colonial Britain based on the power structure and influence between the Saud dynasty and the rigid fundamentalism of Wahhabism, the movement founded by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. 

It may have become more sternly observant with the rise of Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini, but it was never moderate. Moreover, Saudi Arabia, struggling to compete for influence with the new Shiite power in the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, as the custodian of the two most holy sites in Islam Mecca and Medina, took pains to portray itself as the true leader of Islam. And as such its punishment meted out for infractions led it to match Iran death-for-death in capital punishment. Yearly state deaths of 150 prisoners distinguished Islamic justice in Saudi Arabia, with claims by
Reprieve, a human rights group, that 41 per cent of those executed in Saudi Arabia in 2017 were killed for non-violent acts such as attending political protests.
Image result for how many people did Saudi Arabia execute this year?
The Independent

But Prince bin Salman is on a modernizing journey for his country, eager to open it to new economic opportunities since the price of fossil fuels plummeted, looking for diversification and foreign investment from the West. An anomaly and rather bizarre, given the massive investments Saudi Arabia has made, building its Wahhabist mosques and madrasses all over the world as it exported its brand of Islam globally, and with it the implementation of jihad and the support of jihadist groups the West calls terrorists. Now it invites Western investment in Saudi Arabia; exporting jihad, importing pluralistic capitalism.

Call the initiative what one will -- and the Prince obviously prefers enlightened and timely modernization -- it will certainly change this religion-straitened society. Given the prominence and influence of Saudi clerics, it will be an uphill struggle, one that Prince Mohammed obviously faces with the relish of a challenge, from the perspective of his 32 years, and the prospect of becoming King with the departure of his father, King Salman. If a signal that a change is on the horizon, the loosening of restrictions for women is prominent.

How many Saudi women will look forward to the opportunity of attending sports matches, an opportunity hitherto denied them, is debatable, once the thrill of offending men has passed. But the spectacle of a burqa-clad woman driving a car for the first time leaves much to be desired. Enveloped in a fabric cage, how free would a woman feel, driving a car toward independence? How independent is she requiring the permission of father, uncle, brother, husband, even son, to go abroad, to open a bank account, to sign a legal document?
"This prohibition on driving is just one in a vast series of laws and policies which prevent women from doing many things."
"The guardianship rule stops women from making every decision in her life without the assistance of a male relative, even if that relative is her 7-year-old son."
Liesl Gerntholtz, Human Rights Watch
FILE - Aziza Yousef drives a car on a highway in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 29, 2014, as part of a campaign to defy Saudi Arabia's ban on women driving.
FILE - Aziza Yousef drives a car on a highway in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 29, 2014, as part of a campaign to defy Saudi Arabia's ban on women driving.
The notice has been received by members of the royal family, state authorities and the business community that business as usual is being interrupted and so is the casual acceptance of nepotism and corruption. Having your freedom of movement, however temporary, suspended even by having to remain in a luxury hotel until advised otherwise, is a sobering reality that being part of the aristocracy the wealthy business class, the clergy, no longer would be their shield from imposed change of the social, religious and business order.

"For sure, it does not make me comfortable. Anything that has sin in it, anything that angers the Almighty -- it's a problem", voiced one cleric on news of women attending events where men would be present. "They did a pre-emptive strike. All those who thought about saying no to the government got arrested", observed another cleric. He would, however, accept the changes because Islam requires the Saudi ruler be obeyed. "People go through the door that you open for them", he said philosophically.

"Society in general at this time is very scared. It will push women into society. That is what is in their minds, that it is not right and that it will bring more corruption than benefits", stated  another cleric. One who disagrees stated his initial unwillingness to permit his wife and daughters to own cellphones, but that realities altered his way of thinking, and he feels that Saudi women driving cars would eventually face the same acceptance: "With time, if society sees that the decision is positive and safe, they will accept it", he avowed.

As for leading Islam finally in a more moderate, enlightened direction, away from threatening those of other religions, much less refusing to accept the presence of other religions, Prince Mohammed's drive to soften Saudi Arabia's Salafism in recognition of the 21st Century, has already been spoken of by another ruler, President al-Sissi of Egypt, whose declaration that it is past time Islam stopped being a threat to other religions and exporting jihad to wreak its destabilizing effect abroad, failed entirely to move the clerics of Al-Azhar University, the leading Islamic authority of Sunni Islam.

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