Monday, November 13, 2017

Stunned Into Silence

"With all due respect to the pundits out there, 'experts' analyzing Saudi Arabia in previous decades had it too easy." 
"We need to understand that the days when things took too long to happen -- if they happened at all -- are forever gone. The exciting part is that thanks to the ambitious reforms being implemented ... we are finally living in a country where anything can happen."
Faisal Abbas, editor, Arab News, Saudi Arabia
Members of the Saudi security services inspecting the site of a car bomb attack in May 2015 targeting Shiite Saudis attending Friday Prayer at a mosque in Dammam, Saudi Arabia. Credit European Pressphoto Agency

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been the talk of the Arab world for a little while, ever since his father, King Salman, appeared to have anointed his 32-year-old son his successor. King Salman began to change things for women in his Kingdom; enabling women to run for political office and vote -- at the municipal level; a small grace. Now his son has seen to it that Saudi women can finally, legally drive a vehicle. Although presumably, they must still go about in public in a chaste display of full-length burqa, may not converse in public with a man not of their family, may not take out a loan without a man's signature, nor travel abroad without permission of father, husband, uncle, son.

Well, it's a start. The Crown Prince has bold initiatives to his credit, and some not quite to his credit. The decision by Saudi Arabia to lead a 'coalition' of Sunni states into Yemen to fight the Houthi rebels aligned with the Islamic Republic of Iran is viewed by the United Nations and charitable NGOs as an unmitigated disaster for poverty-stricken Yemen, embroiled in a civil war, its population facing famine and and disease epidemics. Saudi Arabia sees its military mired fruitlessly in Yemen, countered by the Houthis, with nothing having been accomplished aside the deaths of civilians.

But great changes are in store for Saudi Arabia. The Crown Prince has vowed to move the country forward into the 21st Century; away from dependence on fossil fuel resources, liberalizing and modernizing society, opening up civil rights to women, and stemming the ossified nation's royal kleptocracy. The Saudi public cheers at the prospect of corruption among state officials, the hundreds of royals and the favoured business leaders being cleansed and those revelling in it held to account. Should that indeed result from the current state of luxury hotel stays imposed on the aristocrats.
The King Fahad Mosque in Los Angeles. Credit Patrick T. Fallon for The New York Times

Ah, and according to the Prince Royal, it is time for the stern Wahhabist brand of Islam to be reformed, and he is the instrument to see it through. No longer will Saudis fund the building of fundamentalist mosques and madrassas across the world, let alone support Sunni terrorists in their jihadist plenitude throughout the Middle East and within Western society. This is startling news, all of it. Remarkable, coming from that most hidebound extreme form of Islam. Leaving onlookers agape -- and silent. What to make of it?

A risky display to be certain. Is the Crown Prince so certain of himself, his security,  his presence and his influential power base that he is prepared to risk not only danger to himself at the present time but in the future when resentment from among his royal extended family boils over into remedial action?
Saudi Arabia's newly-perceived, quiet shift in relations with the Zionist Nation whose presence is such a bleeding sore on the Arab/Muslim body politic is certain to see scimitars being sharpened.

The Byzantine business of the Middle East is a mystery to the outside world, and no less to its interior audience, fascinated, mouth agape, eyes wide, wondering, watching, silent. Speculation is rife; will it all collapse as normalcy and the accepted virtues of Islamism, corruption closing ranks and violent reaction prevail? Or is Saudi Arabia destined to lead the Middle East into its version of according freedoms to its long-suffering populations? If so, where does Bashar al-Assad fit into the scheme? Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Iran represent a large and malevolent slice of the Middle East.
The Seoul Central Mosque in South Korea, one of hundreds of mosques around the world built using Saudi donations. Credit Choi Won-Suk/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Whatever Crown Prince bin Salman does assert and manages to bring off, there are some things that will not change. All the mosques that now crowd Europe with their fundamentalist messages of Islamist jihad and the madrassas teaching the Wahhabist brand of Islam, uncompromising, stern and rigidly hostile to the West, have been installed for posterity. Their purpose is clear; to infiltrate and to influence, to spread the word and the ideology of jihad, to proselytize, to assure the ummah that the longed-for caliphate of influence and conquest is on its way.

Is Crown Prince bin Salmon prepared to renounce all of this? What good would it do? The genie has escaped its confinement.

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