Saudi Arabia – After the King
By the time, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, died on 23rd January 2015, he was on a slow path towards reformation of the Desert Kingdom. On the eve of succession of King Salman to throne of Saudi Arabia, few questions as powerful as shaping the region and world were posed to the new King. Will King Salman continue the policies crafted by King Abdullah?
It is made crystal clear by King Salman; Saudi Arabia is to continue its policies of opposition to Iran and the Syrian regime of Assad, and its participation in the coalition effort against the Islamic State. These formations are not merely reflection of rivalry between Sunni Saudis and Shia Iranians and Wahabi Radicals and ISIS Extremists but a dual front of existence of Saudi Society. To cement the Saudi society with coherence and unity, King Salman must continue the mission of reforms initiated by King Abdullah. However slow it was, while taking the heat from Clergy. Politics in the Kingdom is not very visible to people of Kingdom, let alone to the world outside. The reputation of King Abdullah was tainted by flogging of Rafi Badawi, a liberal blogger.
He was given flogging once of 50 lashes every week on 9th January 2015 but was postponed due to medical condition and then international condemnation. There is a possibility amid international protest; Badawi may escape flogging on charges of apostasy against Islam. Badawi criticized and mocked a Saudi Preacher on coining term ‘Sharia based Astronomy’ saying it to be tragic when Muslims lead in Astronomy during Renaissance era.
The cloverleaf of Abdullah’s death anguish and the flogging of Badawi may explain the situation of the kingdom today. The Saudi state is not technically a theocracy-the royal family rules, not the clerics but the House of Saud is locked in a 250-year old alliance with the Wahhabi clergy, which administers religious affairs as the sole official interpreters of Saudi Islam. The steps King Abdullah took to open up and modernize his country were opposed by the intransigent Wahhabis, even if they refrained from criticizing him publicly.
It is tempting to view as mere hypocrisy the relationship between the Saudi royals and the “House of the Sheikh,” as the descendants of the Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab, the 18th-century founder of the Wahhabi sect, are denominated, especially in their dealings with the West. The Saudi princes flatter the West and collect oil income, while their Wahhabi partners propagate a form of Islam that aims at the destruction of the global order.
The brutal ideology of the Islamic State is, clearly, a metastasized Wahhabism. Contradictions between the monarchy and clergy yield an interesting dichotomy of affairs of Kingdom. King Abdullah has been succeeded on the throne by his half-brother Salman, who is 79 years old. King Salman is a member of the prominent group of seven sons of the modern Saudi kingdom’s founder, Abd Al-Aziz, known in the West as Ibn Saud, and a favorite among his many wives, Hussah Bint Ahmad Al-Sudairi. The “Sudairi Seven” included King Fahd, who was born in 1921 and reigned from 1982 to 2005, and Crown Prince Nayef (1933-2012).
Prince Nayef was feared as the hardest Wahabi among his brothers and became infamous in Western World for attributing 9/11 to atrocities committed by the Zionists. Prince Nayef’s son, Muhammad, Deputy Crown Prince has been assigned to head Ministry of Interior, is believed to hold extreme views.
Has the Sudairis returned to demonstrate resistance to powerful Wahabi Clergy, however difficult and weaker it would be? Perhaps but without one of its most famous offspring, Bandar Bin Sultan, a second generation Sudairi is removed from National Security Council, a former ambassador to United States. A series of cabinet changes is underway in Jeddah.
Uncommonly, Salman appointed Adel al-Toraifi as the new cultural and information minister. Al-Toraifi, a suit-and-tie wearing professional, is the former general manager of Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television. Plus, Salman has installed Muhammad al-Suwaiyel as minister for telecommunications and IT.Al Suwaiyel is the former head of the King Abdullah City of Science and Technology, a massive coeducational university. That may be the most bizarre aspect of the persecution of the blogger Badawi that he defended the same modern scientific principles that Abdullah hoped to teach young Saudis.
Because of the power of the Wahhabi elite, another of King Salman’s new appointments will generate considerable speculation in the kingdom. Salman has assigned Abdul Rahman Al-Sanad to head the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, described typically as religious police. Last head of CPVPV, Abdul Latif Al Shiekh,was responsible for trying to prevent Saudis from using social platforms such as Twitter, proclaiming it to be dangerous for society’s unity, sufficing to be removed by Salman.
It will be intriguing to see, how new appointees fulfill their responsibilities, considering King Abdullah’s unaltered commitment to Scientific education, Saudi Arabia may find itself ending up with a technocrat government. That would be a positive outcome, to say the least.