Connect with us

Middle East

Crown Prince Mohammed’s vow to moderate Saudi Islam: Easier said than done

Dr. James M. Dorsey

Published

on

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s recent disavowal of the kingdom’s founding religious ideology had a master’s voice quality to it. His words could have literally come out of the mouth of his Emirati counterpart and mentor, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, but with one major difference: the UAE unlike the kingdom has no roots in ultra-conservative Sunni Islam.

The absence of an overriding puritan religious history has made it easier for Prince Mohammed bin Zayed to campaign against Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism and since the popular Arab revolts of 2011 suppress any expression of political Islam.

To that end, Prince Mohammed attempted with little evident success to counter the Qatar-backed  International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) headed by Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of Islam’s foremost living scholars who is widely viewed as a spiritual guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, with the creation of groups like the Muslim Council of Elders and the Global Forum for Prompting Peace in Muslim Societies as well as the Sawab and Hedayah Centres’ anti-extremism messaging initiatives in collaboration with the United States and the Global Counter-Terrorism Forum.

Despite this week’s verbal assault on Wahhabism, Prince Mohammed bin Salman must have cringed when Prince Mohammed bin Zayed scored what likely was his greatest success: the exclusion of Wahhabism, the Saudi strand of ultra-conservatism, developed by Mohammed ibn Abdul Wahhab, an 18th century preacher with whom Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s forefather forged a power-sharing agreement that has constituted the basis of Saudi national ambitions ever since, from a definition of Sunni Islam by prominent Islamic scholars.

The frontal assault on Wahhabism as well as other Saudi-inspired interpretations of Islam, such as Salafism and Deobandism, came in a statement last year by a UAE-funded conference in the Chechen capital of Grozny. Participants included the imam of the Al-Azhar Grand Mosque in Cairo, Ahmed El- Tayeb; Egyptian Grand Mufti Shawki Allam; former Egyptian Grand Mufti and Sufi authority Ali Gomaa, a strident supporter of Egyptian general-turned-president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi; Mr. Al Sisi’s religious affairs advisor, Usama al-Azhari; the mufti of Damascus Abdul Fattah al-Bizm, a close confidante of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; and influential Yemeni cleric Habib Ali Jifri, head of the Abu Dhabi-based Islamic Tabah Foundation who has close ties to Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.

While the Grozny statement constituted a milestone, it will take more than statements for the Saudi and UAE princes to succeed in their endeavour. Like many of Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s announcements, his vow to return Saudi Arabia to “moderate Islam” was long on expressions of intent and short on details that would put flesh on the skeleton.

To be sure, since emerging almost three years ago as Saudi Arabia’s strongman, Prince Mohammed has taken several steps to roll back the influence of the kingdom’s ultra-conservative religious establishment and relax its strict moral codes. The steps, including reducing the power of the religious police, lifting the ban on women’s driving, and allowing forms of entertainment like music, film and dance that were long banned, seem, however more designed to upgrade rather than abolish autocracy and enable badly needed economic reform and diversification.

Recent arrests of some of Saudi Arabia’s most popular Islamic scholars as well as human rights activists, judges and intellectuals, whose views run the gamut from ultra-conservative to liberal, coupled with Prince Mohammed bin Zayed’s campaign suggest that Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s definition of “moderate Islam” is one that is primarily apolitical, quietist and adheres to a religious school of thought that teaches unconditional obedience to the ruler.

Moreover, changing deeply engrained attitudes that have been embedded in the kingdom’s education and social system since it was founded in the first half of the 20th century and shaped pre-state life will take time. While Saudi Arabia has in recent years taken steps to alter its school curriculum and remove bigoted and violent content from textbooks, it still has a long way to go, according to a 2013 study by a US State Department contractor, the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy.

The study, disclosed by The New York Times, reported among multiple questionable textbook references that seventh graders were being taught that “fighting the infidels to elevate the words of Allah” was among the deeds Allah loved the most. Tenth graders learned that Muslims who abandoned Islam should be jailed for three days and, if they did not change their minds, “killed for walking away from their true religion.” Fourth graders read that non-Muslims had been “shown the truth but abandoned it, like the Jews,” or had replaced truth with “ignorance and delusion, like the Christians.”

Some of the books, prepared and distributed by the government, propagated views that were hostile to science, modernity and women’s rights. The books advocated execution for sorcerers and warned against the dangers of networking groups focussed on humanitarian issues like Rotary Club and the Lions Club that allegedly had been created “to achieve the goals of the Zionist movement.”

Even if all the questionable references were removed, changing those attitudes could be a generational task. While Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s proposed reforms have largely been welcomed by Saudi youth, who constitute a majority of the kingdom’s population, they are likely to stir mixed responses as a result of deep-seated attitudes that have been cultivated for decades.

An unpublished survey of aspirations of 100 male Saudi 20-year olds indicated the problems Prince Mohammed is likely to encounter beyond opposition from ultra-conservatives to moderating the kingdom’s adopted interpretation of Islam. The men “wanted social change but they pull back when they realize this has consequences for their sisters. Their analytical ability and critical thinking is limited,” said Abdul Al Lily, a Saudi scholar who conducted the survey and authored a book on rules that govern Saudi culture

Some 50 percent of those surveyed said they wanted to have fun, go on a date, enjoy mixed gender parties, dress freely, and be able to drive fast cars, Mr. Al Lily said. He said issues of political violence, racism, international interests or the dragged out Saudi war in neighbouring Yemen did not figure in their answers.

However, Mr. Al Lily’s interviewees bolted when confronted with the notion that liberties they wanted would also apply to their womenfolk. “People ended up not doing anything when confronted with the idea that someone might want to go on a date with their sister. They pulled back when they realized the consequences,” Mr. Al Lily said.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

Continue Reading
Comments

Middle East

The Iran Question

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

Published

on

Will there be war with Iran?  Will there not be war with Iran?  The questions are being asked repeatedly in the media even though a single carrier task force is steaming up there.  The expression is old for the latest carriers are nuclear powered.  Imagine the mess if it was blown up.

There are two kinds of weapons in the world … offensive and defensive.  The latter are cheaper, a fighter plane compared to a bomber.  If a country does not (or cannot afford to) have offensive intent, it makes sense to focus on defense.  It is what Iran has done.  Moreover, its missile centered defense has a modern deadly twist — the missiles are precision-guided. 

As an Iranian general remarked when questioned about the carrier task force:  some years ago it would’ve been a threat he opined; now it’s a target.  Iran also has a large standing army of 350,000 plus a 120,000 strong Revolutionary Guard and Soviet style air defenses.  In 2016 Russia started installation of the S-300 system.  It has all kinds of variants, the most advanced, the S-300 PMU-3 has a range similar to the S-400 if equipped with 40N6E missiles, which are used also in the S-400.  Their range is 400 km, so the Iranian batteries are virtually S-400s.  The wily Putin has kept trump satisfied with the S-300 moniker without short-changing his and China’s strategic ally.  The latter continuing to buy Iranian oil.

Iran has friends in Europe also.  Angela Merkel in particular has pointed out that Iran has complied fully with the nuclear provisions of the UN Security Council backed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action i.e. the Iran nuclear deal.  She is mustering the major European powers.  Already alienated with Trump treating them as adversaries rather than friends, they find Trump’s bullying tiresome.  President Macron, his poll ratings hitting the lowest, is hardly likely to engage in Trump’s venture.  In Britain, Theresa May is barely able to hold on to her job.  In the latest thrust by senior members of her party, she has been asked to name the day she steps down.

So there we have it.  Nobody wants war with Iran.  Even Israel, so far without a post-election government does not want to be rained upon by missiles leaky as its Iron Dome was against homemade Palestinian rockets.

Topping all of this neither Trump nor Secretary of State Pompeo want war.  Trump is as usual trying to bully — now called maximum pressure — Iran into submission.  It won’t.  The wild card is National Security Adviser John Bolton.  He wants war.  A Gulf of Tonkin type false flag incident, or an Iranian misstep, or some accident can still set it off. 

In Iran itself, moderates like current President Hassan Rouhani are being weakened by Trump’s shenanigans.  The hard liners might well want to bleed America as happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Continue Reading

Middle East

Iran’s game just started

Published

on

By announcing that Iran will begin keeping its excess uranium and heavy water, the Islamic Republic now sends a firm and clear message to the west, exactly one year after U.S. president, Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from its nuclear deal with Iran. 

At this point, it seems that Iran has made a wise decision. Over the last year, the European troika has not only done anything to revive the nuclear deal or bring any kind of benefit to the Iranian nation, but they have actually backed up U.S. by developing new plans to undermine Iran’s “missile work”, and diminish its “power in the region” as well as its “nuclear technology”.  

As stated in clauses 26 and 36 of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), if the other side fails to meet its obligations, Iran is entitled to partially or completely end its commitments as well. So, Iran’s recent decision could be analyzed both on legal and strategic terms. 
However, it seems that the strategic aspects of Iran’s decision are even more important than its legal aspects. This decision is strategically important because it stops Washington and European troika to carry out their anti-Iran scheme, a dangerous scheme that they actually started devising when Trump took the office in 2017.  

At the time, Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, and Emmanuel Macron, the French president played a major part in carrying out the west scheme. A scheme based on enforcing Iran to keep its “nuclear promises” and stay committed to a “distorted nuclear deal” while “U.S. had abandoned the deal”, and at the same time, trying to “diminish Iran’s power in the region” and “reduce its missile activities”. 

All other actions of Europeans toward Iran were also simply targeted at carrying out this major plan, including how they constantly changed their strategies toward Tehran, and how Germany, U.K. and France intentionally delayed in launching the alternative trade mechanism (Instex) with Iran.  

Now, Iran’s decision to keep its Uranium and heavy water is definitely in compliance with JCPOA, and more importantly, it will seriously undermine the “American-European” joint plan against Iran. This also explains why French government was so distressed by Iran’s new nuclear strategy and had such a quick reaction, considering that Emmanuel Macron, the French president and Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French Foreign Minister both have had important roles in carrying out the American-European anti-Iran scheme. 

At any rate, what is clear now is that the game has just started! And the Iranian political system and specially the foreign ministry have a great mission to run this game wisely.  

In following days, the European troika might want to force Iran into changing its decision by threats such as reviving the European Union sanctions against Iran or even taking Iran’s case to the United Nations Security Council (so that Trump administration can meddle in Iran’s affairs). But, it is time for Iran political system to be adamant in its decision.  

The Iranian Foreign Ministry should clearly ask the Europeans to choose one of these options, either Iran will “further reduce its commitments to the nuclear deal” or the Europeans should do something practical to “protect the rights of Iranian nation”. 

It is also necessary that the Iranian political system reveals the American-European joint anti-Iran scheme to the people so that the true nature of Europeans is showed to Iranians. In that case, Europe and specially the European troika will completely lose their reputation.    

First published in our partner Tehran Times

Continue Reading

Middle East

Why the Algerian popular movement has succeeded until now?

Sadek Hadjal

Published

on

Authors: Sadek Hadjal and Samar Sahki

Ten factors and mechanisms adopted by both Algerian people and its army have made popular movement remain in its proper peaceful path

Since February 22, 2019, the Algerian popular movement has calmed anger on the streets every Friday demanding the departure of Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his regime. The last decade of the 20 years of his mandate was characterized by a high-level of corruption and mismanagement, especially, after his illness. Although after the resigned of Abdelaziz Bouteflika, people have continued to march demanding the complete change of the old regime.

Until now, after nearly 11 weeks, the Algerian popular movement has succeeded in achieving several goals without violence, giving a good image for Arab region witnessed the same events after a huge popular movement in 2011, called “the Arab spring”. but unlike what is happening today in Algeria, the so-called  “Arab spring” led to a bloody and dangerous consequences for the Arab countries – civil wars, military interventions, displacement, illegal immigration, proxy wars in the context of international and regional rivalry-.

The success of the Algerian Popular Movement reflects a great deal of intelligence and awareness between the Algerian demonstrators on one hand, satisfaction, wisdom and professionalism of the Algerian military in dealing with the situation on the other hand. Certainly, the two parties in Algeria -the demonstrators and the military command- have benefited from the events of the so-called “Arab Spring” in 2011, which unfortunately led to disastrous results in most Arab countries. As well as what was known by “black decade” that Algeria witnessed in the 1990s.

In order to learn lessons from these events, the Algerian elites organized many international and national academic seminars, discussed several doctoral dissertations at universities, and produced many television programs to analyze the causes of these bloody events and to discover the best ways to avoid similar events, based on the reject of all kinds of external intervention as a main idea in any discussion.

There is a method both the Army and the demonstrators have relied on to success until now, which is characterized by:

From the side of protestors, they have focused on:

1 Avoiding the confrontation with military and police officers, unlike what happened in “Arab spring” countries.

2.Trying to coax the military and police officers to be with their side through the slogans.

2.Avoiding acts of violence and vandalism by keeping protests pacific.

3. Reject any religious, ethnic, or political group or party or symbols to represent them.

4.Focusing on pragmatic demands that have nothing to do with ideological discourses.

5.Refuse any external intervention whatsoever, whether there was supporting the movement or against it.

From the other side military command has focused on:

1.Not aligning against the popular movement. Otherwise, we would face a disaster situation may be more than what happened in some Arab countries.

2.The Army interference to align with the popular movement, but after confirming that there is no political solution on the horizons and that the situation could get worst.

3.The commitment of Military command by the constitution; which means passing a message that there is no intention to a military coup.

4.Not taking any step unless the popular movement demands it strongly and forcefully through the slogans carried every Friday. So that the steps taken by the Army won’t be in doubt, critic, or exploitation.

5.Provide guarantees to judges to do their work against corrupt people.

By these ten factors, the Algerian popular movement succeeded to achieve fifty percent of Goals (isolated Bouteflika and arrested the most famous symbols of the old regime on corruption charge). Now, the rest of the Goals are more difficult to achieve than the first one. The next step will focus on how to achieve a democratic system that results in accountability and empowers people to control the ruler. Whatever; until now the Algerian popular movement presents a Successful model can the rest of Arab societies benefit from.

What next:

To realize the rest of the goals, the Algerian popular movement and the Army must keep these ten mechanisms but also avoid any confrontation between them. Today there is a controversy between the two sides about the next stage; the Military command wants to hold quick presidential elections as soon as possible under Article 102 of the constitution because according to its view, any political solutions out of the constitution can lead to chaos. But the question here is who ensure that elections will be democratic under the same faces of the old regime and rules (election law for example). in return, there are a lot of citizens insist on carrying out a transition period to get rid of all old regime symbols in order to ensure presidential elections based on international standards, rather than the elections under the old regime symbols (the interim president Ahmed ben salah, and the current government of Noureddine Bedoui). But the question here is who leads this transition period? If the answer was through elect representatives, so who organize and ensure the transparency of these elections! The transition period will create a constitutional vacuum that possibly leads to chaos and that’s why Military command don’t wanted .

Algeria now is in front of a big constitutional and political dilemma, there are solutions but to maintain all possible solutions, we must avoid any confrontation between citizens and the military command. Of course, the popular movement has all the right to pressure and demand what it looks appropriate as a solution but without entering in confrontation with the military, because, in the end, the military has played a positive major role until now.

Algeria has the ability to overcome the current state crisis and emerge from the events of the popular movement as a regional force because it has a new generation of educated and ambitious youth, a well-equipped military force with experience in the field of counter-terrorism, and large energy reserves of oil and gas.

Continue Reading

Latest

Trending

Copyright © 2019 Modern Diplomacy