It’s hard to tell what exactly is happening in Saudi Arabia. The New York Times presents it as a genuine relaxation of Islamic strictures, which, as is clear from the Times article itself, is not the same thing as reform of Islam: Muslim clerics who know full well what the contents of Islamic law are regard the crackdown with extreme concern, precisely because they’re afraid that Muhammad bin Salman will transgress the bounds of Islam.
The arrest of Prince Alwaleed, in any case, is good news, but not for any reason that the establishment media will present. (The corruption charge in Saudi Arabia is as absurd as handing out speeding tickets at the Indianapolis 500.) Alwaleed is the chief financier of Georgetown’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, named for himself, one of the primary propaganda factories that perpetuate the “Islamophobia” myth in the United States. Within that Center is the Bridge Initiative, which purports to build bridges between Muslims and Christians but is actually devoted to smearing and defaming opponents of jihad terror and Sharia oppression.
If the Saudis are really committed to reform, let them close down their Georgetown “Islamophobia” propaganda mill. I won’t be holding my breath.
“Future Saudi king tightens grip on power with arrests including Prince Alwaleed,” by Stephen Kalin and Katie Paul, Reuters, November 5, 2017:
RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s future king has tightened his grip on power through an anti-corruption purge by arresting royals, ministers and investors including billionaire Alwaleed bin Talal who is one of the kingdom’s most prominent businessmen.
Prince Alwaleed, a nephew of the king and owner of investment firm Kingdom Holding, invests in firms such as Citigroup and Twitter. He was among 11 princes, four ministers and tens of former ministers detained, three senior officials told Reuters on Sunday.
The purge against the kingdom’s political and business elite also targeted the head of the National Guard, Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, who was detained and replaced as minister of the powerful National Guard by Prince Khaled bin Ayyaf.
The allegations against Prince Alwaleed include money laundering, bribery and extorting officials, one official told Reuters, while Prince Miteb is accused of embezzlement, hiring ghost employees and awarding contracts to his own companies including a $10 billion deal for walkie talkies and bulletproof military gear worth billions of Saudi riyals.
The allegations could not be independently verified and members of the families of those detained could not be reached.
News of the purge came soon after King Salman decreed late on Saturday the creation of an anti-corruption committee chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, his 32-year-old favorite son who has amassed power since rising from obscurity three years ago….
“Saudi Prince, Asserting Power, Brings Clerics to Heel,” by Ben Hubbard, New York Times, November 5, 2017 (thanks to Mike):
BURAIDA, Saudi Arabia — For decades, Saudi Arabia’s religious establishment wielded tremendous power, with bearded enforcers policing public behavior, prominent sheikhs defining right and wrong, and religious associations using the kingdom’s oil wealth to promote their intolerant interpretation of Islam around the world.
Now, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is curbing their power as part of his drive to impose his control on the kingdom and press for a more open brand of Islam.
Before the arrests on Saturday of his fellow royals and former ministers on corruption allegations, Prince Mohammed had stripped the religious police of their arrest powers and expanded the space for women in public life, including promising them the right to drive.
Dozens of hard-line clerics have been detained, while others were designated to speak publicly about respect for other religions, a topic once anathema to the kingdom’s religious apparatus.
If the changes take hold, they could mean a historic reordering of the Saudi state by diminishing the role of hard-line clerics in shaping policy. That shift could reverberate abroad by moderating the exportation of the kingdom’s uncompromising version of Islam, Wahhabism, which has been accused of fueling intolerance and terrorism.
Bringing the religious establishment to heel is also a crucial part of the prince’s efforts to take the traditional levers of Saudi power under his control. The arrests on Saturday appeared to cripple potential rivals within the royal family and send a warning to the business community to toe the line.
Prince Mohammed has taken control of the country’s three main security forces, and now is corralling the powerful religious establishment.
As evidence of that, the kingdom’s chief religious body, the Council of Senior Scholars, endorsed the arrests over the weekend, saying that Islamic law “instructs us to fight corruption and our national interest requires it.”
The 32-year-old crown prince outlined his religious goals at a recent investment conference in Riyadh, saying the kingdom needed a “moderate, balanced Islam that is open to the world and to all religions and all traditions and peoples.”
But such top-down changes will face huge challenges in a deeply conservative society steeped in the idea that Saudi Arabia’s religious strictures set it apart from the rest of the world as a land of unadulterated Islam. Enforcing those changes will also require overhauling the state’s sprawling religious bureaucracy, many of whose employees fear that the kingdom is forsaking its principles.
“For sure, it does not make me comfortable,” a government cleric in Buraida, a conservative city north of Riyadh, said of the new acceptance of gender mixing and music at public events. “Anything that has sin in it, anything that angers the Almighty — it’s a problem.”
The government has tried to silence such sentiments by arresting clerics and warning members of the religious police not to speak publicly about the loss of their powers, according to their relatives.
All clerics interviewed for this article spoke on condition of anonymity for fear that they, too, would be arrested for breaking with the government line….
Public observance of any religion other than Islam is banned, and clerics run the justice system, which hands down harsh punishments like floggings and prison for crimes like disobeying one’s father and apostasy.
Human rights groups say the kingdom’s textbooks still promote intolerance, and conservatives in the education ministry pass their views along to students.
While the prohibition on the mixing of unrelated men and women is starting to change, gender segregation remains the norm.
Crown Prince Mohammed, who rose to prominence after his father became king in 2015, has shown little deference to the traditional religious establishment while spearheading an unprecedented social opening.
When the government took arrest powers away from the religious police last year, many Saudis were so shocked that they suspected it was not real. That change paved the way for new entertainment options, including concerts and dance performances.
In addition to promising women the right to drive next June, the government has named women to high-profile jobs and announced that it would allow them to enter soccer stadiums, another blow to the ban on mixing of the sexes.
In pushing such reforms, Crown Prince Mohammed is betting the kingdom’s large youth population cares more about entertainment and economic opportunities than religious dogma.
Many young Saudis have cheered the new direction, and would love to see the clerics banished from public life. But the changes have shocked conservatives.
“Society in general at this time is very scared,” said another cleric in Buraida. “They feel that the issue is negative. 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.”
Like other clerics, he saw no religious reason to bar women from driving but said he was against changing the status of women in ways that he said violated Islamic law.
“They want her to dance. They want her to go to the cinema. They want her to uncover her face. They want her to show her legs and thighs. That is liberal thought,” he said. “It is a corrupting ideology.”…