What future lies in store for Saudi Arabia in light of recent violence?
The frequency of attacks against foreigners in general and Americans in particular appears to be increasing. It is difficult to say if these attacks were politically or religiously motivated. Saudi Arabia’s highest religious authority issued an edict stating every citizen has a moral duty to inform on suspected militants.
But it seems the Saudi government’s resolve to deal with the militants with an "iron fist" is not working.
To understand what is happening in Saudi Arabia you must speak religion, history, politics and economy all at once. But if you have no inclination to one or more of these subjects you can just read the last paragraphs.
Saudi Arabia has a special place in the hearts and minds of over one billion Muslims worldwide. Two of Islam’s three holy sites are in Saudi Arabia . Over three million Muslim pilgrims go there annually –” one million for the grand Hajj and two millions spread over the rest of the year.
To its credit, the Saudi government for the last 50 years has managed grand construction projects very well, expanding the holy mosques in both Mecca and Medina. But more importantly it provided secure passage to pilgrims and offered facilities for free medical care for all pilgrims, and free food and water for the needy ones. Muslims who visited the holy places over the last 50 years testify to the constant improvement of services they receive.
Islam was founded in Mecca and Medina and any Muslim child anywhere in the world hears about Saudi Arabia because of that.
Saudi Arabia is a tribal society and has not yet developed into a nation state. Religious leaders exert influence on the population and are greatly influenced by the teachings of Imam Ibn Abdul Wahib (hence Wahibism).
Wahib was a theological Muslim reformer who preached in the 18th century that Muslims should abandon any religious practice which may be interpreted as idolatry including visiting the tomb of the Prophet.
He was not popular and was persecuted by his own people for his harsh and uncompromising methods of preaching.
But Imam Ibn Abdul Wahib was given the protection to preach by the powerful Mohamed Ibn Saud, a tribal leader from the region of Najad (where the capital of Riyadh is located). Contrary to circulated myth, Imam Wahib never preached any political ideology.
The Saudi government is now in a bind. It is facing serious challenges from within and pressures from the U.S.
From within the government is facing a young population who resents the generous privileges given to American and British workers even after their governments invaded and humiliated their coreligionists in Iraq.
They target American and British workers to send a message to the Saudi government that these people must leave, and be replaced by workers from other countries specially Arab and Muslim countries. The campaign of terror by these young Saudis will not likely end soon despite the Saudi security forces efforts.
The other challenge from within, comes from the Saudi political reformers, most are in exile in London. They are advocating a British type of constitutionalized monarchy for the Kingdom. Their voices will not likely be silent. They have many followers inside the Kingdom among academics and activists.
The U.S. is pressuring the Kingdom on many fronts. First and foremost, it wants the Saudi government and media to stop its moral support for the Palestinian resistance. It wants the kingdom to preach a version of Islam where the issue of social justice and peace with justice are not discussed, debated nor even mentioned.
The Americans will surely fail on these two issues.
The U.S. is also pressuring the Saudi government to pump more (or less) oil into the world market whenever the move will benefit the American economy and/or hurt the economy of other countries (the list is long and includes Japan, EU, Iran, China and Canada).
Here the Americans have succeeded and will continue to succeed. Because if any Saudi government would dare to resist this American economic pressure, the Americans will topple that government –” or worse, invade the country.
Where should Saudi Arabia go from here?
As a Muslim I have a keen interest in the well being of the Kingdom. As a Canadian I would like to offer a traditional Canadian solution –” one based on compromise and with a backdrop of understanding and political reality.
I believe King Fahid has done well for his country in the last 25 years, in a number of areas. He has provided universal accessibility to first class health care, education, infrastructure, and in the economy.
King Fahid has also been instrumental in offering great services to Muslim pilgrims, printing the Qur’an and its translation, etc.
But King Fahid is one of the first generation Saudi royal brothers who still govern the Kingdom. Second generation royal princes never got the chance to accede to the monarchy. Fahid is now ill and can no longer govern.
A Muslim-Canadian proposal
A young Saudi king is needed to get the Kingdom out of its current political dangers and open a constructive communication channel with young Saudis from within and exiles and reformers from the outside.
Further to my proposal I nominate the bright Prince Abdul Aziz, the youngest of King Fahid’s sons as the next king. Aziz is very popular among the Saudis and is the youngest Minster in the current government. He is Western educated and can win the support of both the reformists and the traditionalists.
My proposal may be dismissed as foreign interference.
Nonetheless, I believe it is better than the alternative whereby the Americans would select a replacement King of their choice. Then, only the U.S. will win, while the Kingdom and Muslims worldwide will lose.