Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A Saudi Break With Ultra-Conservatism?

James M. Dorsey, the Globalist; original article contains links.

flag of Saudi Arabia image from article
Saudi Arabia, in an indication that it is serious about shaving off the sharp edges of its Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism, has agreed to surrender control of the Great Mosque in Brussels.

The decision follows mounting Belgian criticism of alleged intolerance and supremacism that was being propagated by the mosque’s Saudi administrators.

Relinquishing control of the mosque reportedly gives real-life evidence of a Saudi plan to curtail support for foreign mosques and religious and cultural institutions that have been blamed for sprouting radicalism.

As with Prince Mohammed’s vow last November to return Saudi Arabia to an undefined “moderate” form of Islam, it is too early to tell what the Brussels decision and the social reforms announced inside Saudi Arabia go beyond trying to improve the kingdom’s tarnished international image.

Just a PR move?

The decision would at first glance seem to be primarily a public relations move and an effort to avoid rattling relations with Belgium and the European Union. After all, so far the case of the Brussels mosque is the exception that confirms the rule. It is one of a relatively small number of Saudi-funded religious, educational and cultural institutions that was managed by the kingdom.

The bulk of institutions as well as political groupings and individuals worldwide that benefitted from Saudi Arabia’s four decades-long, $100 billion public diplomacy campaign, the single largest in history, aimed at countering post-1979 Iranian revolutionary zeal, operate independently.

The “fruits” of that strategy are questionable. Saudi Arabia has let a genie out of the bottle that it not only cannot control, but that also leads an independent life of its own. The Saudi-inspired ultra-conservative environment has also produced groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State that have turned on the kingdom.

Relinquishing control of the Brussels mosque allows Saudi Arabia to project a more restrained image. It is a symbolic act to distance itself from the ultra-conservatism that has its roots in an 18th century power-sharing arrangement. ...

Despite this one decision, Saudi Arabia appears to be making less of clean break on the frontlines of its support for ultra-conservative and/or militant groups elsewhere. ...


Saudi worries about Iran and its influence are too strong to count on more Saudi moderation, except in a few cases such as the Brussels mosque (where the PR value of a mosque closing is significant).

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