Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince has stated that he will be restoring ‘moderate, open Islam, breaking the ultra-conservative clerics in favour of an image catering to foreign investors and Saudi youth.
‘We are returning to what we were before – a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world,’ Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said at an economic forum in Riyadh.
‘We will not spend the next 30 years of our lives dealing with destructive ideas. We will destroy them today,’ the 32-year-old, who was appointed Crown Prince in June, added. ‘We will end extremism very soon.’
Saudi Arabia has indeed started to move in that direction and the major step towards that was the lifting of ban for women drivers.
However, on the other hand they have always been blamed for backing terror organisations around the world.
Recently, a report emerged which showed Saudi government’s role in the September 11 attacks. Also, 15 of the 19 men involved in the attacks were from Saudi Arabia.
Additionally, Saudi Arabia is home to more jihadis who have returned from the war in Syria than almost all other countries, figures revealed this week.
And the kingdom is ‘at the top of the list’ of countries exporting extremist Islam to the UK, a report from earlier this year revealed.
Today, Prince Mohammed, known by his initials MBS, said he would see to it his country ‘moved past 1979’, a reference to the rise of political Islam in the years following the assassination of King Faisal in 1975.
The early 1970s was a turning point, during which television and schools for girls were introduced. However, it was soon withdrawn as the Al-Sheikh family, which controls religious and social regulations in the country reinforced the conservative policies.
‘We are returning to what we were before – a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions, traditions and people around the globe,’ he said.
Saudi might start to enjoy cinemas which were banned as they would soon be permitted as part of ambitious reforms for a post-oil era. In recent months, Saudi Arabia has organised concerts, a Comic-Con pop culture festival and a mixed-gender national day celebration that saw people dancing in the streets to thumping electronic music for the first time.
The country is also looking to diversify its revenue streams and shakeup its oil-dependent economy and conservative society.
Prince Mohammed and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund announced the launch of an independent economic zone along the kingdom’s northwestern coastline.
The £380billion ($500billion) project, dubbed NEOM, will operate under regulations separate from those that govern the rest of Saudi Arabia.
The 26,500 sqm zone will be known as NEOM and would be focusing on industries including energy and water, biotechnology, food, advanced manufacturing and entertainment, Crown Prince Mohammed said.
But, the critics believe the work of MBS is not good enough to liberalise politics as the king still enjoys absolute authority.
Monitors, including Amnesty International, say Saudi Arabia has in parallel stepped up its repression of peaceful rights activists.
Saudi authorities last month arrested dozens of activists, including clerics, without disclosing any charges against them.
Still, however, the United States and UK continued to sell arms to the country.
Saudi Arabia has been buying arms from the UK since the 1960s. British sales of military equipment to Saudi Arabia topped £1.1billion ($1.4billion) for the first half of 2017.
In May, US President Donald Trump signed a $350billion (£266billion) arms deal with Saudi Arabia.
Saudi has engaged in a 60-year, multi-million dollar campaign to promote its extremist brand of Wahhabi Islam in British Muslim communities, according to a study by the Henry Jackson Soceity.
This has been achieved through endowment grants to mosques, the funding of Islamic education institutions and the training of imams, the report authors said.
Meanwhile, the kingdom has said that it would monitor the interpretations of the Prophet Mohammad’s teachings to prevent them from being used to justify violence or terrorism, the Culture and Information Ministry has said.
Islamist groups such as Islamic State and al Qaeda have used interpretations of hadiths – numbered in the thousands and pored over by scholars for centuries – to justify violence and to urge supporters to carry out attacks.
Saudi Arabia also has a friction with Qatar over its alleged support of Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood which is listed on the terror list by Riyadh. They might be against the organisation for their different ideologies, The Muslim Brotherhood represents an ideological threat to Riyadh’s dynastic system of rule.