Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman signaled to the global community Tuesday that his country will fight for a reformed Islam.
In remarks before the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, the heir to the Saudi throne called for a more “moderate, open” Islam, essentially declaring open war on the fundamentalist factions inside his nation.
In one fell swoop, the young, 32-year-old leader took it upon his shoulders to “end extremism very soon,” as he put it.
“We will not spend the next 30 years of our lives dealing with destructive ideas. We will destroy them today,” bin Salman, who U.S. leaders refer to as “MBS,” said.
“It is early on in the process and the to-do list is so long. It is a monumental task," the crown prince said of his ambitions for a prosperous and open nation.
His remarks follow a similar call to action last year from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who also pledged to combat fundamentalist clerics in an effort to reform his country of extremist elements.
El-Sisi has faced fierce blowback from extremist groups, particularly from the Muslim Brotherhood, which continues to commit terrorist acts throughout Egypt in battling for a Sharia state in Cairo.
Mohammad bin Salman’s statements Tuesday come just five months after President Trump delivered his first major foreign policy speech in Riyadh, in which he called for America’s Muslim allies to “drive out” the extremist elements in their nations.
Given the theological roots of his message, the prince will surely stir some incensed reactions in many radical clerics, who will almost certainly seek to undermine his message.
Since the rise of Wahhabism and the first Saudi dynasty, Saudi monarchs have tread carefully around zealot clerics, who are tasked with keeping society in line with their extremist Islamist ideology.
But with his speech, Mohammad bin Salman has challenged the centuries-old status quo, leaving a potential vacuum along the separation of powers accord between the Wahhabists and the ruling class.
Saudi Arabia is a country of extreme paradox, desperate for a modernizing force. For years, radical Saudi clerics have contributed as financiers to jihadist outfits and Islamists. Women and minorities have long been treated as second-class citizens. Moreover, self-appointed religious “police” torment individuals deemed out of step with Islamic law, beating and abusing innocents.
However, in the past few months, Saudi Arabia has taken notable steps to reform society as a whole. Last month, the kingdom lifted restrictions preventing Saudi women from driving. Right before that, women were permitted to enter and celebrate at the previously off-limits King Fahd International Stadium for the first time. They are small steps, but steps in the right direction.
The reform of Saudi Arabia’s society certainly won’t happen overnight, but U.S. policymakers would be wise to support Bin Salman’s calls for reformation. His direct rebuke to the radical clerics will not go unchallenged, and he will need American support to pull off a maneuver that could provide an incredibly positive outcome for U.S. interests and the free world.
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