Tuesday, June 29, 2010

King Abdullah's Agenda

Toby Jones looks at one aspect of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia's policies:
"Yet, despite the new levels of openness enjoyed by Saudi citizens, Abdullah is not leading the kingdom on the path to political liberalism. Just the opposite: While making small social and economic concessions, the king is in fact turning the clock back in Arabia, using his popularity to confront clergy and restore the kind of unchecked authority his family enjoyed in the 1970s. Although the royal family has been the preeminent political force in the Arabian Peninsula since the early 20th century, its supremacy was challenged in 1979 by the spectacular siege of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, which marked the rise of a generation of Islamist rebels. The kingdom's leaders responded by co-opting its radical critics. In doing so, they greatly expanded the power of the religious establishment.

"Thirty years on, it is this bargain that Abdullah has begun to dismantle. And he is succeeding. Indeed, Abdullah's most important domestic accomplishment so far has been the strengthening of his and his family's grip on power."

I never thought King Abdullah would usher in much political reform. However, one component of his battle with the Wahhabi establishment has been the mild liberalization of social regulations, which is important to note. I also think a key part of the context here is not just the royal family's desire for power, but the wave of religious militancy several years ago which some in the Wahhabi establishment were seen as fostering.



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