Friday, March 25, 2011

Saudis and the Wahhabi Establishment

Toby Jones reports that under threat of protests, Saudi Arabia's government is closing ranks with the religions establishment:
"In recent years, King Abdullah has taken measures, such as challenging the rulings of judges, sacking prominent religious figures from their official posts, and calling for greater oversight of the judicial system, to check the scholars' power and reverse the post-1979 religiopolitical compact. But amid the current crisis, the reconfiguration of the Saudi-Wahhabi relationship has been put on hold. The clergy came out in opposition to planned protests on March 11, declaring them un-Islamic. A group of top official clerics issued a statement several days beforehand asserting that 'demonstrations are forbidden in this country' and that 'reform and advice should not be via demonstrations and ways that provoke strife and division, this is what the religious scholars of this country in the past and now have forbidden and warned against.' It was a powerful show of support for the ruling family. And they are poised to be richly rewarded.

"A significant part of the domestic aid program outlined last Friday will be directed toward the kingdom's religious establishment. Millions of dollars will be poured into the coffers of the country's religious police, an organization that has been beleaguered recently by domestic criticism. The regime also suggested that criticism of the religious establishment will no longer be tolerated, reversing a trend in recent years toward more open public discourse on the role of religion and religious values in Saudi society. It is also noteworthy that while some unofficial clergy, such as Salman al-Awda, have taken to calling for political reform; the official religious establishment has continued to insist on the legitimacy of the existing political order."



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