Churning in Saudi Arabia

At the outset, the intention is to consolidate authority through a series of initiatives aimed at gender parity, economic reforms and rooting out corruption.
Churning in Saudi Arabia
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Ever since the new Prince has assumed office in Saudi Arabia a new, and unprecedented churning has set into the system. A quick spin has been imposed on the institutions. It began with some dramatic arrests made of the who's who of Saudi Arabia. A number of super-rich people, some of them belonging to the royal family, were put behind bars under the charges of corruption. Although most of them were put in a kind of 'royal' prison, with all the privileges available to them yet the step was spectacular in that it marked an assertion and rebellion against the conventional attitudes and practices. Even if charges of corruption were made against people, it was unheard of that royal prince would be put under the scanner with his mobility frozen and assets temporarily seized.

On the religious and social praxis front, widespread changes are in the offing. Every other day, news breaks out from the monarchical kingdom about some new freedom given to the citizens. Last year, it was about lifting the ban on the driving of women. The news received widespread print and electronic space and rightfully so because the ban on driving seemed to be out of place in the modern world, though possessing some fascination for people with love for the obsolete. That was followed by allowing mixed gender audiences to watch sports events; again a kind of ban which drew as much attention as its lifting. The most recent event in this kind of actions is the opening up of a beach where even women will be allowed to walk around in Bikinis. Thought it is only meant to be a beach for the international tourists but the step is a watershed in a court with strict interpretations of the Sharia law.

Causes of this churning

Wahabi Islam and its spread in the Muslim countries and even in the Muslim Diaspora has been a cause of concern for the West. This especially so after the event of September 11. This school of thought has been blamed for spreading the radicalisation among Muslims, leading to violent frictions with the West, and the positive inabilitiy to integrate and assimilate with Western societies. It was alleged that Saudi Arabia as the source and heart of Wahabi Islam has pumped billions of dollars into different parts of the Muslim world to penetrate this ideology into the muslim minds. Prince Muhmmad bin Salman is trying to rid this cultural and historical baggage off the shoulders of the Kingdom, and wean off Muslim societies from this ideology. By implementing these steps the aim is to soften the Wahabi Islam, and help the expansion of the same across the Muslim world, and initiate a reversal of the process begun many decades ago.

The second factor responsible for this is the perception that the Kingdom is only dependent on oil. Another field has to be opened to rid the kingdom of this dependence. And what better area than tourism which is currently booming due to increased land and aerial mobility of people?! For long has the Kingdom won both fame and infame because of the petro-dollars. This has dried up the creative human resources of the country, led it to a path of importing of technology to draw oil from the earth. This has put limitation on its diplomatic clout because world is progressively moving away from petroleum energy towards new sources of energy.

Moreover, Syria crisis, Yemen and Qatar have exposed the weakening position of Saudi Arabia. In spite of efforts to take out Bashar al Assad nothing has been achieved. The economic blockade of Qatar has come to nought, and the rebels continue to send missiles into Saudi Arabia. The Prince has seen all of this as sign of an outmoded system in place in the Kingdom, and the effort thus to refurbish the system. The growing clout of Iran over Middle Easter countries has only worsened the matters for the kingdom.

At the outset, the intention is to consolidate authority through a series of initiatives aimed at gender parity, economic reforms and rooting out corruption. In the long run, the initiatives like allowing women to start their business units are aimed at bringing the Kingdom at pace with the modern world. And through Saudi Arabia the whole of the Muslim world, given the influence the Kingdom wields on the Muslim societies. There is no doubt that in the passing years things will begin to change in the Muslim world too. Edward Lorenz's Butterfly Effect perfectly determines the relationship between the Kingdom and the rest of the Muslim world. The weather model is not perfect but it does not indicate the nature of relationship between an ordinary Muslim and the spiritual heartland.

Kashmir and the Kingdom

No doubt the cause of the rise of right wing in Kashmir is directly linked to the intensification of conflict, without any hope of coming out of its vice-like grip but a significant portion of this has to do with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The latter through Pakistan, and sometimes directly, has exercised tremendous influence on Kashmir. The religio-cultural practices of Kashmir are intertwined with that of Pakistan. Ever since 9/11 and the war on terror, the radicalisation of Pakistan has increased dramatically, and the same had its bearing on Kashmir. In the time to come, we will see a softening rather a change in the discourse on Islam emanating from the Kingdom, that will bring about transformation in Pakistan as well as in Kashmir. Only time will tell what kind of intellectual and spiritual switch would be made in Kashmir to fit in with the changes underway in Saudi Arabia. It is only hoped that whatever change occurs it does not come about violently, as the place is saturated to the brim with gore and blood. The dependence of the Kingdom on Oil has started diversified changes, and the dependence on Saudi Arabia will touch off changes in our part of the world, until the day the dependence, if not on foundational values, is given up and an independent socio-political character mapped out.

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