18:36 GMT04 December 2020
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    The Secretary-General of the Muslim World League has announced that Saudi Arabia will no longer fund mosques abroad. It’s quite a surprising announcement given the millions of dollars already invested in this policy of influence. Will Saudi Wahhabism turn into a franchise?

    To say the least, this is surprising news for the Western world. Muhammad bin Abdul Karim Issa, former Saudi Minister of Justice and Secretary-General of the Muslim World League has announced that Saudi Arabia will stop funding and influencing mosques abroad. This is primarily about Switzerland, but other countries will also be affected by this change in policy.

    “The same measures will be taken around the world. In every country, there will be a local board of administration set up in coordination with the national authorities. This is necessary, for example, for security reasons. We should ensure that the mosques end up in safe hands. Then we will no longer intervene”, the Secretary-General of the Muslim World League told the Swiss newspaper Le Matin du Dimanche.

    The decision may seem contradictory to the foreign policy course so far pursued by Saudi Arabia. Indeed, the funding of Muslim communities abroad has long been one of Saudi Arabia's most effective soft power. There are mosques funded by Riyadh in every country with Muslim communities, even those with small numbers.

    What motivated this sudden development? Are we witnessing Saudi Wahhabism turning into a type of franchise? Have the Saudi elites decided to change their image and abandon their influence and funding programmes for mosques abroad?

    Alexandre Del Valle, professor of geopolitics and international relations, and author of several works on political Islam has shared his views on the matter. In 2019, together with Emmanuel Razavi, he recently published a book on the Muslim Brotherhood called “The Project”. 

    Sputnik: How should we interpret this news? Is it part of some geostrategic calculation?

    Alexandre Del Valle: I think that this news, if it is true, is extremely interesting and revolutionary; and it could be a turning point in the fight against Islamism on a global level. But we must be sure that this is true. There are signs indicating that Mohammad bin Salman, despite his very authoritarian behaviour, as we saw in the case of Khashoggi, wants to limit Wahhabism to domestic use. By doing this, he wants to modernise the country by separating politics and religion a little more, even if it’s impossible to separate them completely.

    It’s impossible to modernise a country if they teach you at school that the Earth is flat. He has realised that the Wahhabi ideology is a problem for the world, as well as Saudi Arabia itself, because adherents to this ideology often turn against the Saudi elite. Saudi Arabia is one of the countries most affected by jihadism. The Wahhabi jihadists they were sending abroad have turned against their own creator.

    I also believe that this news is part of the strategic alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia. We can blame Donald Trump for a lot of things, but he is the first president since the Quincy Pact of 1945 to extend the agreement with the Saudis, but with a condition to stop funding radical Islamism abroad.

    Sputnik: By doing this, are they not planning to create a franchise to spread their influence in Muslim communities? This funding has long been a form of Saudi Arabia’s tool for spreading ideological influence…

    Alexandre Del Valle: It’s a possibility, but you have to be careful here… I personally have been talking about this for a long time. We shouldn’t discount the possibility that the virus could become independent, as in the case of the Muslim Brotherhood, who operate in France without the Egyptian organisation's approval. Nonetheless, I don’t think this decision fits into this scheme.

    It should also be remembered that bin Salman is very much influenced by Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyane, an influential figue in the UAE who is on a crusade against political Islam in the world. Today, some Arab countries apply only a portion of Sharia law at home; they realised that their political-religious proselytism has become a source of conflict with the rest of the world. We see it in India, China, Thailand, and Myanmar…

    Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said that “if you continue to teach radical Islam, you will go to war with the non-Muslim part of the world".

    I think there is an awareness of this phenomenon in several Muslim countries. Moreover, I think that this myth about the caliphate scares many Arab countries, who don’t want to see their borders disappear and be diluted in an Islamic caliphate.

    Sputnik: Whose influence will the Riyadh-funded mosques in France fall under?

    Alexandre Del Valle: I don’t think there is anything worse than the Salafism of the Muslim World League. When Saudi Arabia funded Islamic proselytism throughout world, which it still does a little bit, it was not just Saudi orthodox Islam. We are talking about the Salafism of the Hanbali school, the founder of all Sunni Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Hanbali is the most radical, militant, anti-Jewish, anti-Christian, and the most imperialist version of Islam.

    So it’s bound to be good news if Saudi Arabia doesn’t interfere in religion in other countries. Of course, the Turks will want to take their place, but it won’t be worse than Salafism. It’s now up to Europeans to fill this void and create a European Islam. This is not a fiction. There are examples of it: in Austria, Salafism and the Muslim Brotherhood are banned. In 2014, Austrian centrists decided that imams should be patriots, and now they swear allegiance to Austria; in this country, Islam has abandoned its political aspect. It’s not the Saudis, but European governments that will be to blame if radical Islamists fill this void.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    influence, funding, policy, mosque, Saudi Arabia
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