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    Saudi Arabia: Modernizing the Wahhabi Kingdom

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    Andrew Korybko
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    The traditionally conservative Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has lately undertaken several ambitious moves, including giving women comparatively more rights than before and promising to return to "moderate Islam" in sending the world powerful signals that the country wants to "modernize".

    Of course, the very word "modernization" is relative to whichever position one is comparing it to, but in the grand sense of things, it was generally regarded that women in Saudi Arabia were subject to stricter state-supported socio-cultural standards than their peers elsewhere in the international Muslim community, let alone the world at large. Now, however, Saudi Arabia has decreed that it will allow women to drive in the future and to even attend stadium sports events, in an unprecedented bestowment of social liberty and gender mixing that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

    To understand why this is happening, let alone at this particular moment, one needs to recognize the reformist mission of Saudi Arabia's ambitious Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who has staked his reputation on the success of the enterprising Vision 2030 socio-economic development program which seeks to diversify the Kingdom's economy away from its current oil-exporting dependency. To that end, Saudi Arabia has signed upwards of $130 billion worth of deals with China over the past year during landmark meetings in April and August, but the Kingdom will never reach its full economic potential unless it eases its attitude towards women, hence why the Crown Prince has been pushing for the latest socio-cultural reforms which could eventually see them become a crucial component of the country's workforce in the future.

    That, however, might cause a conflict with some of Saudi Arabia's most hardline clerics, which is why Mohammed Bin Salman's solution is to, as he daringly put it during an investment forum in Riyadh two weeks ago, "return to the former state or affairs, to moderate Islam", and to also "swiftly deal a blow to extremist ideologies", which observers interpreted as the monarchy announcing its moves to soften the previously pervasive influence of the Kingdom's Wahhabi clerics. All told, when considering the profound socio-economic and religious changes that Mohammed Bin Salman is presiding over, it's clear to see that Saudi Arabia intends to break with the past in "modernizing" the country, and that this will also inevitably have far-reaching geopolitical consequences if it's successful.

    Tayyab Baloch, Islamabad-based regional security expert, writer at Geopolitica.Ru, and reporter at Abb Takk TV, and Syed Ali Zia Jaffery, Research Analyst at the Global Village Space who focuses on nuclear security and strategic issues, commented on the issue.

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    Tags:
    moderate islam, Women's Rights, modernization, Mohammed bin Salman, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
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