Saudi Reform Is Inching in a Positive Direction

(Jerusalem Post) Melanie Phillips - After last year's grisly murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, it looked like it might be curtains for Saudi reformist crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, known as MBS, who was accused of ordering his killing. As I revealed last October, however, Khashoggi was no reformer but an Islamist extremist. A one-time friend of Osama bin Laden, he called on all Arabs to join the "resistance" against Israel; and he opposed MBS because he wasn't jihadi enough. My own sources suggested the Khashoggi killing was an attempt by MBS to kidnap him back to Saudi Arabia that went badly wrong. Until recently, Saudi Arabia was the principal exporter to the world of the Wahhabi strain of Islamic extremism, which has radicalized countless millions to the jihadi cause. Now, the kingdom is no longer trying so hard to do so. It has been almost completely replaced by Qatar as the main source of funding for global Islamist education, and Saudi newspapers regularly publish diatribes against Islamist extremism. Does the Saudi thaw toward Israel go any deeper than a tactical alliance against a common foe - Iran? Some of what is now being said in the kingdom, necessarily with the tacit consent of its regime, goes further than might be expected from merely tactical considerations. During the most recent rocket onslaught from Gaza, several prominent Saudi journalists and intellectuals expressed support for Israel that went beyond merely blaming Turkey and Iran for being behind the attacks. Saudi reform is moving at a glacial pace. With a population and culture steeped in Islamist fundamentalism and anti-Semitism, to move too fast would produce a violent backlash. But Saudi Arabia is inching in a direction that until very recently would have been thought utterly impossible. And that is a big deal. The writer is a columnist for The Times (UK).

2019-05-24 00:00:00

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