Saudi novelist urges liberal thinkers in the region to stay put

Hamad, who rejects the region’s liberal intellectuals making détente with Islamist thinkers, said: ‘I don’t trust mixing religion with politics’

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Turki al-Hamad, a famed liberal Saudi novelist and writer, called on religious scholars such as Salman al-Odah, who is popular among Islamists, not to mix politics and religion, and urged his liberal counterparts to stay true to their values.

Hamad, who vehemently rejects the region’s liberal intellectuals making détente with Islamist thinkers, said: “I don’t trust mixing religion with politics. I said ‘no’ from the start when people asked me to make rapprochement with Islamists.’

The 64-year-old said those who mix the two are in a “political game” since religion offers the easiest way to reach an audience and that’s through manipulating their emotions using religious texts.

“Those who agreed on a détente course with the Iranian revolution are now over, and now this is Iran right in front of us is exporting its Islamic revolution,” he said in reference to liberals who made a compromise.

The Iranian Revolution toppled the Pahlavi dynasty in 1979 to bring forth an Islamic republic under the late Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Middle Eastern countries such as Iraq and the Gulf states have long feared Tehran exporting its Islamic revolution.

He said liberal and Islamist intellectuals have “completely different set of values,” accusing the liberals of making consensus with Islamists “to reach out for more audience and to have a grip on a certain power positon.”

“As for me I don’t seek power, and I don’t covet popularity,” he said.

He added: “The understanding between Islamists and liberal intellectuals comes in light of political alliances and this is something I reject.”

He dubbed the occasional alliances between the Muslim Brotherhood movement and communist parties in the region as “temporary.”

Saudi liberal future?

The writer said there is a liberal movement in Saudi Arabia but it is “still weak and at its incipient growth stage.”

But he imagined the kingdom’s future as liberal, saying the reason for the Arab Spring, which saw the toppling of stubborn regimes starting with Tunisia in late 2010 and spread to Egypt, Libya and Yemen, is the “mixing of politics with religion, which later gave birth to Al-Qaeda, ISIS among other radical groups.”

“All of this will end and the political result would be ‘religion for God and the nation for all’,” a phrase often used by the region’s liberal thinkers, who seek separation between religion and state,” he concluded.

The novelist, meanwhile, rejected claims that he was an atheist and said while Saudi women are achieving “miracles,” they are still treated as “under aged.”

In late 2015, Saudi Arabia elected its first female politicians after winning seats in the kingdom’s municipal polls.

(The article was first published in the Arabic-language website for Al Arabiya News Channel)

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