The Saudi crown prince: Firm in the face of extremism

Abdullah bin Bijad Al-Otaibi
Abdullah bin Bijad Al-Otaibi
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The highly productive visit of the Saudi crown prince to the United States has captured the world’s attention. The visit is significant on the political and economic levels as well as in reinforcing Saudi partnership with the largest and most important corporations and universities and exploring avenues for everyone to participate in achieving the goals of the kingdom’s Vision 2030.

No one is better suited to lead this process other than the visionary himself, the builder of the future and the second founder of Saudi Arabia. It is he who is manifesting the future, forging accords and building partnerships to fulfill his immense national dream and project. There is no person to better showcase Saudi Arabia’s stance on various issues that have long been used by the Western media to criticize the kingdom as he is a leader with a comprehensive reformist vision and he does not hesitate to criticize the past and build the future.

I expected Western media outlets, supported by the enemies of Saudi Arabia, starting from Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, to revive the issue of Wahhabism as the source of extremism to acquit the Brotherhood and those who support it and to tarnish the image of the new Saudi Arabia

Abdullah bin Bajad al-Otaibi

Reverting to moderation

On October 24, Prince Mohammed bin Salman said that Saudi Arabia will go back to “a moderate Islam open to the world and all religions.” In his usual transparent approach, he said: “Honestly we won’t waste 30 years of our life dealing with extremist thoughts,” adding: “Some clear steps have been recently taken in this regard. We will eliminate the remains of extremism in the near future. I do not think this poses a challenge as we represent the tolerant, moderate and rightful values. We will destroy extremists now and immediately.” He reiterated this in his interview with the Washington Post in March when he said: “I believe Islam is sensible, Islam is simple, and people are trying to hijack it.”

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What the West doesn’t know is that Prince Mohammed has already engaged in long discussions on extremist jurisprudential opinions with some conservatives and on issues that call for the reorganization of national priorities in accordance with current realities and ambitions and so that successful models are created and remnants of the past are reformed. This includes dealing with extremism, which is the natural incubator of terrorism. The prince’s strict position towards the Muslim Brotherhood and political Islam groups is well-known, and his statements in this context are clearer than the sun.

Targeting Wahhabism

I expected Western media outlets, supported by the enemies of Saudi Arabia, starting from Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, to revive the issue of Wahhabism as the source of extremism to acquit the Brotherhood and those who support it and to tarnish the image of the new Saudi Arabia. During his interview with the Washington Post, the Crown Prince was asked about Wahhabism and it being the source of “global jihad.” He briefly said that during the Cold War, Saudi Arabia provided support for everything Islamic at the request of its allies to foil the Soviet influence in Muslim countries.

The reformist movement in Saudi Arabia dubbed the “call of tawhid” or “Wahhabism’ or “Salafism,” emerged under the umbrella of the first and second Saudi state. The founder of the third Saudi state, King Abdul Aziz, rearranged relations with it. This can be seen in some texts as for example King Abdul Aziz told American researcher of Lebanese descent Amin Rihani: “Politics is one thing while religion is another.” According to al-Zarkali, he told some conservative jurists: “You are clerics, not politicians.”

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Most of the features of modern extremism can be traced back to the Muslim Brotherhood and not Wahhabism. I’ve compared between the two in an article published in this daily (Ash-Sharq al-Awsat) on September 21, 2014. After King Abdul Aziz, Wahhabism became the embodiment of “secular Salafism” while political Islam groups came to be viewed as “active Salafism”.

There is no doubt that there are other details that could be argued in other contexts, but here we are talking about how Prince Mohammed has forged relations with all the components of the most powerful country in the world. There is no better proof of his vision for reform than when he addressed skeptics over the issue of empowering women.

As regards the international context to which Prince Mohammed referred to and the Cold War between the two axes of the East and the West, it is worth recalling that the one who launched the slogan “the weapon of belief against the threat of atheism” at that stage was US President Dwight Eisenhower and not any Saudi king. But Saudi Arabia did what its interests’ and its allies’ interests required at the time.

The morass of extremism

The Saudi Crown Prince spoke to The Wall Street Journal last Friday with words that demonstrate his vision and clarity in pursuing extremism and not just terrorism. “We have to get rid of extremism. Without extremism no one can become a terrorist,” he said. Extremism is the cause and terrorism is the outcome. The terrorist only emerges out of an extremist environment that cradles him. In this context, the prince added: “The Muslim Brotherhood is an incubator for terrorists.”

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The prince talked a lot about post 1979 and the domination of an extremist rhetoric, not only in Saudi Arabia, but also in the region and the world. This happened due to many reasons, which included the Islamic Sahwa (awakening) that many date back to the 1967 defeat. The end of the 1970s generated many important factors, including the eruption of the Afghan war against the Soviet Union, the 1979 Iranian revolution, the Grand Mosque seizure in Saudi Arabia and the appearance of the first generations affected by the discourse of the Muslim Brotherhood in Saudi education.

This was affirmed by the prince in his interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes program when he said that after 1979, “we were victims (of extremism) especially my generation.” He emphasized this during his interview with the Washington Post when he spoke about the penetration of extremism in schools and education in the past, stressing that he is striving to keep extremist ideologies away from the education system.

Finally, apart from the critical statements made by skeptics, the world now knows that the new Saudi Arabia is spearheading the fight against extremism on the political, economic, security, military, cultural and educational levels. Prince Mohammed hasn’t even started yet. The world will witness other fields that will be added to this list of fighting extremism under his leadership and vision.

This article is also available in Arabic.


Abdullah bin Bijad al-Otaibi is a Saudi writer and researcher. He is a member of the board of advisors at Al-Mesbar Studies and Research Center. He tweets under @abdullahbjad.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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