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The complexity of Saudi Arabia's internal situation

Reader comment on item: Arabia's Civil War

Submitted by Carool Kersten (Thailand), May 15, 2003 at 22:49

As a fellow-scholar of Islam and former (ten-year) resident of Saudi Arabia, I agree with your description of Wahhabism's historical roots. But, although temptingly obvious, It think it is too simplistic a representation to make any direct connection between the Ikhwan movement of the 1930s and more recent expressions of violence, such as the 1979 uprising or the bombing spree occuring since 1995.

Apart from Wahhabism, Saudi Arabia's political landscape is also shaped by other factors such as tribal affilliation. In addition to that, I consider it not correct to create the impression that political awareness in Saudi Arabia has not made any progress since the 1930s.

With regard to the first observation, I would like to note that, although the Ikhwan primarily clashed with the Al Saud dynasty over the further expansion of Wahhabism, the fact should not be ignored that the leaders of the Ikhwan leadership were proud tribesmen, coming from once powerful tribal confederations such as the Mutair, Ajman, and Otaiba. In that respect it is relevant to realize that the leader of the group that attacked the Grand Mosque of Mecca in 1979, was a member of the Otaiba tribe.

As for the second issue. Although they may resemble the Ikhwan movement in mood and temperament, equating present-day religious fanatics with the Ikhwan misses an important point. These people have namely a much greater awareness of issues pervailing throughout the Islamic world (Palestine, Kashmir, Afghanistan, Bosnia) and the world-at-large. They are also very capable of turning modern achievements in communication technology and organizational structures to their advantage.

Ignoring these two factors might easily lead to underestimating the challenge ahead. The task at hand in reforming Saudi Arabia's education system, judiciary and the semi-governmental Islamic affairs establishment is probably an even steeper uphill battle than we imagine.

However there is possibly also a bright side to questioning Wahhabi's validity. It might actually encourage the re-articulation of regional differences within Saudi Arabia, another fact that is often ignored.

Since the conquest of eastern Arabia in 1913 and the fall of the western region of the Hijaz by 1926, Wahhabism has covered the width of the Arabian Peninsula like a blanket. But, traditionally, the inhabitants of both the western and eastern coastal regions were outward-looking people, with extensive international trade relations. The holy cities of Mecca and Medina had, for centuries, provided hospitality to Muslims from all over the world. Thus the circumstances were conducive to create a cosmopolitan intellectual climate, in which debate on religious and philosophical issues could flourish. Hopefully this stimulating diversity can be restored as well.

Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

Submitting....

Daniel Pipes replies:


Interesting point about regionalism re-emerging.

Of course, the Ikhwan movement of the 1920s differs from what exists today in some ways, but there is a consistency of outlook that I find striking.

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Reader comments (32) on this item

Title Commenter Date Thread
Response to comments [180 words]Faisal AlotaibiDec 26, 2005 19:5530599
There is a great need for this kind of information (education) [115 words]
w/response from Daniel Pipes
Attilio Capponi, Ph.D.Aug 29, 2004 20:2116575
Islamic Emirate of Arabia? [507 words]John PowerAug 5, 2004 19:4716249
Let them be what they are! [98 words]Glenn KlotzMay 28, 2003 15:339270
"Cosmopolitan" [61 words]S.C.PandaMay 26, 2003 07:019240
Origin of Violence [106 words]A.A.May 22, 2003 11:179179
How the US is supporting dictatorship and terrorism [277 words]Alain Jean-MairetMay 20, 2003 06:019129
Make a deal with the devil? [25 words]AviMay 19, 2003 18:479126
Bad News? [122 words]Alain Jean-MairetMay 16, 2003 09:439104
The complexity of Saudi Arabia's internal situation [425 words]
w/response from Daniel Pipes
Carool KerstenMay 15, 2003 22:499095
Long Over-Due Explanation [76 words]Jacob BurkeyMay 15, 2003 17:589092
Saudi Dilemma [92 words]Irma RochlinMay 15, 2003 15:119090
Women in Islamism [126 words]
w/response from Daniel Pipes
Johanna MarkindMay 15, 2003 13:109088
Saudi Arabia [18 words]Joah MarderMay 15, 2003 10:499086
A better choice [135 words]Tom PensylMay 15, 2003 09:019084
On what basis? [41 words]John GridleyMay 15, 2003 07:309082
The U.S. should stay out of it [197 words]DiannaMay 15, 2003 07:159081
Another Alternative [11 words]Paul M. NevilleMay 15, 2003 06:019080
Oh man oh man................. [78 words]Devon HillMay 15, 2003 01:559079
Sponsorship of Wahhabi organizations abroad [54 words]William KinneyMay 14, 2003 22:219073
USA and the west should stop the war in Arab land. [98 words]Humphrey W.WalelaNov 19, 2008 03:249073
From al Sa'ud to al Thani [286 words]AvrahamMay 14, 2003 20:439072
Confrontation [55 words]Gene BehlMay 14, 2003 20:089071
Thanks [156 words]Annabel FrostMay 14, 2003 18:309070
The end game [373 words]jmsMay 14, 2003 16:599067
Support the royal family again? [54 words]Edmund JamesMay 14, 2003 16:519066
Your article "Arabia's Civil War" [105 words]M.DunskyMay 14, 2003 16:279065
Incredibly good [143 words]Ilona MelstradsMay 14, 2003 15:119062
Hydrogen is the answer [64 words]Lucas J. MeyerMay 14, 2003 15:079061
Neither good [83 words]George El MasriMay 14, 2003 14:439060
The Ikhwan-inspired enemy [38 words]Hank ArtzeMay 14, 2003 13:519058
By What Saudi Acts is the Regime Distinguished from Al Qaeda? [98 words]Brad ClovenMay 14, 2003 12:389055

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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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