May 5th 2018

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY HECS: hastening our demographic winter

EDITORIAL Liddell is the 'fly in the ointment' of the NEG

AFRICAN AFFAIRS African Continental Free Trade Area ... in the spirit of GATT

CANBERRA OBSERVED Bernardi foray looks to be fading out of view

ENVIRONMENT Is a prolonged freeze on the way for the earth?

MEDICINE NaProTechnology: an ethical alternative in reproductive health

MEDICAL ETHICS Grounds for objection: a declaration on freedom of conscience

OPINION What a republic would really mean for Australia

LAW AND FREEDOM 'Rule of law' does not support exemptions: a reply to Robin Speed

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Saudi Crown Prince challenges Wahhabists

HIGHER EDUCATION Undoing the dis-education of Millennials

GENDER POLITICS Why are patients being denied freedom of choice?

ASIAN HISTORY Jinmen: the forgotten crisis that brought the world to the brink


MUSIC Grammy salute to Elton John: Revealing revisit to the 1970s

CINEMA The Isle of Dogs: Man's best friend in exile

BOOK REVIEW Australia, we need to talk about China

BOOK REVIEW Novelised life a vivid drama of survival



NATIONAL AFFAIRS Committal hearing dismisses main charges against Cardinal Pell

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Saudi Crown Prince challenges Wahhabists

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, May 5, 2018

The arrest and detention of Wahhabist opponents of Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, points to a major power struggle within the oil-rich kingdom, and may foreshadow a shift in Saudi Arabia towards a more moderate form of Islam.

Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman

Asked about the direction of political and religious reform at a recent Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, the Crown Prince said: “We were not like this in the past … we want to go back to what we were before, a country of moderate Islam which is open to all religions and to the world.”

Last November, the Crown Prince had a number of other princes in the extended Saud family arrested, he detained religious leaders who were responsible for the religious police who enforce Wahhabism in the country, and stripped the religious police of their powers of prosecution.

The Crown Prince was able to take these steps because his father, King Salman, who is over 80, is suffering early-stage Alzheimer’s and has delegated power to the Crown Prince, who is one of his 13 sons. King Salman only became King in 2015, after the death of King Abdullah, his half-brother, at the age of 90. However, because of his age and ill health, he quickly shifted effective power to his designated successor.


Crown Prince Mohammed has said that Saudi Arabia became more fundamentalist after the Islamic Revolution in Iran of 1979, when Ayatollah Khomeini took supreme power there following the ousting of the reforming Shah of Iran.

In an interview with the Guardian, he said: “What happened in the last 30 years is not Saudi Arabia. What happened in the region in the last 30 years is not the Middle East. After the Iranian revolution in 1979, people wanted to copy this model in different countries, one of them is Saudi Arabia. We didn’t know how to deal with it. And the problem spread all over the world. Now is the time to get rid of it.”

Crown Prince Mohammed is trying to build a new foundation for Islam, against the long-established Wahhabist beliefs that have dominated in the past.

The Wahhabist religious doctrine, an austere form of Sunni Islam, is named after an 18th-century Islamic cleric, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, who started a reform movement in Arabia aimed at purging Islam of practices which he considered idolatrous and impure.

Al-Wahhab formed an alliance with the local Arab tribal leader, Muhammad bin Saud, under which the Saudi tribe offered to protect and promote the Wahhabi doctrine, in exchange for religious authority.

The alliance between the Wahhabists and the House of Saud has existed since the 18th century. When the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was established in 1932, Wahhabist doctrine was established as the official state-sponsored form of Sunni Islam in Saudi Arabia.

With the discovery of massive amounts of oil in Saudi Arabia, oil money was used to spread Wahhabist doctrine throughout the world, including countries as distant as Indonesia and Malaysia.

Wahhabist doctrines were held by Osama bin Laden, who established the terrorist network al Qaeda, and by the founder of Islamic State (IS) in Iraq.

Wahhabism is strongly opposed to what it described as the secularising trend seen in leaders such as Kemal Ataturk, Nasser and the Shah of Iran, the influence of Western culture, and the establishment of the state of Israel.

Up to the present time in Saudi Arabia, the Wahhabi clerics influenced law-making, controlled religious law courts, and presided over the creation of Islamic universities and the public school system. One can only hope that Crown Prince Mohammed’s bid to curb their power will be successful.

Since his father’s accession to the Saudi throne four years ago, the Crown Prince has been appointed Secretary General of the Royal Court, the highest legal body, Minister for Defence and Deputy Prime Minister. He has powerful enemies within Saudi Arabia: within the Royal family, which has hundreds of princes; the state bureaucracy, which he has tried to reform; and among Islamic clerics.

His strongest supporters are to be found in the military, which is involved in a brutal war against rebels backed by Iran in neighbouring Yemen.

The fact that Saudi Arabia has not been able to defeat the rebels has been a significant setback for the Crown Prince.

Another setback has been in relation to oil prices. Since American petroleum engineers developed the means of ext­racting large quantities of oil by “fracking”, the price of oil has fallen rapidly from over $US100 a barrel to around $US60. To drive their competitors from the market, Saudi Arabia ramped up production, driving oil prices down to below $US30 a barrel.

But the American frackers reduced the cost of production, and continued to expand production until, eventually, Saudi Arabia admitted defeat, and for the past 18 months has imposed cuts in petroleum production through OPEC, to bring supply and demand into line. Oil prices have since recovered to just under $US70 a barrel.

The future of the Islamic world will be influenced by the power struggle currently taking place in Saudi Arabia.

All you need to know about
the wider impact of transgenderism on society.
TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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