Will Saudi Arabia be able to moderate Islam, or itself?
Quite a lot of turmoil in KSA over the weekend:Mass purge upends a longstanding system … ‘without formal charges or any legal process… presented as a crackdown on corruption’ Arrests included billionaire Alwaleed bin Tadal … one of the world’s richest men, with holdings in many Western companies Roundup of princes, businessmen widens, travel curbs imposed … ‘consolidate Prince’s control of … internal security and military institutions…’ The night of long knives in Saudi Arabia … ‘With Mutaib sinking into oblivion, bin Salman turned his attention to those with $’ … ‘lest financial empires become handy in future power struggles…’ High stakes as Saudi crown prince tries to remove opponents … ‘the most volatile period in Saudi history in over a half century’ Things that go bump in the night in Riyadh … ‘previous moves a power grab, Saturday’s moves a wealth grab’ Saudi prince, asserting power, brings clerics to heel … ‘if these changes could take hold… a historic reordering of the Saudi state…’ Oil price rises to two-year high after Saudi Arabia purge … the man consolidating power prefers prolonging oil production curbs Meanwhile, helicopter crash reportedly kills high-ranking prince … no cause for crash immediately given, social media conspiracy theory in high gear … my thought: probably completely unrelated Saudi-led coalition blames Iran for missile, warns it could be an act of war … yet more confusion People will ask whether reforms might open the door the Gospel. I estimate it would be a significant error to assume curbs on clerics and talk of moderating Islam automatically implies an unprecedented opening or opportunity for Gospel influences.
Saudi Arabia has had to balance between the King, the princes, the businesses, and the clerics. It has an economy riskily linked to and hampered by oil and demographic issues, in a dangerous downward spiral. The Crown Prince is championing an aggressive and also-risky economic plan for the future; consolidating power in order to accomplish this vision (and to retain power in general) is, I judge, one of the drivers (not the only one) of this weekend’s events. This weekend’s events have consolidated the Throne, the princes, and to some extent the businesses, and clerical/religious police power has previously been reduced. But….
Championing a ‘moderate Islam,’ empowering women, etc., are, I also judge, primarily ways of burnishing Saudi Arabia’s international reputation in order to give the Crown Prince more power, enable economic changes seen as important (activating women in the workforce, for example), and reducing the power of other forces in the Kingdom. There are limits to these reforms (as highlighted in this article about the limits to women’s reform), and the kingdom will have to deal with internal tensions generated by this delicate rebalancing of power. The Kingdom this weekend illustrated its willingness to use raw power to suppress dissent even at the highest levels; I rather doubt that Christian growth will be tolerated. In fact, I suspect the opposite will be the case. While critics of the government could make something of the lack of economic performance, the rapid and significant growth of the church in a country long labeled as the “guardian of Islam” in the context of “moderation of Islam” could be spun very differently, and would be a far greater PR threat to the kingdom.
With the Saudi-ization of the workforce, a decline of expat workers being welcomed, and moves against clerics that are grumpily “tolerated” by the old guard, I suspect that any growth of Christianity will likely be met with even firmer resistance. Not without cost will the Kingdom of God spread.