I have often criticized Saudi Arabia for its application of a medieval Sharia system of law and its intolerance for both free speech and freedom of religion. It is important however to recognize improvements in the Kingdom, such as the recent decision to allow women to drive and the expanding political rights of women. This week brought another such positive development. Saudi Arabia’s next king, Mohammed bin Salman, gave a surprising speech where he clearly set the Kingdom apart from the long domination of Saudi clerics. He declared “We are returning to what we were before, a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world.” If true, that would be a moment of true leadership by the Crown Prince and a real hope for the citizens of Saudi Arabia.
The Crown Prince stated that “We will not waste 30 years of our lives wasting time dealing with extremist ideas. We will destroy them today.” The statement was to Fox Business host, Maria Bartiromo, at an event for foreign entrepreneurial investment.
The Saudi royal family long ago cut a deal with Wahhabi cleric of the Saudi Ulama that they would be allowed to dictate morality laws and policies in exchange for supporting the Royal family. The result has been one of the most repressive nations on Earth for basic human rights, particularly for women and non-Islamic religious followers.
We will of course have to see if this surprising and welcomed speech is followed up by action. However, the words of the Crown Prince could not be more encouraging for women, journalists, and civil libertarians in the Saudi Kingdom.