Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

The Arab Spring and the Prospects for Genuine Religious and Political Reforms

Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

The Arab Spring and the Prospects for Genuine Religious and Political Reforms

Article excerpt

The late Saudi Crown Prince and Interior Minister Prince Nayif bin Abd al-Aziz al-Saud (who died on June 16, 2012), was intensely against the Muslim Brotherhood. He declared in a November 2002 interview with the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Siyassah, carried by the Saudi Press Agency, "All our problems come from the Muslim Brotherhood... The Muslim Brotherhood has destroyed the Arab world."1 More recently, the New York Times reported that a question in February 2011 about the improving prospects of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood set Prince Nayif offon "a diatribe against both the treachery of the Brotherhood and the journalist who asked the question, with the prince labeling the journalist a terrorist sympathizer."2


Prince Nayif had three good reasons to be worried. First, the democratic ballot box that brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt and other Arab Spring countries contrasts greatly with his father's use of the sword and Wahhabism as well as British assistance to create the family's enterprise in 1932. Ever since that time, the sword and Wahhabism-combined with U.S. support- have guaranteed the survival of the al-Sauds' system. "What we won by the sword, we will keep by the sword," revealed Prince Nayif in 2003.3

The al-Sauds must fear that future democratic parliamentary and presidential elections in Egypt and other Arab countries, coupled with articulated Islamic reasoning in support of democratic representative governance in Islam, will pressure Riyadh's absolute monarchy to become representative and participatory, let alone a republic. Second, Muslim Brotherhood governments will challenge the al-Sauds' allegation that theirs is the only "true" Islamic regime in the Arab and Muslim worlds. For eight decades now, the alliance between the al-Saud and Abd al- Wahhab clans have claimed the religious high ground.

The Wahhabi clerics have denigrated Shi'i Islam and other religions as heretical. They have also criticized the three other Sunni rites (Hanafi, Maliki, and Shafi'i) as insufficiently Islamic and preached that non-Wahhabi Muslims and non-Muslims will end up in hellfire. The Wahhabi clerics propagate that Islam, according to Muhammad, would split into 73 sects, but only one sect, the Wahhabi sect, would inherit paradise.

In July 2012, Wahhabi cleric Dr. Sa'ad al- Durayhim caused a stir when he tweeted that even within Saudi Arabia "the saved sect will be the Najdi ulama and the Najdi people and their followers."4 Najd is the hot bed of Wahhabism.5 Yet in their claim of superiority, the Wahhabi ulama ignore Koran 9:97: "The desert Arabians are most confirmed in unbelief and hypocrisy." They also disregard Sahih al-Bukhari's reported prophetic statement that from Najd "comes out the horn of Satan."6

The third reason for concern is the modernization and reform of Arab Islam. This could undermine the al-Sauds' religious credentials and political legitimacy. It might even tame Wahhabi extremism.

This article will only discuss Arab Sunni Islam. Arabs represent around a quarter of world's Muslims. Among Arab Muslims, more than 90 percent are Sunni.

Influenced by the teachings of Ahmad bin Hanbal (d. 855), Wahhabism is more austere, extreme, rigid, and coercive than the other Islamic rites and sects. In the Wahhabi book, to protect monotheism from idolatry, a person's love for God must be so total, intense, and pure that an ancestor's grave, for example, must remain unmarked and never visited so that the family's love of God would not be adulterated by their love for the ancestor. Further, good Muslims should spend their free time in prayer and reading the Koran; better yet, memorizing its 6,236 verses instead of diluting their love of God with the love of music, painting, or reading a novel. Moroccan sociologist Fatima Mernissi considers that Islamists see love between a man and a woman as a threat to the couple's allegiance to Allah. …

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