February 8, 2015


Saudis and Wahhabis: a marriage between politics and piety (SIAMAK NOORAEI, 8 February 2015, OpenDemocracy)

Why are Wahhabis a problem? First, Wahhabism condones sectarianism. Takfir is entrenched in the Wahhabi ethos. Within Saudi Arabia, clerics are known to antagonize Shia Muslims, who constitute roughly 12 percent of the country's population. For example, renowned cleric Nasser al-Omar has called the Shia "rejectionists" and "enemies of religion and the nation." Anti-Shia sentiment within the country has grown since Hezbollah, backed by Bashar al-Assad and Iran, was deployed in Syria to put down what many observers see as a Sunni uprising.

Also, with minor Shia unrest in Bahrain, Houthi uprising in Yemen, and Iran's continual support for Shia movements within Saudi Arabia and its neighbors, many Wahhabis have become vehemently sectarian. Many Saudis have even welcomed the Islamic State's destruction of Shia shrines and Christian churches in Syria and Iraq.

Second, even though the Saudi regime has officially condemned Jihadist groups, organizations like Islamic State and al-Qaeda enjoy support amongst many Saudis. As stated before, historically, many groups--like Ikhwan--have used Wahhabism in order to achieve their political objectives. Osama bin Laden, in a sense, "was precisely the representative of a late flowering of this Ikhwani approach." Today, groups such as the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front espouse the same puritanical beliefs held by the early Wahhabi Bedouins centuries before.

Over the past decade, al-Qaeda and groups with similar views have carried out several acts of terrorism, such as suicide bombings, within the country. But according to some accounts, "the March of Isis has not been entirely unwelcome in some sections of Saudi society."

Third, in Saudi Arabia Sharia governs every aspect of life. Wahhabi clerics reserve strict punishments for crimes: stoning for adultery, cutting hands for theft, beheadings for murder and drug trafficking, among other barbaric practices. Gender mixing is prohibited, freedom of expression curtailed, and mandatory prayers enforced five times a day. The Wahhabis also patrol public spaces to ensure men and women dress appropriately and perform their prayers five times a day. Their intrusive and at times barbaric practices contradict practically every human rights principle.

Fourth, Saudi Arabia, as a major player in Middle Eastern and Islamic politics, is very important to almost every other country. Western countries, particularly the United States, have economic and military interests in Saudi Arabia. America has military bases and investments in oil within Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia, as the largest oil producer, has enormous influence, especially within the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. It can distort prices in order to weaken its regional rivals and exert pressure on other energy markets.

Moreover, many countries rely on Saudi Arabia to counter 'rogue' states such as Iran, Russia, and Syria. The "Wahhabist impulse," however, threatens the fragile alliance between Saudis and the west. Were Islamic State and other groups with Wahhabi ideology to challenge the royal family's handle on the domestic situation, western interests within the region could be severely threatened.

We have no shared interests.

Posted by at February 8, 2015 7:03 PM

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