Saudi Arabia’s religious establishment has over the years been associated with tremendous power. The prominent sheikhs have been the one making the determination of what is right and wrong, religious associations have been taking advantage of oil wealth to promote intolerance around the globe and the bearded enforcers have been the ones policing public behavior.
Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince, is making efforts to curb their power. He hopes that he will soon succeed at imposing his control on the kingdom and press in a bid to push for a more open brand of Islam.
Last Saturday witnessed the arrest of his ministers as well as his fellow royals over corruption allegations. Earlier on, the Prince had proceeded to strip the religious police of their arrest powers. Asides from that, he had also decided to expand the space for women in public life and one of the ways he resorted to was promising them the right to drive.
Quite a significant number of the hard-line clerics have been detained, whereas others were designated to address the issue of respect for other religions on the public platforms.
In case the changes take hold that could lead to a historic reordering of the Saudi state. That would be made possible by the eventual diminishing of the role of the hard-line clerics in shaping policy. The shift could end up reverberating abroad as the need to moderate the exportation of the kingdom’s uncompromising version of Islam continues to grow. It is that particular version that has fueled intolerance and terrorism over the years.
The Prince has been struggling to take the traditional levers of Saudi power under his control. The Saturday arrests appeared to cripple the potential rivals within the royal family and they also served a stern warning to the business community to know where the line cuts across.
A government cleric in Buraida opined, “For sure, it does not make me comfortable, “Anything that has sin in it, anything that angers the Almighty — it’s a problem.”
The government has been making efforts to silence the destructive sentiments and the arrest of the clerics has helped much.