Today’s new look Saudi has unquestionably a more moderate image, than in 2011 when the September 11 attacks took place.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has made his intentions to take Saudi into a new direction very clear.
However, to move freely forward, the lingering albatross of Saudi’s alleged role in September 11 needs to be removed.
Saudi Arabia has asked a US federal judge to reject 25 lawsuits filed by families of some 2500 victims of the September 11 attacks, and that seek to hold the Kingdom accountable, Saudi daily Okaz reported last Tuesday.
“A document presented by Riyadh’s lawyers to the Manhattan federal court stated that the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which was passed in Congress in 2016, known as JASTA, offers no evidence of Saudi Arabia’s or any affiliated charities’ involvement in the 2001 attacks,” reported the daily.
A US government commission found no evidence that Saudi Arabia directly funded this terrorist act and the suit was once dismissed in 2015 by then US president Obama, but the case was rehashed in September 2017.
Saudi needs this issue to be resolved to focus all efforts on painting the country as where moderate Islam is the rule, not the exception.
According to a recent analysis by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), 32-year-old Crown Prince Salman is spearheading the transformation through social liberalization as part and parcel of Saudi Vision 2030, making his next challenge reining in ultraconservative Islam.
“Crown prince’s overhaul includes a crackdown on religious fundamentalists who exercised rigid control,” said WSJ.
WSJ quoted Crown Prince Mohammed during an investment conference in Riyadh in October, known as Davos in the Desert: “We are only going back to how we were: to the tolerant, moderate Islam that is open to the world, to all the religions and traditions of its people.”
Likely taken under consideration is that most of the Saudi population is under 30 years old, and whose view of the world has changed from past eras, especailly after over 100,000 Saudi men and women returned to the kingdom over the past decade after studying in Western universities.
Of course it all started with two back to back shocking announcements last September, starting with removing a ban on VoIP, clearing the way for freer speech, and soon after the world’s only ban on women driving was lifted, a decree that’s going to take effect starting June 2018.
Q1 2018 will likely see the first movies appear at the big screen in Saudi, ending a ban stretching over 30 years.
While whistling a melody could in the past have gotten you into legal trouble, the WSJ says today music is played in the background in restaurants.
Major Saudi cities are inviting music performers like Lebanese Hiba Tawaji, who played recently in Riyadh to an all female audience and bands like American rapper Nelly performing in Jeddah for a nonetheless all male fans.
While in the past Saudi women entertainment optinos were limited to mall shopping and eating at restaurants, as of this coming Friday, they could attend soccer games, cheer and sneer as they please the teams on the pitch.
Certain restrictions still exist.
Saudi women are required to seek permission by a male guardian to travel abroad for example.
But according to WSJ, liberal thinking “has prompted resistance from those wary of undoing decades of edicts woven into the Saudi social fabric, in particular from religious conservatives, who remain a powerful constituency.”
WSJ quoted Sheikh Saleh al Fozan, a member of Saudi Arabia’s top religious body saying on his website: “If women are allowed to drive, they will be able to go and come as they please day and night, and will easily have access to temptation, because as we know, women are weak and easily tempted.”
WSJ reported that in 2016, the Saudi government stripped the religious police of its power to arrest.
“In September 2017, authorities arrested dozens of clerics as part of a broad crackdown against dissent,” said WSJ.
“Last year, the government also began sending teachers abroad to see how Western schools function, a step partly aimed at tackling extremism among educators.”
Saudi Education Minister Ahmed al-Eissa had said: “We are moving in a new direction for education and a new direction for the country.”