A statement this week from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is one of the most welcome developments to come out of the Middle East in quite some time.
The future king of the key nation in that part of the world vowed a return to a more moderate Islam, even as he said that he would lead the way in putting an end to extremist ideologies.
It is no secret that a number of Saudi citizens have been at the forefront of terrorist organizations, the likes of Osama bin Laden among them. Some Saudi youth have joined extremist organizations, while other wealthier nationals are known to donate large sums to support their ugly causes.
Crown Prince Bin Salman said, “We want to lead normal lives, lives where our religion and our traditions translate into tolerance, so that we coexist with the world and become part of the development of the world.”
It must be noted that the kingdom is presently undergoing cultural changes, not the least of which is now allowing women the right to drive. More importantly, Saudi Arabia is also entering a new period of rapprochement with Israel, which can only bode well for the peace in the region.
As Saudi goes, so go the kingdom’s allies in the regions such as the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait.
As the global seat of Islam, Saudi Arabia wields much influence in most predominantly Muslim nations in the world. It is where Mecca lies, and all Muslims are expected to take a pilgrimage to the holy site at least once in their life.
It is also worth noting that after the US, Saudi Arabia is where the greatest number of overseas Filipino worker can be found. Thus, the changes taking place in the kingdom should be welcome developments for OFWs and their families back home.
This is not to say that everything will be fine now that the future king has promised to create a more moderate society. Saudi Arabia still does not allow dissent and does not have a free press.
The kingdom also has serious economic issues that need to be solved if it is to maintain its lofty status as one of the richest countries in the world where citizens enjoy such perks as free education, free health care, and pay no taxes at all.
Its financial reserves may run out as early as three years from now due to the global drop in oil prices. The crown prince is addressing this serious problem with his vision to diversify the economy and lessen its dependence on the oil industry, where some 70% of citizens are partially or wholly dependent for their existence.
Perhaps the biggest problem of the new policy of the kingdom is the large number of clerics who remain cultural extremists and who will not readily abandon their ultraconservatism.
Still, the monarchy is the single most powerful institution in the desert kingdom, and Crown Prince Bin Salman is showing that he is not averse to positive change.
- Published in Opinion & Community