Tag Archives: Wahabbism
The Arab Spring has brought the watching global public some surreal moments, from the dictator-in-denial speeches of the former President of Egypt Hosni Mubarak to the remarkable improvised theatre of the increasingly isolated Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi. But arguably even these events were cast into a pale shadow by the written statement promulgated on 8th August 2011 by King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud.
In the statement, the current King of Saudi Arabia made his displeasure concerning the current crackdown on the uprising in Syria known: ‘What is happening in Syria is not acceptable for Saudi Arabia…Syria should think wisely before it’s too late and enact reforms that are not merely promises but actual reforms…Either it chooses wisdom on its own or it will be pulled down into the depths of turmoil and loss.’
There is a clear paradox evident here: the titular head of a country which is recognised worldwide as a highly repressive state is communicating a dire warning to the president of another highly repressive state to implement swift and concrete political reforms. But why would a leader of Saudi Arabia – a country whose response to the Arab Spring cannot even be described as lukewarm, and which craves a continuation of the status quo like few other polities on earth – issue such a statement, one that has the potential to awkwardly rebound?
After some contemplation, it seems cogent to posit that Saudi Arabia is experiencing what we at Mediolana term ‘the paradox of indispensability’, which goes at least some way towards explaining King Abdullah’s enigmatic words; these might in fact be seen as foreshadowing events in his own domain. On the one hand, Saudi Arabia has possibly never been more indispensable to the global economy, particularly its American component: it is increasingly apparent that we live in an era of fonduenomics, where economies are dipping in and out of recession with increasing frequency, an occurrence that is largely contingent on the price of oil; consequently, petroleum-rich entities such as Saudi Arabia are theoretically in a position of great political and economy strength.
On the other hand, the Saudi Arabian model – a curious mixture of Wahhabism, authoritarian rule and a domestic economy massively subsidised by energy revenues – seems to be under significant stress, which is evident in a number of ways:
1. A world of increasingly borderless information has helped engender a disconnect between the average Saudi subject and the official state ideology: the Arab Attitudes Towards Iran, 2011 report published by the Arab American Institute Foundation reveals that a stunning 98% of Saudis have a ‘favourable’ opinion of Turkey – an officially secular country synonymous with social liberalism in the Arab world – compared with only 26% and 6% possessing favourable views of China and Iran respectively.
2. In an era increasingly shaped by Peak Oil, Saudi Arabia is likely to find itself weakly placed once demand and/or supply for its lifeblood export declines precipitously. It is therefore trying to diversify its economic base both through megaprojects such as the construction of King Abdullah Economic City – a brand new metropolis with a projected population of nearly four million people – and gargantuan real estate ventures along Dubai lines; ultimately, these are expressions of underlying fragility.
At the time of writing this piece, the international media is predictably saturated with coverage of the official death of the world’s most notorious fugitive, Osama bin Laden. Given that his name is connected with mayhem of an apocalyptic hue, bin Laden’s demise was all the more anti-climactic: like the father in the 1991 Sting composition All This Time - though subsequent to a brisk 40 minute US military operation executed in the city of Abbottabad, an educational hub near the Pakistani capital Islamabad - he was buried at sea.
Over the coming months and years, huge amounts of managed Scandinavian forest will be utilised in analysing this occurrence and its ultimate significance, but here at Mediolana we think we may have already identified the three most salient consequences of the death of the ‘Chief Executive Officer’ of Al-Qaeda:
1. The end of the NATO mission in Afghanistan. The NATO mission has been stuck at International Security Assistance Force (‘ISAF’) Post Stage 4 since October 2006, with a war that began on 7th October 2001 having shown no sign of attaining any kind of meaningful resolution – until now. Bin Laden’s death gives NATO – an organisation which is presently scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014 – the perfect opportunity to declare mission accomplished and hasten its exit. The fact that Afghanistan is now a failed state where even the United Nations cannot operate without its employees risking decapitation is unlikely to deter the curtailment of operations in the decimated South Asian republic.
2. A new narrative for the Islamic world in the West. For the last 9 1/2 years, bin Laden has arguably been the key figure – whether implicitly or explicitly – whenever the matters of Muslims or Islam have been discussed in the West. This has always been logically specious given that bin Laden himself was an advocate of an extreme interpretation of Wahabbism, an ideology which regards many if not most Muslims as heretics. The death of bin Laden and the recent seismic shifts in the Middle East and North Africa yet further illustrate that the discourse of the past decade lacks relevance, and is likely to further erode.
3. The possible identification of a new existential threat. The basic idea of the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ thesis penned by the late Samuel P. Huntington is widely-known even by those who are unaware of much of its details. What is less well-known is that by 2004, Huntington – who only ever saw the Islamic world as a temporary challenge to the West – had already focused his attentions towards what he saw as the real long-term existential threat to the United States: its ever-growing Hispanic population. Whether Huntington is correct in this assessment – or whether the Confucian peril also underlined in the ‘Clash’ comes to pass – is less important than the fact that his actions show the need to identify threats, purported or genuine. If the communist and now bin Laden tropes have run their course, what next?