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From Wahhabism To Hedonism: MbS’ Idea Of ‘Reforms’

Wahhabism is out, hedonism with its attendant vulgarity is in. This is what the Bani Saud-occupied Arabian Peninsula is all about. It may be more accurate to describe it as Mohammad bin Salman (MbS)-occupied Arabian Peninsula.

Since becoming the crown prince in June 2017, he has dispatched a number of Saudi ‘royals’ to the dungeons or put them under house arrest with strict control over their movement. Human rights activists have suffered even a worse fate.

Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, Professor Muhammad al-Qahtani, Ali al-Omari and human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair among thousands of others continue to languish in prison. Musa al-Qarni, a former professor of Shariah and a human rights activist, died in prison on October 12, 2021 at the age of 66. He was kept in solitary confinement, denied medication and often physically assaulted.

What was Sheikh Awdah’s crime? In September 2017, he had prayed to Allah to reconcile the hearts of the Saudis and Qataris. A couple of months earlier, MbS had imposed siege on Qatar amid a laundry list of demands that it must comply with or else. The sheikh was arrested from his house and thrown in prison. He was accused of undermining the state and not giving allegiance to the ruler. The prosecution demanded the death sentence.

In an ironic twist, MbS made up with the Qatari Emir, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani when the latter was welcomed in the kingdom to attend the January 2021 GCC summit to be held at Al-Ula in the desert. MbS received Tamim bin Hamad as he descended from his plane. They kissed each other on both cheeks and rubbed noses in the Bedouin tradition.

It would be reasonable to assume that after kissing and making up with the Qatari emir, Mbs would release Sheikh Awdah from prison. Perish the thought. He continues to languish in prison as do other human rights defenders and scholars. They are all held in solitary confinement. Al-Qahtani completed his 10-year sentence in 2022 but he has still not been released. His family does not know where he is held.

Waleed Abu al-Khair completed 10 years in jail on April 15, 2024 following his illegal arrest. His “crime” was that he provided legal defence in court for human rights activists! In the medieval kingdom, a lawyer defending his client in court is a crime!

The state alleged that Abu al-Khair was “inciting public opinion against the State and its people”; “inciting international organisations against Saudi Arabia with the intention of ruining its reputation”; and “setting up and supervising an unlicensed association.” This last was a reference to registering the organization, Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA) in Toronto, Canada after it was denied a licence in the kingdom.

The charges against Abu al-Khair are so ludicrous that twice—in 2015 and 2018—the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) released formal opinions against his arrest and detention. It found his arrest, prosecution, conviction and sentencing to be arbitrary and in contravention of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

On both occasions the WGAD called on the Saudi authorities to immediately release Abu al-Khair, provide reparations, and investigate his unlawful arrest, detention and conviction. Such calls have fallen on deaf ears.

If there is any consolation for the scholars and human rights activists, it is that MbS is an equal opportunity oppressor. He has targeted even members of the Bani Saud clan whom he sees as potential rivals.

Names like Muhammad bin Nayef (MbN), Mut‘ab bin Abdullah, Muqram bin Abdul Aziz and Ahmed bin Abdul Aziz immediately come to mind. These Saudi “royals” have disappeared from public view. In an article on the Brookings Institution website, Bruce Riedel, the former long-time CIA analyst, lamented the mistreatment to which Muhammad bin Nayef has been subjected. He had worked closely with the CIA while serving as deputy interior minister and was the preferred choice of the Americans to take over as the kingdom’s future ruler. King Salman and his upstart son, MbS had other ideas.

It is, however, MbS’ pursuit of “reforms” that has raised many eyebrows. Nobody would lament the downgrading of Wahhabism—an archaic interpretation of Islam that has caused much confusion and inflicted great suffering on the Ummah.

It was the medieval kingdom’s dominant ideology since its founding in 1932, but the pendulum has swung wildly to the other extreme. Wahhabism’s austerity has been replaced by hedonism. Wild music concerts are now a regular feature of social life in the kingdom at which free mixing of men and women is not only allowed but actively promoted.

And then there are the Halloween parties, the Hindu festival of Diwali and Christmas celebrations (‘Jingle All the Way: How Christmas is becoming more accepted in Saudi Arabia,’ is how ArabNews headlined its story). The Bani Saud do not need to put on masks for Halloween celebrations to look spooky!

Celebrating Mawlid (the Prophet’s birthday), however, is forbidden!

MbS has also embarked on plans to build luxury resorts on the Red Sea where casinos, alcohol, and women, both local and imported from abroad, would be free to dress as scantily as they like. Watch out Phuket and Paris! MbS is trying to overtake Dubai by turning the kingdom into an even bigger brothel. The first alcohol store has also opened in Riyadh.

Saudi concerts at which foreign singers, among them scantily-clad female performers are the main attraction, have grown in size. Concerts in Riyadh have been attracting hundreds of thousands of people. Jeddah, the main entry point for most pilgrims to Makkah and al-Madinah, has also organized huge concerts.

The question that many people have asked is, whether hedonism is the only alternative to Wahhabism? Since the medieval kingdom does not allow any free expression to people to voice their opinion about the affairs of state—they are the exclusive preserve of the head honcho—people are allowed to indulge in pleasures of the flesh. This is what MbS and his minions refer to as “reforms”.

He has also launched grandiose plans, like NEOM, the mega-city that was to be built in the desert at a cost of $500 billion. The centre-piece of the city, 174-km long ‘The Line’, has run into difficulties. Latest reports say that only 2.4 km will be built.

Writing in the Archinect News on April 10, 2024, Josh Niland had this to say: “Bloomberg is reporting on a tip they received recently about NEOM’The Line centerpiece as it advances on the first phase of construction in Saudi Arabia’s northwest highlands. Last week, the outlet published details citing an anonymous source who said The Line segment is now expected to extend to only 2.4 kilometers and house 300,000 residents by the end of the decade.

“The figures cited are a drastic reduction from the 1.5 million-person, 170-kilometer goals that have been included in promotional materials since the launch of the project. The unnamed source spoke out of anonymity citing fears for ‘discussing non-public information’.”

What might be the reason for such drastic reduction? “The [Bloomberg] report… claims unnamed contractors have been dismissed as a result of the missed objectives. Other satellite developments are however progressing on target. NEOM’s budget for 2024 has yet to be approved after the Saudi Public Investment Fund saw its largest drop since 2020,” Niland wrote.