Ed Husain

The Arab Street

Husain examines politics, society, and radicalism in the greater Middle East.

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Showing posts for "Saudi Arabia"

Taking the Political Temperature Inside Saudi Arabia

by Ed Husain
The sun sets behind a minaret in the center of Riyadh (Ali Jarekji/Courtesy Reuters). The sun sets behind a minaret in the center of Riyadh (Ali Jarekji/Courtesy Reuters).

During my visit to Saudi Arabia last week, Saudi friends from various sectors of Saudi life were candid in expressing their sentiments toward government, society, and reforms. I do not wish to divulge their identities, and think that the quotes below from many conversations are self-explanatory about Saudi approaches to issues of domestic concern. While this is not a representative sample, the sentiments being expressed are reflective of one strand of sensitivities on the ground in Riyadh. I know from my own Saudi family members in Jeddah and Medina that their and their neighbors’ views are different from most of what appears below. Nevertheless, most of the quotes below are from English-speaking Saudi men who are educated at Western universities: Read more »

Iran Versus Saudi Arabia: Cold War in the Middle East

by Ed Husain
Saudi security forces march during a parade in preparation for the annual haj pilgrimage in Mecca (Mohammed Salem/Courtesy Reuters). Saudi security forces march during a parade in preparation for the annual haj pilgrimage in Mecca (Mohammed Salem/Courtesy Reuters).

Three countries were on top of the agenda for the many Saudis I met with in Riyadh last week. Again and again, and in passionate terms, Saudi political leaders were keen to stress the importance of arming Syrian opposition players, bombing Iran’s alleged nuclear facilities, and unflinchingly supporting the al-Khalifa monarchy in Bahrain. In their minds, these are not political options, but rather realities on the ground that they worry Washington does not understand. Read more »

Blogging From Saudi Arabia

by Ed Husain
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and his brothers, King Fahd and King Faisal, are seen in haj clothes in this picture displayed at a photo exhibition in Riyadh (Handout/Courtesy Reuters). Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and his brothers, King Fahd and King Faisal, are seen in haj clothes in this picture displayed at a photo exhibition in Riyadh (Handout/Courtesy Reuters).

I write from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

I lived in Saudi Arabia when the current king came to the throne and I have several Saudi family members—it’s certainly good to be back. In a region engulfed in instability, the malls and mosques of Riyadh offer calm and continuity. But for how much longer? Read more »

Secretary Clinton in Saudi Arabia: Questions for the King

by Ed Husain
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah speaks in Riyadh in February 2012 (Handout/Courtesy Reuters). Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah speaks in Riyadh in February 2012 (Handout/Courtesy Reuters).

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads for Saudi Arabia this week, some may ask whether she will wear a head scarf in the conservative kingdom. Well, President Obama bowed to the Saudi king in 2009 (in an unexpected, unwarranted moved that was widely rebuked) so his top diplomat wearing a hijab would not be out of the ordinary. Former first lady Laura Bush donned a head scarf in Saudi, as did former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in Tajikistan. But that’s not the real challenge—what matters most is that Secretary Clinton’s agenda in Saudi Arabia should include the following questions: Read more »

When the French Liberated Mecca

by Ed Husain

Muslim pilgrims perform Friday prayers around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Mecca on November 4, 2011, as seen from Al-Masjid al-Haram (Hassan Ali/Courtesy Reuters).

For seven long days, the Saudi authorities lost control of Islam’s holiest site in Mecca. With the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini contesting for leadership of the world’s Muslims, the Saudis were caught napping at the wheel during this week in 1979.

Led by the notorious Juhaymin al-Uteybi, hundreds of Salafist extremists from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Kuwait, Egypt, and even some from the United States seized control of the Grand Mosque after dawn prayers, holding thousands of worshippers from across the world hostage. They declared that Uteybi’s brother-in-law, Mohammed Abdullah al-Qahtani, was the long-awaited messiah, or Mahdi, to whom Muslims around the world were to pledge allegiance. Read more »

Saudi Arabia: A Step Backward

by Ed Husain

Saudi Arabia's newly-appointed crown prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz attends a news conference in Mecca in this December 26, 2006 file photo (Ali Jarekji/Courtesy Reuters).

I was in Saudi Arabia when King Fahd died in 2005. There was genuine remorse among Saudis young and old at the passing of the king. Portraits of the king covered car windows for weeks—a spontaneous and unprecedented outburst of Saudi national grief. There was also hope that the new king, Abdullah, would help bring Saudi Arabia into the twenty-first century. That dream ended yesterday with the appointment of Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz as crown prince, or de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia as King Abdullah continues to undergo hospital treatment for his declining health condition.

In the corridors of power in Washington, DC, and London there was some relief that Prince Nayef, as expected, had become crown prince. In contrast, young Saudis on Twitter, Saudi democracy activists, and vocal women were filled with foreboding as to what lies ahead in their country. Granted, Nayef has been a vociferous enemy of al-Qaeda elements inside Saudi Arabia and eliminated hundreds of operatives, while arresting thousands since 2003. But this was not because he opposed jihadi ideology or Islamist thinking. His public attacks on the Muslim Brotherhood come not because he differs with their brand of Salafi Islam, but because they seek to undermine the House of Saud.

It was the same Nayef that after 9/11 said the attacks were a Jewish plot and “the Saudis [were] being framed” because fifteen of the nineteen hijackers were revealed to be Saudi. Read more »

Saudi Advice to Egypt’s Muslim Radicals

by Ed Husain

Once upon a time, Shaikh Salman al-Awdah was Saudi Arabia’s most vociferous voice calling for sharia as state law. A country that stones adulterers, beheads murders, and amputates the limbs of thieves was not sufficiently sharia-compliant for him. The U.S. forces stationed in the Gulf riled him.

Yesterday, I highlighted Shaikh Salman’s appeal among young Arabs today. As a liberal Muslim, I cannot agree with Shaikh Salman’s conservative stance on many issues, including women’s rights, or his claim that potential Egyptian presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei also demands sharia as state law, or tatbiq al sharia. But placed within his Saudi and Salafi context he is a relative moderate.

Moreover, when Egypt’s Salafis were slamming the Tahrir Square revolution as secular, Westernized, and haram or religiously forbidden, Shaikh Salman’s sincere support for the besieged protestors struck a chord with millions. See some of his responses in Arabic here. Read more »

Radical Turnaround in Saudi Arabia

by Ed Husain

Shaikh Salman al-Awdah (Marwan Almuraisy/Flickr)

He was Osama bin Laden’s mentor. The Saudi government imprisoned him for five years in the 1990s to stop him from reaching the millions of young Saudis that were inspired by his fiery messages of anti-American hatred and demands for change within Saudi Arabia. And yet Shaikh Salman al-Awdah continued to command the lives of a whole generation of Saudis. Osama bin Laden specifically mentioned Shaikh Salman’s imprisonment to justify his declaration of war against the West and Saudi Arabia. So what happened to the angry, radical, and confrontational Shaikh Salman?

Today, he is the Saudi with the highest number of followers on Twitter. On Facebook, he has over five hundred thousand followers. I follow Shaikh Salman on Arabic Twitter, and gone is the man who cites chapter and verse to incite young minds towards agitation. Now in his fifties, he is mild and mature. He tweets contemplative questions about love, compassion, spirituality, forgiveness, and humanity. He remains a vastly popular preacher on more than ten regional Arabic television channels, as well as through his website and writing.

Recently, he was the talk of the town across Saudi Arabia because he was suddenly banned from traveling. What did the Saudi government know that others did not? In subsequent television interviews, he maintained his calmness and did not provoke action against the regime. Unlike other Saudi clerics, Shaikh Salman is not employed by the government. His independence only adds to his popularity and unrivaled credibility inside the Kingdom, and within the broader Middle East. Read more »