Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi export of Wahhabism

James A Dorsey,
Redress Information & Analysis.

There has long been debate about the longevity of the Saudi ruling family. My initial conclusion when I first visited Saudi Arabia exactly 40 years ago was: this can’t last. I would still maintain it cannot last even if my timeline has changed given that the Saudi monarchy obviously has far greater resilience than I initially gave it credit for.

One major reason for the doubts about the Al Saud’s viability is obviously the Faustian bargain they made with the Wahhabis, proponents of a puritan, intolerant, discriminatory, anti-pluralistic interpretation of Islam. It is a bargain that has produced the single largest dedicated public diplomacy campaign in history. Estimates of Saudi spending on the funding of Muslim cultural institutions across the globe and the forging of close ties to non-Wahhabi Muslim leaders and intelligence agencies in various Muslim nations that have bought into significant elements of the Wahhabi worldview range from USD 75 billion to USD 100 billion.

The campaign is an issue that I have looked at since I first visited the kingdom, during numerous subsequent visits, when I lived in Saudi Arabia in the wake of 9/11 and during a four-and-a-half-year court battle that I won in 2006 in the British House of Lords. It is an issue that I am now writing a book about that looks at the fallout of the campaign in four Asian, one African and two European countries.

One reason – but certainly not the only one – that the longevity of the Al Sauds is a matter of debate is the fact that the propagation of Wahhabism is having a backlash in countries across the globe. More than ever before, theological or ideological similarities between Wahhabism or for that matter its theological parent, Salafism, and jihadism in general and the Islamic State group in particular are under the spotlight.

The problem for the Al Sauds is not just that their legitimacy is wholly dependent on their identification with Wahhabism. It is that the Al Sauds, since the launch of the campaign, were often only nominally in control of it and that they have let a genie out of the bottle that now leads an independent life and that can’t be put back into the bottle.

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