BRUSSELS/RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia has agreed to give up control of Belgium’s largest mosque in a sign that it is trying to shed its reputation as a global exporter of an ultra-conservative brand of Islam.
Belgium leased the Grand Mosque to Riyadh in 1969, giving Saudi-backed imams access to a growing Muslim immigrant community in return for cheaper oil for its industry.
But it now wants to cut Riyadh’s links with the mosque, near the European Union’s headquarters in Brussels, over concerns that what it preaches breeds radicalism.
The mosque’s leaders deny it espouses violence, but European governments have grown more wary since Islamist attacks that were planned in Brussels killed 130 people in Paris in 2015 and 32 in the Belgian capital in 2016.
Saudi women need not wear the abaya – the loose-fitting, full-length robes symbolic of religious faith – a senior member of the top Muslim clerical body said, another indication of the Kingdom’s efforts towards modernisation.
On his radio programme, Sheikh Abdullah al-Mutlaq, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars, said Muslim women should dress modestly, but this did not necessitate wearing the abaya.
“More than 90 percent of pious Muslim women in the Muslim world do not wear abayas,” Sheikh Mutlaq said on Friday. “So we should not force people to wear abayas.”
A girl wearing a traditional wedding costume and full make-up, but still in hijab, has caused uproar in Saudi Arabia after being filmed in a mixed-gender festival over the weekend in the town of Jizan.
Making matters worse, the girl, who in the video marches alongside a man in simulation of a zaffa, a traditional wedding dance, was later revealed to be just 11 years old.
The video “has angered our religion and morals and Arab traditions, the majority of people,” tweeted Saudi commentator Mohammed al-Yahya.
Some even suggestedSaudi Arabia was sliding towards “immorality”, alluding to the video and another incident where a man was filmed holding hands with his wife in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.
More at the Mirror – Girl, 11, at centre of investigation for ‘immorality’ just for taking part in a traditional ‘men only’ dance in Saudi Arabia
Just after nine A.M. on September 24, 2015, during the annual Muslim pilgrimage known as the hajj, an accident occurred near the holy city of Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, that stands as the deadliest in the long history of hajj disasters. The numbers are disputed, but by reasonable estimate more than 2,400 pedestrians were trampled and crushed to death in a period of about 10 minutes. The event was widely reported as a stampede, a term that evokes visions of panicked herds and zealots, but the opposite was actually the case. There was indeed a giant herd, but the zealots within it could not escape, let alone run, and the panic that broke out was the result and not the cause of the carnage.
Saudi Arabian women were allowed into a football stadium to watch a match for the first time on Friday, as the ultra-conservative kingdom begins to gradually ease restrictions on women’s rights.
For decades women have been forbidden from male only stadiums but on Friday they were allowed into a Saudi Premier League game in the coastal city of Jeddah.
For a documentary exploring the challenges facing Saudi Arabia’s new ruler, 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, House of Saud: A Family at War (BBC Two) had an unexpected starting point: a village in the mountains of Bosnia, where a tattered black flag of jihad fluttered in the snowbound landscape. It instantly brought into focus the idea that for any understanding of Saudi Arabia’s place in the world today, one cannot avoid its tangled relationship with Islamic extremism.
Saudi Arabia continues to promote radical Wahhabism and create a breeding ground for terrorists.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have attacked their neighbor, Qatar, for supposedly supporting terrorism. They pretend to be firefighters, but spent years as arsonists. Over the years the Saudis, in particular, financed and staffed terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, which staged the 9/11 attacks. Riyadh’s record has since improved, but only under strong U.S. pressure.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been consolidating power, essentially turning a consensual, familial autocracy into a more traditional personal dictatorship. Most recently he has been detaining and shaking down wealthy family members, an act akin to a criminal gang adjusting members’ shares after a big heist.
In early November, Houthi rebels in Yemen, backed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, launched a missile strike targeting the King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Although the missile, like more than 100 others launched at Saudi Arabia from Yemen over the past two years, was intercepted, and no casualties were incurred, the incident served as yet another reminder of Tehran’s aggression and hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East, through proxy terrorist organizations. The Houthis are but one example; al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah are others.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, U.S. President Donald Trump telephoned Saudi King Salman to repeat the importance of fighting terrorism in the region and the world — the stated purpose of the joint American-Saudi Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology, which the two leaders inaugurated in Riyadh in May, at a gathering of representatives from 50 Islamic nations.
Saudi king to Trump: Jerusalem embassy move a ‘dangerous step’
The summit is the first meeting of defence ministers and other senior officials from the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, which officially counts 41 countries and identifies as a ‘pan-Islamic unified front’ against violent extremism.
It’s too early to count chickens, to be sure, but there’s hope that Saudi Arabia may transform itself from a pre-modern tribal entity into an Arab nation-state in pursuit of modernization, and from a major (if not the major) source of terrorist financing to an American ally willing to find a modus vivendi with Israel. I hailed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s purge of corrupt and rogue family elements as an unsung success of the Trump Administration in this space November 14. Since then, Saudi Arabia’s chief religious official denounced Hamas as a terrorist organization and declared that it was permissible for Arabs to collaborate with the Israeli Army against Hezbollah.
To all intents and purposes, Saudi Arabia and Israel are de facto allies in the struggle against Iran’s rising influence in the region. It’s a developing but highly sensitive relationship, but every so often there is a hint of what may be going on beneath the surface.
Last week Israel’s Chief of Staff, General Gadi Eisenkot, said in an interview with UK-based Saudi newspaper Elaph, that Israel was ready to exchange intelligence with the Saudis in order to confront Iran.
“There are shared interests and as far as the Iranian axis is concerned we are in full accord with the Saudis,” he said.
I wonder if this was Obama’s plan all along:
After eight years of Obama’s Mideast policy, this is the outcome. The Saudis, Egyptians, Israelis and others in the region learned from Obama’s snubs that they can trust no one but themselves and have made it very clear that they will confront Iran, whether or not the West continues to cling to its illusion of moderate Iranian leadership. It could all get very ugly, very quickly.
Read the whole thing.
Saudi Arabia and other Arab foreign ministers held an emergency meeting in Cairo on Sunday to discuss ways to confront Iran and its Lebanese Shi’ite ally Hezbollah, who the Arab allies say are interfering in their internal affairs.
Regional tensions have risen in recent weeks between Sunni monarchy Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Islamist Iran over Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s surprise resignation and after an escalation in Yemen’s conflict.
BEIRUT (Reuters) – Hezbollah’s leader said on Friday that Saudi Arabia had declared war on Lebanon and his Iran-backed group, accusing Riyadh of detaining Saad al-Hariri and forcing him to resign as Lebanon’s prime minister to destabilize the country.