Nov. 24, 2017
- Saudi Arabia’s Arab Spring, at Last – Thomas L. Friedman
The most significant reform process underway anywhere in the Middle East today is in Saudi Arabia. The country is going through its own Arab Spring. This one is led from the top down by the country’s 32-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and, if it succeeds, it will not only change the character of Saudi Arabia but the tone and tenor of Islam across the globe. Only a fool would predict its success – but only a fool would not root for it.
I flew to Riyadh to interview the crown prince, known as “M.B.S.” He is on a mission to bring Saudi Islam back to the center. He has curbed the authority of the Saudi religious police and has let women drive. M.B.S. instructed me: “Do not write that we are ‘reinterpreting’ Islam – we are ‘restoring’ Islam to its origins.” At the time of the Prophet Muhammad, he argued, there were musical theaters, there was mixing between men and women, there was respect for Christians and Jews in Arabia. So if the Prophet embraced all of this, M.B.S. asked, “Do you mean the Prophet was not a Muslim?”
One of his ministers got out his cellphone and shared with me pictures and YouTube videos of Saudi Arabia in the 1950s – women without heads covered, wearing skirts and walking with men in public, as well as concerts and cinemas. If this virus of an antipluralistic, misogynistic Islam that came out of Saudi Arabia in 1979 can be reversed by Saudi Arabia, it would drive moderation across the Muslim world. (New York Times)