Saudi Arabia’s internal identity crisis

Saudi Arabia is beginning to be challenged from within. It is a slow process but it could have dramatic results. Photo: Saudi women are a key to reform Photo: AP

CHARLOTTEAugust 5, 2013 – The modern-day source of Islamic radicalism is in the midst of transition. Saudi Arabia, with its Wahabbist ideology and its Sharia law enforcement, is facing an internal battle that could alter the face of the Middle East.

The situation is not new. It has been national identity crisis for years, but the internal complexion of the country is changing and reformers are slowly gaining strength.

If there are more complex regions in the world than the Middle East they would be difficult to find them. The tribal history and splintered ideologies combined with cultural clashes even within individual countries make it virtually impossible for an outsider to connect the dots.

Saudi Arabia is a divided country. That does not bode well for the nation that founded Islam and instituted the severe Wahabbi philosophy that is so integral to Islamic jihad.

Since the oil boom in the mid-20th century, the deserts of Saudi Arabia have made it rich beyond imagination.

Lacking the expertise and skills to extract the oceans oil beneath the sand, the Saudis have employed millions of foreign workers over the past five decades which have had a dramatic influence on the social structure of the country.

SEE RELATED: The many and varied layers of global terrorism

Though Saudi Arabia is regarded as a “human rights nightmare” it usually gets a pass from Western nations that would traditionally be more vocal. According to Human Rights Watch in 2012, the United States did not officially “condemn Saudi Arabia for human rights abuses” a single time.

The influx of expatriates over the past 60 years is now beginning to take its toll on hard-line Saudi beliefs. While many male members of Saudi society have basked in their unearned wealth and allowed their foreign “employees” do the work, woman in their sequestered world have been finding new ways to educate themselves.

Consequently, more than 30% of the Saudi population is under the age of 30 and over 70% of university students are now women. Youth and education have given rise to a growing reform movement including something called “Islamic Feminism.” The key to the growth of the feminist movement is that it is being debated from a religious perpective.

In other words, Islamic tenets are being used to renounce the Islamists. It’s a troubling concept for true believers.

Other barriers are also gradually eroding. Protests recently erupted in Buraidah in March of this year, but significant aspects of the demonstrations are evidence of the increasing strength of the reform movement.

Demonstrations are banned in Saudi Arabia as are political parties. Therefore, a successful protest is a major achievement, especially in a place like Buraidah which is largely populated by Wahabbi followers. More unusual is that the multiple protests against detention of family members consisted of not only men but women and children as well.

In the past, the government has been able to eliminate opposing factions before they spread, but in this instance, other protests followed in the capital city of Riyadh, Jidda and among Shiites in the Eastern Province.

Which brings us back to the oil situation. Whether the present administration in the United States likes it or not, fracking is having a huge impact on American efforts to free ourselves from reliance on foreign oil. Saudi Arabia has long been the dominant supplier in the Middle East. Now technology is squeeing the Saudi oil industry into major considerations about its ability to maintain its stronghold.

Combine that with the fact that the bulk of Saudi oil is in the east where the Shia population is strongest. Simply put, the minority Shiites control the majority of the oil. Not a pretty picture for Sunni opposition, and don’t think that bordering countries are not taking notice.

Stability in the Middle East is a relative term. There are only degrees of stability. Basically the word is an oxymoron unto itself.

It is impossible to determine the future of Saudi Arabia and its role in the region as well as the world. As mentioned above, the complexities of the problems are overwhelming which makes viable negotiations with any entity virtually impossible.

One thing is certain however. The times they are a-changin’ and Islamic extremists don’t like it one bit. Hence the worldwide terror watch that exists today.

Western oil independence combined with internal Saudi reform, especially by women and by those who are beginning to understand the destructive nature if Wahabbi Islam may dramatically change the volatility of the Middle East.

Whether it truly becomes less volatile and embraces the brotherhood of man rather than the Muslim Brotherhood is only a matter of time.

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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events and the people and cultures around the globe. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club ( and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.

 His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.

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Bob Taylor

Bob Taylor has been travel writer for more than three decades. Following a career as an award winning sports producer/anchor, Taylor’s media production business produced marketing presentations for Switzerland Tourism, Rail Europe, the Finnish Tourist Board, Japan Railways Group, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council and the Swiss Travel System among others. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club ( and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.


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