Can the Wahhabism be used to make KSA stronger again? -Nadira-Binte-Sohel


Thanks to the House of Saud, the term “Wahhabism” is nothing new to the world. But, it’s not clear the characteristics of past and future of the mentioned ideology to many. While looking at the past for the birthplace of Wahhabism, it is named after the 18th century theologian Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab of Hanbali School of Islamic jurisprudence, though most of the Hanbali preachers renounced the ultraconservative views and the strictest logics of Wahhabism. Initially Ibn Abd al-Wahhab started a reformation in Nazd region, a remote area of South Western Arabian Peninsula. The school suggested the exclusion of the far-spreading Sunni Practices such as adoration of saints and visiting their tombs and shrines which were practiced enormously by the Muslims over the world. He considered these practices as impurities and innovation in Islam (In Islamic Terminology which termed as Bid’ah). Earlier he faced protestations from various Arabian Muslim regions but it later became popular gradually. This is known as Wahhabism. In 1744, Muhammad Bin Saud – the founder of the current royal dynasty in KSA made a pact with Muhammad Ibn Abd al Wahhab, in which the latter provided robust support and religious underpinning for the former one where Muhammad Bin Saud was on a project to establish concord between warring and sporadic Arab tribes. Bin Saud eventually denied the doctrine and reign of Ottoman Empire which was the then the center of Khilafat and dominating power among Muslim regions. The Saud -Wahhabi alliance started to fuel the idea of Arab nationalism in the package of religious thoughts. At last the Saud -Wahhabi alliance defeated Ottoman Empire in the early 19th century and then, Ottoman Empire again defeated the Saud -Wahhabi alliance with the help of British in 1812s. Then at the time of 1st World War, Sharif Hossain Ibn Ali-British alliance defeated Ottoman Empire. As a part of promise, Ali, elder son of Sharif Hossain Ibn Ali, got the land of Hizaz. Thereafter, the Saud -Wahhabi alliance defeated Ali in 1924s. Not surprisingly, it was going smooth until it was in 1938; crude oil was discovered in Persian Gulf Region. The discovery of Petroleum almost altered the overall economic situation of KSA. It became world’s ‘Energy Superpower’ preserver country holding the position of second largest proven petroleum reserves. The emergence of petrodollar came into the plot when US reached an agreement with Saudi Arabia to standardize the sale of petroleum or crude oil in US currency. In return US would help Saudi Arabia with military equipments. However, this appeared to be a win-win situation. This is later known as Petrodollar recycling which eventually creates demand for US investments. Also it contributed to finance huge deficit and debt of US in early 1970’s after US abandoned Brettonwood System. What led Saudi Arabia to make alignment with US is to gain regional dominance over Persian Gulf Region where the biggest enemy was Iranian regime since Iran’s Revolution against Shah. Saudi Arabia measured the steps of the revolutionaries as war against the monarchy instead of considering it as “Islamic Revolution”. For retaining the dominance against Iran, obviously to hold their baton strong against any attempt of coup, KSA needed political protection from any superpower. US paved the way for KSA to receive protection from geopolitical enemies in return of Petrodollar recycling. This alignment held almost 40 years till some twist take place into the plot.
Recently Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) share has lessened to more than 30 percent while it used to hold 50 percent of world crude oil supply and trade share in 1970s. It has reduced the significance of Petrodollar than that of the golden days of 1970s. Nonetheless KSA is the leading figure of OPEC, the nation are about to face the upcoming consequences in its economy as KSA is solely dependent on export of petroleum. However, until now the economy of KSA is one of the top twenty economic countries. Thus, huge amount of wealth led KSA to widespread consumerism where Wahhabi doctrine eroded in a sense. For the first time ever, the relationship between the duo restrained a bit. The influential power of Wahhabi missionaries in geopolitical issues of KSA was fading away. Yet the Saud Dynasty therefore kept donating and sponsoring Wahhabi missions. The widespread campaigns for promoting Wahhabism sponsored by the Sauds tilted the Muslims around the world. It has manipulated the Sunni, Shia as well as the other schools of Muslim sects. It is estimated that over the past four decades KSA has directed at least 10 billion dollars project to select charitable funds towards the subversion of mainstream Sunni Islam practices. The petrodollars unnecessarily made the Arab life luxury which was against the teachings of Wahhabism. People stated to be accustomed to the situations which loose the Saud- Wahhabi relationship. Saud- Wahhabi pact faced the biggest toss and turns when the present crown prince Muhammad Bin Salman took up some bold reforming initiatives. In the past few years, Saudi authorities are gradually restricting the Sheikh family’s power such as appointing moderate scholars in the Ministry of Education and Islamic Affairs in 2016 where Wahhabi clerics used to be the dominant force. Music concerts were allowed in 2017. Cinemas were reopened after 35 years. Present King Salman and his crown prince are looking forward to moving towards modernization as well as establishing liberate society where the country intertwined with ultra-conservatism so long. A profound implication exists beneath taking upon these drastic measures of modernization. Firstly, Saudi authority could presume that the future of petrodollar is under great threat due to the tendency of leaning towards renewable energies by their biggest market, the US. Since the end of 1973 Arab – Israeli occupational force war, the US has been trying to focus on technologies that will make them less dependent on crude oil. Decrement use of fossil fuels by the western world led KSA looking for alternative economies. Modernization is being considered as the maiden step towards the alternative economic zone. While trying to give the economy a new shape, KSA started its Middle-Eastern adventures to hold its dominance over the Persian Gulf Region. Arab Coalition- an intervention in Yemen launched by KSA to subdue the Houthi movers now being hugely criticized as well as being denounced over the world. Conflicts with Iranian and Turkish regime, Proxy wars in the Middle Eastern region, unexpected outcomes and sluggish war in Yemen led the KSA to float in huge debt. To feed the adventures, different types of taxes has been imposed on citizens and immigrant workers. Still, the debt situation of the country has become worsen. It is reported that the government debt to GDP in Saudi Arabia is expected to reach 24 percent by 2020 where 2018 data shows the amount of debt is 18.92 percentage of KSA GDP.
Now in this situation to save the ship from sinking, House Al Saud may pursue other countries specially the Muslim ones to invest in KSA finance – a situation almost like Petrodollar recycling. In order to acquire the empathy from Muslim countries, it will not be surprising if the House return to the alliance of Saud Wahhabi pact and use the grown impact of Wahhabism as a tool which has been grown as a popular doctrine in the Muslim countries due to the Saud funded charitable trusts including Bangladesh, Pakistan, Oman, Malaysia etc. during the uprising economy of KSA since few decades. Besides, Wahhabi missionaries successfully established KSA as a citadel of Islam in the views of the Muslims. So, KSA may play ‘Wahhabism’ card to bring sympathy as well as investment from the Muslim countries. But few question arises here as things seems not that much suitable. Firstly, whether the Wahhabi missionaries would make ally with house of Saud despite knowing the fact what the Sauds did to them previously? If the answer becomes negative, what fate is waiting for the Sheikhs? But, if the answer is yes, then they have to face the second question. Many Muslim countries suppressed the Wahhabism derived extremists where Wahhabism practices are discouraged enormously (In Afghanistan, Iraq etc). Needless to say, Wahhabism lost its appeal to these countries, at least to the governments. In this changed situation will the single fact of religion be able to draw these countries’ investments? The possibilities are narrow so far. No doubt that the killing of Jamal Khashogi, Shia scholars, Unnecessary war against Yemen has drawn international criticism against the KSA. Apart from this, KSA took Arab Spring as the threat for their existence. They used Al Nur Party in Egypt to oust elected Mursi Government. Thus they came to the closer of Israel as both took the Arab Spring as the threat for their existence. The downfall of petrodollar may compel the KSA not to interfere in the internal issues of another country but it will not ease the relationship between Islamic Parties and KSA. The KSA took such decision to protect their throne but it would be better to safe their throne if they could make a good relation with Islamic Parties i.e. Muslim Brotherhood. For instance- Qatar made an ally with the Muslim Brotherhood to protect their throne and keep the influence in and outside of the Middle East and they became successful. So the decision taken by KSA was wrong. At the same time there is mere possibility that the present regime would try to gain their previous position back using Wahhabism but the time will say the rest.

The Author is a Postgraduate Student, Department of Economics, University of Dhaka.