Brian Whitaker writes: Extreme caution has long been the watchword of Saudi monarchs: caution in foreign policy, and caution especially when it comes to internal change. Since 2005, when the king nervously decided it was safe to allow elections for half the members of municipal councils (the other half were to be appointed by the king), it has taken a further 10 years to get around to letting women take part.
Of course, there are good reasons for this caution. Saudis often cite the assassination of King Faisal in 1975 as a warning, linking it to his attempts at reform and especially his introduction of television, which many at the time regarded as encouraging sin.
Large sections of Saudi society, and most notably the influential religious scholars, remain deeply conservative, and this social resistance means the rulers cannot implement change – supposing they actually want to – at anything like the pace needed in a rapidly changing world. To a large extent the rulers’ hands are tied, but this is something the House of Saud has brought upon itself by hitching its political legitimacy to the Wahhabi sect. If it can’t untie that knot, it is ultimately doomed. [Continue reading…]