The article first published in on 11/17/2017.



The dramatic events in Saudi Arabia of the past few days portend a game change in the Middle East not seen in decades. Predictably, the mainstream media, desperate as they are to find something, anything to blame on Trump, have completely missed it. Instead, they have babbled about the market implications of the arrests of Prince Alwaleed and Co, Saudi Arabia ‘emerging’ as an arms manufacturer, conflict with Hezbollah, palace intrigue etc. etc. Few have put their finger on the actual events – a palace revolution in Ryadh that could change the Middle East in profound and possibly positive ways. For the logic of what’s taking place in the  House of Saud is a revolt against the medieval obscurantism that has been the lifeblood of radical Islam and indeed terrorism since the middle of the 20th century. There is no guarantee that it will succeed for the forces arrayed against it are formidable, but fundamentally, as with the demise of any long-lasting obscurantism, the more appropriate question to ask is ‘what took so long.’


To seasoned observers, what is taking place in Riyadh is not a complete surprise and some inkling of changing attitudes was on hand as far back as the Arab Spring in 2011, when the Saudis appeared to end their longtime support of the Muslim Brotherhood, and take the side of the military in Egypt, quite unlike the Obama administration which remained wedded to the  myth that the MB was a ‘moderate’ organization. Three years later, the UAE declared 82 Islamic organizations, including two prominent American ones (CAIR and MAS) long supported by the Saudis, to be terrorist and this past Summer came the break with Qatar for its support of radical jihadists in Syria and elsewhere.


Much more important are the unmistakable signs that the new Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MbS, is turning on the reactionary Wahhabi establishment that has long supported radical Islam and terrorism. While his ostensible drive against corruption has received much ink, it has largely escaped notice that caught in the ‘corruption’ purge were senior Wahhabi clerics like Salman al-Awdah, Awad al-Qarni and others. And there is a good reason for their detention, if MbS is serious about “preventing extremism” and “crimes under the name of Islam,” as he has said time and again. It is a fact that the belief system of the dominant Wahhabi ulema is ideologically indistinguishable from that of the ISIS zealots. As an example of the kind of pushback he can expect, no less a figure that the former imam of the key Mecca mosque, Adel al-Kibani, continues to argue publicly that ISIS draws it inspiration from Saudi salafism.



Nonetheless,  MbS has continued and accelerated his assault on wahhabism. Not only has he promised to do away with the Wahhabi ban on women driving and reined in the religious police,  but he has now forced the ‘Shura Council’ a hardline wahhabi ulema outfit, heretofore, to approve an anti-hate law, apart from setting up a “Hadith Complex” in Medina, tasked with “monitoring interpretations of Islamic teachings used  to justify violence or terrorism.”


None of this would be especially noteworthy, had it not been for the fact that Saudi Arabia had become the main financier and ideological ally of Islamic radicalism for more than 50 years. Wahhabism had allied itself with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood after Gamal Abdel Nasser cracked down on it in the 1960s and began exporting and financing the radical MB ideology of Sayyid Qutb and wahhabism in the West.  As early as the early 1960s, Saudi money and MB functionaries started setting up extremist Muslim Student Associations  (MSA) in Europe and the USA. Virtually all radical Islamist organizations existing today stem from those MSAs. By 2002, according to Saudi figures, Riyadh had spent $80 billion in sponsoring Islamic extremism throughout the West and in places like Pakistan, Bosnia and Chechnia. Numerous congressional hearings testify that the US government was well aware of the subversive role played by the Saudis, but neither the George W. Bush administration, nor the Obama administrations did anything about it.


That’s why the Saudi about face we may be observing is so crucially important.  Apart from the fundamental change inside the Kingdom it portends, it may auger a de facto alliance between the Sunni Arabs, America and Israel against Iran’s proxies, first and foremost, the Hezbollah terrorists. If so, this is one game changer that can contribute much to US security.


By Alex Alexiev

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