Saudi Arabia has been spreading Wahabism, the austere faith that is dominant in the kingdom, at the request of its Western allies, Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman has said.
In an interview with The Washington Post, he said investments in mosques and madrassas overseas were rooted in the Cold War, when allies asked Saudi Arabia to use its resources to prevent inroads in Muslim countries by the Soviet Union.
Answering a question about the Saudi-funded spread of Wahabism that some have accused of being a source of global terrorism, he said successive Saudi governments lost track of the effort. "Now we have to get it all back,” he said adding that funding now comes largely from Saudi-based “foundations,” rather than from the government.
Discussing his reform efforts at home, including giving women the right to drive and have more rights outside the home, Mohamed bin Salman said he has worked hard to convince conservative religious leaders such restrictions are not part of Islamic doctrine.
“I believe Islam is sensible, Islam is simple, and people are trying to hijack it,” he said. Lengthy discussions with clerics, he said, have been positive and that is “why we have more allies in the religious establishment, day by day.”
Elsewhere in the interview, the Saudi crown prince said it would be “really insane” for him to trade classified information with presidential son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner, or to try to use Kushner to promote Saudi aims within the Trump administration.
That kind of relationship “will not help us” and does not exist, he said. Mohamed denied US media reports that he had claimed Kushner was “in his pocket,” or that, when the two met in Riyadh in October, he had sought or received a green light from Kushner for massive arrests of allegedly corrupt members of the royal family and Saudi businessmen that took place in the kingdom shortly afterward.
The detentions were solely a domestic issue and had been in the works for years, the prince said.
While “we work together as friends, more than partners,” Mohamed said, his relationship with Kushner was within the normal context of government-to-government contacts. He noted that he also had good relations with Vice President Pence and others in the White House.
In the 75-minute meeting at The Post on the last day of his four-day stay in Washington, Mohamed fielded questions on a range of topics, from the war in Yemen to the Middle East peace process, Iran, his domestic reform agenda, human rights and Saudi Arabia’s nuclear plans.
During his stay in Washington, the son of King Salman and heir to the Saudi throne, Mohamed, 32, met with President Trump , Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other senior officials.
Even as Trump has said he is seeking increased investment and purchases of US military equipment and other products from Saudi Arabia, Mohamed has made clear that his primary mission is to win US investor confidence in his country, along with technological and education assistance in his efforts to reform the ultraconservative kingdom.
China and Russia are vying with the United States to build components of new nuclear power plants in the kingdom, amid concerns over a Saudi desire for uranium enrichment capability. In an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” broadcast recently, Mohamed said that his country would build a nuclear weapon if Iran did.
Mohamed spoke at length about the prospects for economic growth in the Middle East, saying it could be “the next Europe” if a series of problems can be resolved.
One of those is the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Trump has designated Kushner to come up with a peace plan, and Kushner met with Mohamed , along with Jason Greenblatt, a Trump Organisation lawyer brought into the White House to help with the effort.
Once the US plan is ready, Kushner is said to want the Saudis and other leading Arab countries to help persuade the Palestinians to accept it.
The official Saudi position is that any peace agreement must recognise a Palestinian state within specified borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Arab leaders have said that Trump’s recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — a move that Mohamed called “painful” — has made a deal under US auspices far more difficult.
On the Yemen war, Mohamed said that Saudi Arabia had not passed up “any opportunity” to improve the humanitarian situation, although human rights organisations and US lawmakers have said Saudi bombing has caused many of the more than 5,000 estimated civilian deaths in the war.
“There are not good options and bad options. The options are between bad and worse,” he said of the Yemen conflict with Houthi rebels who overthrew the Saudi-recognised government. (Courtesy: The Washington Post)