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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Schwartz on Abdullah

With the news of Crown Prince Abdullah’s formal accession to de jure as well as de facto power in Saudi Arabia on the death of long-incapacitated King Fahd, I should mention I’ve been struggling my way through Stephen Schwartz’s 2002 history and polemic about Wahhabism (the harsh Sunni faction in charge in Saudi Arabia, with important links to al Qaeda), The Two Faces of Islam.It’s been a struggle for two reasons. The first is that Schwartz’s book begins with a full and sometimes idiosyncratic history of Islam in order to frame his indictment of Wahhabism as a betrayal of “traditional” Muslim faith. And the second is that the author’s fury at the Saudi Royal Family leads him into some murky waters, such as an extended defense of the Shi’a theocracy of Iran.I supposed I’ve also mistrusted Schwartz’s account because the primary outlets for his views have been American conservative magazines, particularly The Weekly Standard and National Review. But that hasn’t kept him from denouncing the Bush administration’s ties to the Saudi regime; he particularly seems to detest Dick Cheney as a virtual agent of Riyadh.In any event, Schwartz’s otherwise baleful view of Saudi policies softens a bit when he talks about Abdullah, whom he views as a potentially decisive figure in reigning in the activities of Wahhabi clerics at home and abroad. And here’s what Schwartz has to say today:

Abdullah himself has long been rumored to detest Wahhabism, which he considers dangerous for Islamic and Arab unity. In a surprising development, Crown Prince Abdullah appeared at the funeral of Syed Mohamed Alawi Al-Maliki, a non-Wahhabi cleric, late last year, praising al-Maliki for his devotion to Islam and to the welfare of the nation. Al-Maliki, a devotee of Sufism as well as a leading Sunni jurist, had previously suffered heavy repression under the Riyadh authorities.

Abdullah is 81 years old; the next three princes in the succession are Defence Minister Sultan, Interior Minister Nayef, and Riyadh governor Salman, all “conservatives” according to Guardian correspondent Brian Whitaker, and all, according to Schwartz’s book, part of a Royal Family faction with close ties to Wahhabi clerics.If Abdullah’s the one to truly institutionalize genuine reforms in Saudi Arabia, he needs to get a move on.

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