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muhammad bin salman

The people of Saudi Arabia have come to identify the crown prince of their country as MbS. Muhammad bin Salman, only 32 years old, is supposedly very popular among Saudis. He wants to moderate the Wahhabi version of Islam that dominates his country. The Wall Street Journal reported his announcement, “We are going back to how we were: to the tolerant, moderate Islam that is open to the world—to all the religions and traditions of its people. We represent the moderate teachings and principles of Islam. We will eradicate the remnants of extremism very soon.”
A few weeks later, the first week of November 2017, Muhammad bin Salman rounded up dozens of politically influential Muslim clerics and, along with various princes and government rulers, confined them to a luxurious five star hotel. Those arrested could gain their release by agreeing to restitution and the reforms MbS wants. Or they could take their chance on a public trial. Jamal Kashoggi, a Saudi-born journalist who lives in the USA writes, “What is happening in Saudi Arabia is sweeping change. I was told by a Western-educated member of Muhammad bin Salman’s power structure that we have to tolerate the arrests as a necessary side effect of the larger goal: Reform.”

I found it interesting these arrests just happened to occurred the same week as the
2017 International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Few countries have been more hostile to the church than Saudi Arabia, so it’s been a prayer focus of Christians around the world. So often we pray for miracles without really expecting a miracle. A moderate, tolerant Saudi Arabia would certainly be a miracle. But I’m not ready to claim a miracle.

And yet.

Sameh Rashed of the
Al-Ahram Center for Political & Strategic Studies in Cairo, Egypt predicts Muhammad bin Salman will turn against the clerics who have been allied with the royal family. “He must present himself as a reformer in culture and religion.” Professor Mehdi Hasan of Georgetown University’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding opines the crown prince may ally with Israel. Ayaan Hirsi Ali claims that, “If MbS succeeds, Saudis will benefit from new opportunities and freedoms, and the world will benefit from curtailing the Wahhabi radicalization agenda.”

Muhammad bin Salman may not succeed. Powerful forces, inside and outside Saudi Arabia—human and spiritual—desire that nation to remain as it has been.

He has upended royal protocol. And yet, his boldness resonates with ordinary Saudis who feel their prospects are in decline even as their political and religious rulers accumulate wealth.
John Jenkins, former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia told Time magazine, “Bin Salman is the first prince in modern Saudi history whose constituency has not been within the royal family. It’s outside, it’s young Saudis.” Even so, MbS has been careful to feed the country’s patronage system—appointing 70 young moderate royals from all branches of the royal family to influential government and religious posts. The Eurasia Group sees his anti-corruption effort as a bold effort to destroy the elite web of princes and religious leaders who have controlled that country and funded radical Islam.

Throughout history God has used human rulers as tools to accomplish His will. He raised up cruel Babylon to punish the nation of Israel. Then, in a single night He replaced that empire with the Medes and the Persians, resulting in king Cyrus returning Israel to Jerusalem. Church historians recognize the tyrannical
pax Romana as a key in the spread of early Christianity.

Any and every ruler, be they just or evil, can be God’s tool to accomplish His will. What is unfolding in Saudi Arabia may be nothing more than a power struggle. But perhaps, just maybe God is at work. Let’s watch and pray. ~

Dan Nygaard