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McGill University
Political Science
POLI 341
Julie Norman

POLI 341 Feb 14, 2013 Saudi Arabia, Islam and Policy Historical Significance - Important religious center: o Birthplace of prophet Mohammed and the site for Hajj o Birthplace of Islam and the Quoran - Geographical Significance o Important for the region and for external actors - Rose up against Ottomans in WWI - Kingdom was established by King Abdul Aziz bin Saud (where we get the name Saudi Arabia) o His decedents are still the kinds of Saudi Arabia o Tied to family foundation State Structure and the Balance of Power - Monarchy followed the Saud family in control of political aspects - Also a very effective balance of power with religious leadership - Saudi Arabia self-identifies as Islamic State o No written constitution; law based on sharia and customary laws - Absolute monarchy o Current king Abdullah was in power since 2005 o 90 years old o His successor has been named (complex system deciding who will follow next because all of the sons are quite old) - Government structure o Dominated by the Al Saud family and it is very extensive at all levels o Estimated 7,000 princes o Allegiance commission is set up to decide who next king will be - Legislature? o Technically, there is a legislature called the Majilis Al-Shura (translated to consultative council) o Not operating in the democratic sense  The entire council is appointed by the king o Federal state level still functions as an absolute monarchy, btu they are starting to open up at the municipal level (first elections held in 2005, and some in 2011). 2015 might be the first time women can vote and run in the elections. - Balanced with religious leaders: Ulema o Ulema holds significant power in Saudi Arabia. They approve the royal succession when not totally clear; they have a say. o They also have a say over new laws and influencing policy decisions  Oil Embargo 1973 o Led by Al-ash Sheikh family - Mutual Support Pact o Internal balance of power (sharing?) between the two families (Al Saud and Al Ash Sheikh  Saud acknowledges the religious authority of Al Ash Sheikh family  Both provide necessarily legitimacy for each other o Unless this relationship shifts, we won’t see massive change in Saudi Arabia even when changes in king, etc. Islam in Saudi Arabia - Dominant form is “wahhabism” o Western term? Not a positive term to use o Salafism is more the term heard in the region - Ultra-conservative branch of Sunni Islam o Significant shi’ite minority (10-15%) in Saudi Arabia which is the one reason we see them freaking out when we see shi’ite based-uprisings in other states - There are a number of Christians and Hindus as well but they are foreign workers in the oil industry and not citizens. - Push to purify Islam after a perceived moral decline - Influence on political Islam? o Bin Laden was into wahhabism and many 9/11 attackers were from Saudi Arabia but many scholars would caution to make the connection between Al Qaeda and Wahhabism o Linking wahhabism with terrorism or militantism is false - In 2003, Saudi Arabia was a victim of terrorist attacks in Riyadh itself o Targeted at foreign people who were there but did result in dealths of Arab workers and Saudis as well  motivated by the fact tha
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