Saudi Prince, Asserting Power, Brings Clerics to Heel

Like other clerics, he saw no religious reason to bar women from driving but said he was against changing the status of women in ways that he said violated Islamic law.


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“They want her to dance. They want her to go to the cinema. They want her to uncover her face. They want her to show her legs and thighs. That is liberal thought,” he said. “It is a corrupting ideology.”

Still, some find the recent moves encouraging.

“If they have to take serious measures to stamp out the uglier parts of Salafism that permeate Islam around the world, it could be on the whole quite a good thing,” said Cole Bunzel, a fellow in the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.

But a cleric who works in education in Riyadh said he worried that pushing the conservatives too far could drive the most extreme ones underground, where they could be drawn to violence.

Precedents for such blowback dot Saudi history.

In 1979, extremists who accused the royal family of being insufficiently Islamic seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca, shocking the Muslim world. Later, Osama bin Laden founded Al Qaeda after breaking with Saudi Arabia over its reliance on Western troops for protection. More recently,

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